Using Apps with Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Children

The issue

Tablets have become an important part of our everyday lives. Many households own a tablet and even the youngest family members use tablets very often. Children are attracted to use tablets and enjoy playing games on. Apps for young children are not only for entertainment but also for learning. Educational apps may have the potential to enhance children’s language and (early) literacy development. For example, there are apps with letter or writing activities or storybooks. These apps might be of particular relevance for deaf and hard-of-hearing (DHH) children because of their frequent reading challenges. However, the enormous amount of available apps makes it difficult to choose. What are appropriate apps for deaf and hard-of-hearing children (DHH) and how can we use them with these children?

What we know

Apps can be used individually by a child or together with family members. Optimal use of tablets seems dependent upon the support given by parents or other adults. Adults can model the use of tablets and, with their guidance, apps can be used to build DHH children’s language and literacy skills. For example, when playing a letter game, one could talk about words that start with that letter. When a child “reads” a storybook app, parents can help their child by explaining new words or relating the story to a child’s daily experiences. Children learn more new words when reading storybook apps with their parents than when they read them alone. It is the interaction between parent and child that provides the best learning opportunities.

In a study on reading storybook apps parents and their DHH toddlers interacted in the same way as when reading print books. Parents followed their child’s lead and responded to their questions. To promote children’s language and literacy it is important to connect the story to their interest and to react to their initiatives.

When choosing storybook apps it is important to focus on the app features. Animations in apps can be really important for fun and motivation as well as to attract the attention of children. However, they can also distract the child from the content of the story. If animations are not related to the content of what the child should learn from the story, children learn less. If the pages in storybook apps automatically turn, there is less time to talk about the story on that page. DHH children need time to watch and process and they need the opportunity to tell their story and ask questions.

What we don’t know

Exposure to literacy materials like storybooks, letter, and writing activities is important for children’s future reading skills. Literacy apps can be a joyful addition to the use of traditional literacy materials. Despite the popularity of tablets, however, little is known about the efficacy of literacy apps to enhance deaf and hard-of-hearing children’s (pre)reading skills. There are many literacy apps available, and most of the time they contain activities like puzzles, games or quizzes. It is not known whether these kinds of activities are the most beneficial for DHH children’s literacy skills. Also the effect of the different app features (e.g. animations, sounds, hotspots) on literacy outcomes of DHH children is not clear.


Think of apps as tools that can promote engagement between family members or between teachers and their pupils. Although we do not know exactly how (DHH) children profit from apps, parents do seem to know how to engage their DHH child when using (storybook) apps. With the appropriate guidance, children can improve their skills when using apps. There are many apps that a child can use individually that are fun and educational, and there is no reason not to let children use these apps (for a limited amount of time). However, children learn more when they use the app in interaction with an adult.

Posted on July 10, 2017 by
Evelien Dirks
Dutch Foundation for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Child
edirks {at}

Loes Wauters
Royal Dutch Kentalis
l.wauters {at}


Further reading