Wyatte Hall, G-’11 & PhD ’14, an assistant professor of Public Health Sciences at the University of Rochester Medical Center, has been awarded a $3.4 million grant from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). Hall, who was the first graduate of the UR Clinical Translational Science Institute-supported Rochester Postdoctoral Partnership, will track language acquisition outcomes for deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) children with the five-year grant. 

Most deaf children are at risk for language deprivation because their families do not know sign language, and hearing technology does not provide complete access to spoken language. This has cascading consequences for many aspects of child development that depend on language. 

Hall and his multidisciplinary team aim to understand how families make choices about how to teach their deaf children language and how those choices set children up for success. In collaboration with multiple California stakeholders, Hall and his team will give every deaf child in California the chance to participate, which could provide a birds-eye view of the prevalence of language deprivation and the conditions in which children successfully learn language. 

“California is truly a pioneer in their innovative support of deaf and hard of hearing children, and that is now reflected in this groundbreaking grant project,” said Hall. “This research would not be possible without the foundational steps, undertaken by Sheri Farinha at NorCal Services for Deaf and Hard of Hearing and Dr. Julie Rems Smario, over the past decade to advocate for and support statewide tracking of deaf and hard of hearing children’s early development.” 

Hall’s diverse and highly experienced research team represents a national collaboration between URMC; NorCal Services for Deaf and Hard of Hearing; California State University, Sacramento (Dr. Nate Dutra); Boston University (Dr. Naomi Caselli and Arielle Spellun, M.D.); and the University of California San Francisco (Dylan Chan, M.D.). 

The URMC research team includes Dr. Scott McIntosh, Dr. Peter Veazie, and Jorilee Pettinger, of the Public Health Sciences department. The team also includes Michelle Koplitz, a graduate student in the UR CTSI’s Translational Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. program and the new Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Graduate Trainee Support Program, who has extensive federal-level experience working within the Early Hearing Detection and Intervention Program at the Health Resources and Services Administration.  

This funding from NIDCD highlights the crucial importance of supporting language acquisition in deaf and hard of hearing children. The outcomes of this research are expected to help inform federal and state policies for early intervention, optimizing educational resource allocation, and ultimately improving the overall quality of life for Deaf communities across the nation. 

Hall is currently director of the Visual Language Access and Acquisition Lab at URMC and co-directs the Future Deaf Scientists program under the Wilmot Cancer Institute, a cancer STEM research education and training program seeking to empower Deaf high school students to explore medical and science careers. 

Read the original announcement by Susanne Pritchard Pallo at the University of Rochester.

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