Daycare for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children

Ensure Your Child Has Communication Access

When parents work, daycare is a concern whether a child is deaf/hard of hearing or hearing. Parents of deaf/hard of hearing (HOH) children have the added concern of communication.

Deaf school children signing to each other in classroom

Solutions for Daycare for Deaf/HOH

One solution for school-age children is a school-age child care program. Such programs may provide interpreters. One year my child had an interpreter/provider at the school-age child care program, but when school started, there was no interpreter/provider available.

For younger children, child care is a real challenge. When my child was younger and attended a regular daycare center, there were no interpreting services available. Fortunately, the time spent in that daycare was brief. Even so, there were still some problems stemming from the lack of adequate sign communication. An experience with private family daycare with a non-signing provider was worse.

Some parents hire college sign language students or deaf education students to supervise their children. Parents can also ask around at local daycare centers. Maybe you will be fortunate enough to find one that has care providers who already know sign language. With sign language as popular as it is, the chances of finding one may be better than you think. If you find a good daycare center but no one can sign, there is an inexpensive little book parents can give to daycare providers, Caring for Young Children: Signing for Day Care Providers & Sitters (Beginning Sign Language), ISBN 093199358X.

Search databases of childcare providers online. Some may indicate if they know sign language. For example, in Fairfax County, Virginia, the county has a database that allows you to search by other languages, including sign language. Child care resource and referral organizations can be located through If there are no online databases in your county, your local county government may have an office for child care that can provide referrals.

If you live in Washington, DC and work at Gallaudet University, the University has a Child Care Center. Likewise, the Rochester Institute of Technology, home to the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, also has a child care center.

The Law and Childcare for Deaf

What does the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) have to say about daycare for the deaf? Privately-run child care centers must comply with title III of the ADA. The Department of Department of Justice's Child Care Questions and Answers page addresses child care and the ADA in detail. Basically, it says that auxiliary aids and services must be provided, but this does not necessarily mean they have to provide an interpreter. It also addresses the question of whether a child care center has to provide an interpreter for deaf parents. More information is also available through the National Association of the Deaf's page on "Obligations of Private Educational Classes or Institutions to Deaf Students."

At least one parent, Janet Johanson, has successfully sued for an interpreter in an after-school state program and won. (Honolulu Star-Bulletin, December 7, 2000, and Honolulu Advertiser, December 8, 2000). One argument was that having an interpreter is a must in case of medical emergency. In fact, Johanson states that one of her children did have a medical emergency while in child care, and had to go to an emergency room. The child care providers were not able to communicate with the child at the hospital and could not find out the crucial details of the incident or how the child was feeling.

Daycare for Deaf Discussions

The Edudeaf list held a discussion on daycare rights for deaf and hard of hearing children. As part of that discussion, someone raised the point that a deaf child in a daycare setting without sign language is at greater risk for abuse.

After all, a hearing child can come home and tell mommy or daddy that something bad happened, but a deaf child with limited language may not be able to communicate the same thing. Another participant reported an actual abuse situation that involved her deaf child.

2 Sources
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  1. U.S. Department of Justice. Common questions about child care centers and the Americans with disabilities act.

  2. Star Advertiser. Archives.

By Jamie Berke
 Jamie Berke is a deafness and hard of hearing expert.