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Washington, D.C. [July 19, 2011] Today, Gallaudet University President T. Alan Hurwitz addressed attendees of the XVI World Congress of the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) in Durban, South Africa about one of the most contested issues in the history of deaf and hard of hearing people: deaf education.

Hurwitz noted in his remarks that the education of deaf people has been investigated and debated for decades and generally has been predicated on the belief that deaf and hard of hearing students are just like hearing students — except they cannot hear. It is time to challenge this assumption, he said.

“Let me share ideas and outcomes from two projects that have the potential to affect deaf education positively for generations to come,” Hurwitz told his audience. “The projects are the results of research being conducted by Gallaudet University’s Science of Learning Center on Visual Language and Visual Learning (VL2) and by the Center for Education Research Partnerships (CERP) at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at Rochester Institute of Technology. Both centers are funded by the United States National Science Foundation and each taps the best thinking of scholars from universities all over the world.”

VL2, Hurwitz explained, explores how children learn through their sense of sight. Gaining a deeper understanding of how visual learning occurs will not only benefit deaf students, but the many hearing children who are also visual learners. In addition, VL2 researchers study the role and the effectiveness of bilingualism in educational environments for deaf children.

“The question VL2 researchers are asking is how deaf individuals, who rely primarily on their vision, acquire a sign language and learn to read and write fluently as well,” Hurwitz said. “VL2 researchers in the U.S. and Germany have already discovered evidence that the part of the brain used when a deaf person signs is also activated when he/she reads printed words. The implications of this are significant and bring us a step closer to understanding how bilingual students process information, which eventually will lead to the development of methods for teaching them more effectively.”

For the past decade, Hurwitz told the WFD audience, CERP research has focused on how deaf young people all over the world organize, understand and communicate new knowledge. The results prove that deaf and hard of hearing children learn differently, are visual learners, and process information differently from their hearing peers. These data provide educators with a solid basis for developing unique methods and tools for teaching deaf and hard of hearing children.

Because of the new research produced by scholars at VL2 and CERP, “the educational landscape is changing and parents and educators alike must change with it in order to grow,” Hurwitz said. He urged the audience to visit the websites of VL2 (vl2.gallaudet.edu) and CERP (www.rit.edu/ntid/cerp) to become familiar with each center’s groundbreaking discoveries.

“The research being conducted by VL2 and CERP is moving deaf education in the right direction,” Hurwitz concluded. “It is up to all of us in the field to know about this research and use it to benefit our deaf and hard of hearing students.”

Gallaudet University, federally chartered in 1864, is a bilingual, diverse, multicultural institution of higher education that ensures the intellectual and professional advancement of deaf and hard of hearing individuals through American Sign Language and English. Gallaudet maintains a proud tradition of research and scholarly activity and prepares its graduates for career opportunities in a highly competitive, technological, and rapidly changing world.

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