Focusing on Early Accessible Language

Family Members of Babies Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

After years of working with families, two experts share the areas for consideration by families related to early accessible language for deaf and hard of hearing babies. This 30-minute video presents information for families interested in learning more about supporting their deaf or hard of hearing child's language and communication development as early as possible. It addresses the following three areas:

  • What We Know About Language Access for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children
  • What We Know About Language Access for All Children
  • Recommended Opportunities to Support Your Child's Language Acquisition

We also encourage families to view two other Clerc Center webcasts--Maximizing Language Acquisition in ASL and Spoken English and Language Learning Through the Eye and Ear--to help support concepts that are covered in the Early Accessible Language webcast.  

Presenter bios

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Debra Berlin Nussbaum, MA

Nussbaum has worked at the Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center, on the campus of Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., since 1977—first as a pediatric audiologist, then as coordinator of the Cochlear Implant Education Center, and finally as a project manager related to language and communication initiatives. She has spearheaded national efforts in exploring and sharing considerations for facilitating listening and spoken language for children who also sign (including children with cochlear implants). She is active in early intervention efforts both locally and nationally. Nussbaum was chair of the DC Hears Intervention Committee for more than 15 years. She has developed numerous resources through the Clerc Center to support professionals and families related to early language acquisition.

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Stacy Abrams, MA

Abrams is the coordinator of training at the Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center on the campus of Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. Abrams grew up in Arkansas with a deaf sister and hearing parents. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Gallaudet University and her master’s degree from the University of California, Santa Barbara, with the intention of working with hearing families with deaf and hard of hearing children. For five years, Abrams taught deaf and hard of hearing students in both mainstreamed and deaf schools. She served as Deaf Mentor Program coordinator at the New Mexico School for the Deaf and the Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and the Blind for 10 years. She currently serves on the Joint Committee on Infant Hearing. Abrams’s passion for connecting families with the community on their signing journey led to her developing a social awareness campaign, #whyisign. The aim is for families to become inspired by seeing individuals share their reasons for signing. She and her husband are the proud parents of two bilingual deaf children who attend Kendall Demonstration Elementary School.

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Meagan Ackerman

Ackerman is a photographer in Maryland. She and her husband have three wonderful boys under the age of 7. She waded the waters into the world of hearing loss when her oldest, Jaxson, was shown to have mild-to-moderate hearing loss at 3 years old. She dove right into the Deaf community, however, when her youngest, now 18 months, was born deaf. Since then, Ackerman has passionately investigated, researched, and explored how best to raise her sons to thrive communicatively, socially, and academically.

Michelle Fry

Fry currently lives in Phoenix, Arizona, and is a mother to six children—three hearing, one hard of hearing, and two deaf. The whole family learned to sign when their first deaf child was born. Her deaf children are currently 6 and 3 and attend the school for the deaf in Phoenix. Both have bilateral cochlear implants, but currently only one speaks. Both children primarily use ASL. The family tries to attend different Deaf events and playdates to ensure Lily and Greyson develop healthy deaf self-identity. They love their experiences with their Deaf Mentors and early intervention. Their oldest son is currently a staff member at the school for the deaf and finds it’s a great way to master his signing skills.

Yiesell Rayon

Rayon is the director of Latino Support for Hands & Voices Headquarters. Within her state chapter of California Hands & Voices, she is the LA County representative. She sits on the Early Hearing Detection and Intervention planning committee as well as on the NCHAM Parent Advisory Committee representing parents of children who are deaf or hard of hearing. She is passionate about supporting parents and the professionals who serve them. Rayon is a mom to a son, Markie, who was identified with mild hearing loss. Markie is medically considered hard of hearing with a severe loss; however, he is being raised to accept and love his Deaf identity. Rayon and her husband Marcus began their journey trying to make the best decisions for their son. Throughout the years, they’ve made many changes to their son’s education until they found what worked best for him. Markie went from being in an oral program, to a Total Communication program, to finally being placed at the California School for the Deaf, Riverside. He is now 7 years old, in first grade, and bilingual in ASL and spoken language (primarily English but also some Spanish). The family is fully immersed in the Deaf community and has friends—both adults and children—who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Bridgetta Bourne-Firl, MS

Bourne-Firl is the director of Training, Products, and Dissemination at the Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center, on the campus of Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. She leads the team that develops and disseminates training and online learning, webcasts, information, and national resources to professionals and families of deaf and hard of hearing children (birth through high school) nationally. Her 32 years of experience includes working in school settings and adult education.


Debbie Chen Pichler, PhD

Pichler grew up in a bilingual environment, traveling frequently between the United States and Taiwan. She began her first informal studies of comparative syntax when, at the age of 12, she was hired by her local Taiwanese American Association to teach spoken Taiwanese to middle school students. Faced with the fact that she didn’t know any way to write Taiwanese (there is no standardized written form), Pichler set out to elucidate the rules of Taiwanese syntax on her own. Sadly, she never progressed very far in this task, but the experience whetted her appetite for linguistics. A member of the Gallaudet Linguistics faculty since 2002, Pichler has taught courses on first and second language acquisition, comparative studies (of ASL vs. English, or ASL vs. other signed systems), and generative syntax. Her research interests focus on the acquisition of ASL by deaf children and hearing bilinguals (CODA children) as well as the acquisition of ASL as a second language. She is also involved in research on the syntax of Croatian Sign Language, continuing her original interest in investigating the grammar of previously understudied languages.

Laurene E. Simms, PhD

Simms is a professor in the Department of Education at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. After graduating from the Indiana School for the Deaf, she received her bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, and later earned her master’s degree in deaf education from Western Maryland College (now McDaniel College) in Westminster. She received her doctorate in language, reading, and culture from the University of Arizona, Tucson. Simms has hands-on experience in the implementation of bilingual strategies in multicultural educational environments for diverse deaf and hard of hearing children, and she is a nationally recognized expert on the topic of using both ASL and English as languages of instruction.

Leslie Page

Leslie Page, MA, CCC-A

Leslie Page, MA, CCC-A, is director of Strategic Planning at the Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center, on the campus of Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. She began her career at the Model Secondary School for the Deaf as an audiologist in the mid-1980s. Page has been involved in a wide range of programs and projects at the Clerc Center and Gallaudet University. Currently, she is responsible for the establishment, monitoring, and completion of the Clerc Center's Strategic Plan.

Additional Links

Maximizing Language Acquisition in ASL and Spoken English

This 14-minute video, condensed for families from a Clerc Center professional training webcast, expands on important ingredients essential to language learning. It focuses on the importance of language being accessible and abundant in a child's life, and a child being able to interact with a language for learning and social interaction. It also highlights common misconceptions that sometimes mistakenly drive language and communication practices in early intervention programs.

Language Learning Through the Eye and Ear

This 13-minute video, condensed for families from a Clerc Center professional training webcast, addresses language acquisition from a linguistic perspective. It shares important information about the language acquisition process and "take home messages" related to how babies seek language patterns, whether signed or spoken. 

Resource List

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