The Importance of Deaf Role Models

The Issue

We know that all children need role models. Role models are critical for children’s social-emotional development as well as development of a positive self-image. When children lack role models with whom they can identify, they are statistically more likely to have low self-esteem, to perceive themselves as having limited social and vocational options, and are even more likely to drop out of high school.

What We Know

The majority of children’s role models are adults that are a part of their everyday lives, for example family members, family friends, teachers, and coaches. For most children, these people are likely to be people that they can readily identify with, in terms of gender, race, religion, and/or other traits.

For deaf or hard of hearing children, this can be a challenge. It is crucial for parents and educators to recognize the importance of identifying role models who can exemplify living life with a hearing loss. Deaf children benefit from seeing how deaf adults navigate the day-to-day in their world – for example, how they request a captioning device at a movie theatre; what strategies they use to navigate a bank or fast food drive-thru; how they handle rude stares or questions from well-meaning people at the grocery store. Because students subconsciously develop schemas for their daily lives based on what they see the adults in their lives do, it is ideal that deaf children have access to deaf adults on an informal basis.

Most deaf children have parents that are hearing. Many hearing parents fear that while they can make informed decisions regarding their deaf child’s education and/or language choices, they feel at a loss when it comes to the intangibles, or what it is like to live with deafness. Deaf role models can ease parents’ fears and share positive life experiences; inform families of upcoming Deaf events; provide access to a support network; give ‘real life’ examples about self-advocacy; and to provide authentic opportunity to practice sign language.

What We Don’t Know

 While there is research that can tell us about the importance of role models for children, and about the potential impact of a lack of role models, there is not much to tell us how to purposefully seek a role model – or, really, a community of potential role models.


The people in our children’s lives are going to be the pool from which they seek and identify their role models. Deaf children, without a ‘schema’ or model from which to emulate while developing their own views and feelings about their hearing status, are more likely to view deafness as a deficit; a flaw; as something insurmountable.

While it is important to consider the need for deaf children to have access to similar peers, it is equally as important to think about similar role models. At minimum, families and educators are encouraged to consider deaf children’s access to deaf adults, and to forge opportunities for them to interact. Seek teachers, medical practitioners, religious leaders, even simply guest speakers who are deaf. Find local deaf community events and summer camp opportunities for deaf children.

Some states have adopted Communication Plans as a part of a deaf child’s IEP; identifying a student’s access to similar role models will help to ensure that the ‘whole child’s’ needs are being considered.

By providing access to role models with whom deaf children can readily identify, parents and educators ensure that these children are more likely to develop the tools and strategies that they will need in order to navigate the world.

Posted on Oct. 4, 2019 by
Daphne Werner, Delaware School for the Deaf


Further reading