Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Carol Mattingly

Second Advisor

Sarah L. Liggett


Composition theorists have already considered the effect of cultural constructs on writing students and have modified pedagogical practices to meet the needs of diverse students. However, disability has remained an almost invisible category in composition studies. This is unfortunate because our society has historically limited the access of the disabled into society, including the academy. Composition teachers need to understand deafness because poor English literacy skills are one culturally constructed attribute associated with hearing loss. The need is especially great now that legal and social developments are encouraging more deaf students to enroll in hearing majority colleges. Also, high-level literacy is even more important for the deaf than for hearing people, because written English is a channel of communication unaffected by hearing loss. This study examines the problem through personal experience, classroom observation, and review of relevant research. Elements of both hearing culture and deaf culture combine to give the average deaf high school graduate fourth-grade literacy skills. Most deaf children fall behind in language learning not because they are cognitively deficient but because they do not receive enough meaningful linguistic input. Schooling and hearing culture contribute to their literacy deficit by not meeting the developmental needs of deaf children. The written English problems of deaf students resemble those of ESL students. The deaf writer's lack of meaningful use of English, coupled with a related poverty of content knowledge, explains the low literacy achievement of the average deaf high school graduate; deaf students with more language exposure have more advanced literacy skills. This study also suggests pedagogy to help composition teachers modify classroom culture to integrate deaf students. Since deaf students depend on vision for receiving information, teachers should use all opportunities to provide information visually and cooperate with any support services the student uses. Teacher should facilitate interaction between deaf and hearing students and make sure assignments and class activities are accessible to deaf students. If the course readings are chosen to represent a diversity, the teacher can include readings on deafness and other disabilities. Integration of deaf students into our composition classes should enrich the experience for everyone.