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Visual language, cognition and deaf education topics of summit

November 14, 2011

How deaf children learn to read will be one of the topics of a conference at UC Davis Nov. 18-19. The Visual Learning Summit is co-sponsored by the UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain, Gallaudet University’s Science of Learning Center on Visual Language and Visual Learning, and the departments of psychology and linguistics at UC Davis.

Deaf children often face challenges in learning to read, said David Corina, professor in the Department of Linguistics and the Center for Mind and Brain at UC Davis, who is one of the organizers of the meeting. For example, hearing children learn to read by sounding out words, but deaf children often have to learn to read without access to sound. How they accomplish this ability requires an understanding of the language used by deaf children — often a visual sign language such as American Sign Language.

“How does growing up in a primarily visual world impact language, memory and attention, and how can educational practices be structured to optimize the strengths of a deaf child? There are a lot of questions about the best way to educate deaf children, and many things we can learn from visually oriented learners,” Corina said. For example, understanding how some deaf children successfully learn to read may help us design interventions for normally hearing children with other reading difficulties, such as dyslexia, he said.

How our brains interpret the external world is one of the major research areas at UC Davis’ Center for Mind and Brain, one of a rich set of connected centers and institutes dedicated to understanding the human mind and brain. Research projects range from measuring the effects of intense meditation training to understanding the causes of autism.

For neuroscientists, deafness raises other issues, too. Hearing-impaired people show evidence of better peripheral vision and different patterns of eye-gaze from hearing people. Whether this helps them in reading in unknown, Corina said.

The first-of-its-kind summit is a great opportunity to bring together researchers and educators in the field of deafness with researchers who have not traditionally worked with deaf populations, Corina said.

“There are not many forums for us to get together, and this type of conference can lead to fruitful collaborations,” he said.

Keynote speakers at the meeting will be Laura-Ann Petitto, Gallaudet University, the world's only university in which all programs and services are specifically designed for deaf and hard-of-hearing students; and deaf scholar Carol Padden, associate dean of social sciences at UC San Diego and 2010 MacArthur genius award winner.

For registration information, see http://mindbrain.ucdavis.edu/labs/Corina/VLS.

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