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URMC / Clinical & Translational Science Institute / Stories / May 2024 / Wyatte Hall Awarded $3.4M to Study Language Acquisition in Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Children

Wyatte Hall Awarded $3.4M to Study Language Acquisition in Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Children

Wyatte Hall, PhDWyatte Hall, PhD, an assistant professor of Public Health Sciences at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC), has been awarded a $3.4 million grant from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). Hall, who was the first graduate of the UR CTSI-supported Rochester Postdoc Partnership, will track language acquisition outcomes for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing (DHH) children with the five-year grant.

Most deaf children are at risk for language deprivation because their families do not know a sign language and hearing technology does not provide complete access to spoken language. This public health epidemic has cascading consequences for many aspects of child development that depend on language.

Hall and his multidisciplinary team aim to understand how families make choices about how to teach their deaf children language and how those choices set children up for success. In collaboration with multiple California stakeholders, Hall and his team will give every deaf child in California the chance to participate, which could provide a birds-eye view of the prevalence of language deprivation and the conditions in which children successfully learn language.

Deaf child using sign language with medical professional“California is truly a pioneer in their innovative support of DHH children, and that is now reflected in this groundbreaking grant project,” said Hall. “This research would not be possible without the foundational steps, undertaken by Sheri Farinha at NorCal Services and Julie Rems Smario, EdD, over the past decade to advocate for and support statewide tracking of DHH children’s early development.”

Hall’s diverse and highly experienced research team represents a national collaboration between URMC; NorCal Services for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing; California State University, Sacramento (Nate Dutra, EdD); Boston University (Naomi Caselli, PhD and Arielle Spellun, MD); and the University of California San Francisco (Dylan Chan, MD).

The URMC research team includes Scott McIntosh, PhD, Peter Veazie, PhD, and Jorilee Pettinger, MS, of the Public Health Sciences department. The team also includes Michelle Koplitz, MHS, a graduate student in the UR CTSI’s Translational Biomedical Sciences PhD Program and the new Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Graduate Trainee Support Program, who has extensive federal-level experience working within the Early Hearing Detection and Intervention Program at the Health Resources & Services Administration. 

This funding from NIDCD highlights the crucial importance of supporting language acquisition in DHH children. The outcomes of this research are expected to help inform federal and state policies for early intervention, optimizing educational resource allocation, and ultimately improving the overall quality of life for Deaf communities across the nation.

Hall is currently the director of the Visual Language Access and Acquisition Lab at URMC and co-directs the Future Deaf Scientists program under the Wilmot Cancer Institute, a cancer STEM research education and training program seeking to empower Deaf high school students to explore medical and science careers.

Susanne Pritchard Pallo | 5/30/2024

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