The Psychological Effects of Oralism

A recently published letter to the Washington Post from Meredith Sugar, Esq., the president of the A.G. Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, does a grave disservice to Deaf children and their families. The letter attempts to undermine growing media attention on the success of Nyle DiMarco, a charismatic and intelligent young Deaf man who rose to fame as the winner of America’s Next Top Model and who is now one of the top contestants on the popular television show, Dancing with the Stars. As a Deaf person, DiMarco’s success flies in the face of everything A.G. Bell stands for. He is from a multi-generational Deaf family, a graduate of Deaf schools who holds a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, communicates in American Sign Language, uses no auditory technological devices, and comes across as a well-rounded and happy Deaf individual.A.G. Bell’s simplistic message that technological intervention makes it possible for Deaf children to “learn spoken language by listening” and that “most of these children develop language much as children with typical hearing do” is inaccurate and harmful. It glosses over the devastating psychological effects associated with a spoken-English-only approach to language. By the time parents and hearing professionals (i.e., teachers, audiologists, speech therapists, doctors) recognize that the Deaf child has significant developmental delays in linguistic development, the psychological damage has often already been done. There are far too many Deaf people who are survivors of the English-only philosophy.

A disproportionate amount of attention is given to the perceived “benefits” of speaking and hearing, no matter how perfectly or imperfectly the Deaf child is able to do this. Very little attention is given to the social, emotional, psychological, and educational harms that occur when Deaf children are denied access to ASL. These deserve attention.

Anyone invested in Deaf children’s well-being should be aware of the costs incurred when teaching spoken English comes at the expense of healthy development in other areas.

To read more about the psychological impact of oralism, see below for a link to an article co-authored by Sharon Duchesneau and the letter writer.


Dr. Candace A. McCullough, CEO
Deaf Counseling Center

  1. Billy S. Allen April 11, 2016

    Dr. McCullough,
    Your research paper on the impact of Oralism is nearly the exact narrative of my life growing up. Thank you for writing that. About 5 years ago I was part of a play that Ping Chong made on Invisible Voices series. Our part was for people with disabilities. Additionally, during my growing up years, we lost a couple oral deaf friends as they decided to take on their own life due to lack of self-identity and sense of belonging. I made an attempt, but did not work. . This story has been recorded onto DVD for anyone to see.
    ( https://www.facebook.com/Invisible-Voices-New-Perspectives-on-Disability-122608074692/?fref=ts )

    I’ve expressed these exact sentiments as your paper stated with one exception

    After growing up as written in your paper. I decided to attend college and pursue higher education as a much older student (was the oldest football player on team too). Went to Gallaudet (mom, was not a happy camper “why would you go to a school with kids of lower education ? you are better than that?”) I won’t elaborate on how that really ticked me off. But, I got a chance to refine my ASL emerge into a much desired culture, felt belonged and obtain higher education. Completed my BA there then went to Rutgers (they only accept A and B grading). Ended up doing a dual masters there utilizing ASL interpreters and CART for the legal class (because contents of ASL cannot accurately define the legal terms as CART).
    ASL is easier for me to get by on a day to day basis, CART and lip reading really sucks up my energy and drains me quite a bit.

    My life is now balanced with having a deaf wife, have hearing kids (knows sign). Working with hearing folks on most of the days but personal life is Deaf life. I use ASL interpreters anytime I can get one to preserve my sanity, energy and comprehension of what’s going on around me.
    I’ve found my balance and sanity in life.
    Happy Camper

    • Dean April 4, 2018

      Hi Billy,

      I was just wondering why ASL cannot accurately define legal terms. I am genuinely curious, I have no knowledge of law, and I just looked up CART online.



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