Communication Disorders group receives a Hearing Health Foundation grant

August 6, 2013

From left: Sarah Poissant, Richard Freyman, and Gwyneth Rost

Communication Disorders faculty members Sarah Poissant, Richard Freyman, and Gwyneth Rost received a one-year, $25,000 Emerging Research Grant from the Hearing Health Foundation. The grant is for a project titled “The Impact of Total Communication on the Auditory Perception of Speech.”

The team, working with teachers and administrators from the Willie Ross School for the Deaf, will examine the potential benefits of using sign language in tandem with spoken instruction with children with severe-to-profound hearing loss who are developing spoken language. Their research approach builds from the observation that the clarity of speech that has been artificially degraded (e.g., to mimic a hearing loss) is strikingly improved when listeners have knowledge of the content of the message. The proposed study applies this hypothesis to children with hearing loss to determine whether signs serve in part as a prime to improve auditory perception of speech.

The project design includes two separate studies. In the first experiment, children will be presented with video and audio recordings of trained, experienced teachers of the deaf producing single words and sentences. Half the time what the children will hear and see will match, while the other half they will not. The children will then be asked to tell whether what they heard and saw were the same or different. The benefits of the signs will be determined by presenting them at varied times in relation to the speech signal (i.e., before, at the same time as, after).

In the second experiment, children attending the Willie Ross School will be asked to point to a depiction of what they heard or saw after being presented with a simultaneously produced sign and speech stimulus, a spoken-only stimulus, or a signed-only stimulus. The researchers will examine both perceptual accuracy and response time.

The project design will allow the researchers to determine, at both group and individual levels, whether access to signs improves, interferes with, or has no effect on the perception of words in short sentences. The team is hopeful that results will add to the current knowledge base about total communication, providing direction for clinicians, teachers, and parents in making decisions about how sign language use might best be incorporated into educational activities during the school day.