Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Linguistics, Applied

First Advisor

Avary Carhill-Poza

Second Advisor

Jaran Shin

Third Advisor

Kimberly Buescher


According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, deafness is a disability. As such, d/Deaf individuals are legally entitled to an accommodation that will allow them to access spoken English. In the educational setting, the most common accommodation is an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter. While this service often does create a more equitable linguistic situation in most cases, it may do the opposite in a class where language learning is the focus. This is especially true for d/Deaf adults in ESL classes. Research on d/Deaf adult English learners is urgently needed to inform policy and classroom practice. Classroom observations of a d/Deaf ESL student, their interpreters, and their teacher were conducted over a semester. Following, interviews with ESL teachers, Disability Access administrators, and ASL interpreters were collected. Classroom discourse analysis showed that the ability to hear is a significant advantage in an ESL class and that, despite having an ASL interpreter, the d/Deaf student still only had access to English about half as often as their hearing classmates. Thematic analysis of interview data showed that teachers and administrators relied heavily on interpreter expertise despite the fact that interpreters reported having little to no training in English education for d/Deaf learners. In effect, it is often the ASL interpreter and not the teacher teaching the d/Deaf English learner. Additionally, the interviews revealed that the ASL interpreters believed they were ill-equipped for this responsibility of teaching the d/Deaf student. They also stated that they frequently felt that their work in ESL classrooms was ineffective and at times detrimental to the d/Deaf student’s acquisition of English. These findings indicate there may be a fundamental misunderstanding about how ESL classes function for d/Deaf students.


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