Eye-movements in Reading in Deaf and Hard-of-hearing Russian Sign Language Speakers of Different Age
Reading is a complex cognitive skill. It plays an important role in the life of deaf and hearing impaired individuals, because they communicate with individuals without hearing loss mostly though reading and writing. However, learning to read is much more difficult for deaf individuals than for the hearing. Probably, the lack of access to speech sounds affects the language development of the deaf, therefore, they read worse than hearing people (Bélanger, 2015). At the same time, the deaf have an advantage in visual processing that helps them read: they have a wider visual perception field and extract characters to the right from the current fixation more efficiently than hearing readers (Bélanger, Slattery, 2012).
We are going to investigate differences in the reading process between deaf and hearing individuals. The differences found in reading parameters may potentially help to develop school programs and correct reading process in deaf and hearing impaired individuals.
Deafness can be of varying severity (from partial hearing loss to deep deafness). People with partial hearing loss have access to sounds and presumably have better reading skills than the profoundly deaf people. In the first study, we compared eye movements during reading in deaf individuals and in individuals with partial hearing loss, all of them using Russian Sign Language (RSL) on the daily basis.
Results for the reading experiment demonstrated that both groups have comparable reading speeds. However, some patterns of poorer reading skills were found in deaf individuals (lower accuracy level and more pronounced slowing down on longer words). We found that both deaf and hearing RSL speakers benefit from peripheral vision while reading: deaf individuals can effectively process long words with a single fixation; hearing participants accelerate in words reading and rereading time with the increasing frequency of the next word.
In the second study, we analyzed eye-tracking data for a unique group of readers – primary school children with hearing loss. We compare their eye-movements with a control group of typically developing children without hearing loss. For now, we have data only for 4 participants from our target group of children with hearing loss. All of these children are profoundly deaf and were born in deaf families. A small sample and its characteristics may have affected the results of the study, but the data collection is ongoing.
The comparison of eye-movements revealed that children with hearing loss use the same reading patterns as hearing efficient readers. Due to the developed peripheral vision and greater parafoveal preview, deaf children display higher probability of skipping a word, their average saccade landing position is closer to the center of the word (hence, to the optimal viewing position), and they have lower probability of fixating a word more than once. Our participants with hearing loss slowed down on longer words less frequently than the hearing, and had shorter reading times – in particular, shorter single fixation durations and gaze durations. Moreover, their comprehension question response accuracy was slightly lower than in the control group of hearing.
To sum up, we found out that both deaf and hard-of-hearing adult participants are able effectively extract information on the periphery while reading. Both groups exhibit similar patterns in reading which mean that total or partial hearing loss does not significantly affect reading. Children with hearing loss definitely demonstrate that they benefit in reading due to their enhanced peripheral vision: they have fewer fixations, shorter total reading times and high comprehension response accuracy.
In our future research, we plan to continue investigating eye movements during reading in the deaf and hard of hearing individuals. We are going to collect more data in children with hearing loss and compare the results of deaf and hard-of-hearing adults with those of hearing adults.
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