University of Edinburgh

children harbour fishingBackground

During 2018 we explored the views of families raising a deaf child or children while living on a low income. The project title Telling It Like It Is shows that we expected straight talking from families as they discussed their experiences.

We were interested to find out about what families know about language choices, technology and services for deaf children. We wanted to know what parents think about the support they had to make decisions and get the information they needed for their deaf child or children. What did these families think were the challenges and supports for themselves about their deaf child’s language and communication development?

We interviewed 21 families in their own homes, or in a nearby community centre, from across the UK. This project has been funded by the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS). The full report is now available.


deaf child and adult communicatingContact

For more information about this project, please contact

Project team

child playing in washing basketInterviews

Interviews were conducted during 2018. Participation was encouraged from a wide range of backgrounds and ethnicities. Information on joining the project was available in several languages (video, text and audio, where appropriate.)


deaf child smilingResults

We will report our findings on this website. Presentations which lead from the project will also appear on this page. Audio and British Sign Language summaries in the different preferred languages of parents involved in the project will also appear on this website.

Summary of the study

The team carried out a review of literature relating to deaf young people living in low-income families. The aim of the review is to focus on research which increases fluency in language, and factors which improve language outcomes, even when socioeconomic circumstances are unfavourable. Deaf children growing up in low-income families currently have poorer language outcomes, and on average less successful academic outcomes from school. The review sets out the search strategy, which focuses largely on studies from higher income countries having similar health or education systems to the UK. The 59 sources are summarised and evaluated in nine themes. Finally, a synthesis examines the most important factors, discusses mediating variables where interventions may be possible to support low-income families, and summarises the most favourable strategies for interventions which could be more widely applied. One of the most promising results is the advantage with early identification and an early start in working with the family brings to language outcomes for deaf children from low-income backgrounds.

Through interviews the research aims to discover from parents living on a low income their experiences and views of bringing up a deaf child, the support available to them and challenges and supports they had in relation to their deaf child's language development. Questions were developed using the literature and focused on the idea of parent confidence and strategies, rather than seeing the families in a deficit light. Twenty-one families from all parts of the UK were interviewed, mostly face-to-face and two using phone interviews. The findings showed that for families living on a low income, new-born hearing screening and early intervention were not very effective. Many families, particularly those with weaker reading skills or those who did not use spoken English, wanted more information and discussion from professionals about language, communication choices and equipment. Families often had no way to report back to health and education professionals how they really felt, or found it hard to express their views. Parental confidence was related to having good information and an alternative source of information such as someone who knew about the education system. Many families did not have any alternative sources. Over half the parents in this study used British Sign Language (BSL) or more basic sign language at home. Professionals often discouraged them from using this approach, but parents found it useful. However, parents did not have many opportunities to learn sign language.

Finally the report discusses the findings of both parts of the study, relating the literature review to the findings from the analysis of interviews. Recommendations based on the findings are made in relation to National Deaf Children's Society (NDCS), teachers of deaf children and health professionals.

Summary Translations

Translations in BSL and spoken/written community languages are below. These languages are those used by participants in the interviews and are provided so that the families can have access to a summary of the project findings.

BSL translation

EdSign Lecture

EdSign lectures are held regularly in Edinburgh and concentrate of topics relating to British Sign Language and Deafness. Rachel O'Neill and Jo Bowie presented on the results of the project at Moray House School of Education and Sport on 2nd April 2019.

Supervision of this project

The project was within the Scottish Sensory Centre, part of the School of Education at the University of Edinburgh. Professor John Ravenscroft is the director of the SSC:

The project received approval from the School of Education University of Edinburgh ethics committee. This means the University checked that the interviews were managed carefully, keeping to the research rules.


montage of children playing in playgrounds