When Can Deafness Be Hereditary?

Mom and Dad Are Deaf, So Is Grandma and Grandpa...

When I was in deaf college at NTID and Gallaudet, I found I was envious of the DODs (deaf of deaf, deaf students who had been born to deaf families). They seemed so confident and tended to be the leaders. Some well-known deaf people are DODs. One example is the actor Bernard Bragg (whose life story is told in the book Lessons in Laughter).

Indeed, children who are DOD have been found by some studies to be "linguistically superior." Their command of both ASL and English often exceeds that of peers not born to deaf parents, because ASL tends to be their first language with English being the second language. Being a DOD is a source of pride in the deaf community.

Over the years, I've enjoyed reading some articles about multigenerational deaf families. One article I remember was from the 1980s, titled I think "The Happy Ammans," published in a deaf publication whose title I can not remember. It might have been the old Deaf American.

It is not unusual to have third, fourth, or even sixth generation deaf families. Most deaf people marry other deaf peole, and if the deafness is hereditary, the result is these multi-generational deaf families. These families are sometimes referred to as "deaf dynasties." According to one conference on deafness, it is even possible to find eighth generation deaf families that reach all the way back to the early 19th century. Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts was home for a long time, to such families.

Often DODs can be found working at places such as Gallaudet University. A web search turned up Flavia Frazier, an instructor at Gallaudet in the department of American Sign Language and Deaf Studies. Frazier is fourth generation deaf, and her child is the fifth generation.

Research and articles on multigenerational deaf families outside of scientific genetic studies, seem to be scarce. Published sources that are known:

  • Garretson, M.D. (Ed.). (1996) Deafness: Historical perspectives: A Deaf American monograph. Silver Spring, MD: National Association of the Deaf. This monograph includes a genealogical perspective on five multi-generational deaf families.
  • Ross E. Mitchell and Michael A. Karchmer. Chasing the Mythical Ten Percent: Parental Hearing Status of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students in the United States. Volume Four, Issue Two of Sign Language Studies.This paper examines the prevalence of deaf of deaf in the deaf community and questions whether it is true that ten percent of deaf are born to deaf parents. The paper also cites many references.
  • In the article "Defiantly Deaf" published in the New York Times, August 28, 1994, deaf activist Jackie Roth states that deaf children growing up in deaf families have a better understanding of what it means to be deaf.

From Deafness visitors:

  • I'd like to point out that growing up oral, I missed so much...Once I transferred to a Deaf School, learning was no longer a struggle...majority of DOD peers fared better socially, academically and have become impressive doctors and lawyers or college professors. Going back to a HS reunion, majority of my deaf peers from hearing families were in blue collar jobs. The DOD peers, were mostly getting MA or even PhD degrees!


"I disagree with any "expert" that says that DOD are linguistically better than deaf children born and raised by hearing parents.

I have 2 deaf (born deaf) step daughters, 4 yrs apart having the same parents. They have a sister and brother from their mother and myself that can hear.

My point is that they attend or attended Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf. Almost all of the DOD there speak unintelligible English. My daughters can go any where and be understood by anyone at any time...Walmart, McDonalds, etc. We encouraged them to talk. I noticed most DOD families rely 100% on sign language.

Plus, in a family with hearing parents the deaf children can practice their speaking without being ridiculed."


"Whoever posted the comment in the Deafness section, is completely wrong. DOD can speak just as well as others. I am a DOD and I can communicate with the Hearing world, most of the time, even better than other Deaf people. I am very proud to be born to Deaf parents and thankful that they supported me. My mom made the decision when I was child to go to a speech therapy, but as I grew older and entered high school, I did not want to have speech therapy anymore. My parents accepted that. It was my decision to stop learning how to speak, but hearing people still can understand me clearly. I am vividly supportive of the Deaf community and it angered me that someone would say that DOD doesn't speak well, so I just wanted to inform the everyone that there are different kinds of people in the world."

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