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Project H.E.L.P. stands for Hearing Impaired Early Literacy Project. It is a Steppingstones of Technology grant funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services.

Project H.E.L.P. developed an innovative interactive program using DVD (Digital Versatile Disc) technology for use by families of young children who are deaf. The 8-unit DVD program is called Ready to Read. Families interact with the program using the DVD remote. Family members learn visual literacy skills for use with their young child with hearing loss to prepare the child to enter school ready to interact with basal reading material and develop and learn reading skills.

One of the most important family skills on the DVD is learning how to visually use “service words” with young deaf children. Service words are those words that cannot easily be learned through the use of pictures or objects (e.g., apple) but that constitute up to 75% of all words used in basal readers. Service words include pronouns, prepositions, adjectives, adverbs, verbs, conjunctions, and articles.

Deaf children, in preparation for school, have had an especially difficult time learning these words because they cannot easily hear them or see the often visually-obscure meanings and referents for these words. Also many deaf children of hearing parents who sign their English to their children are typically infrequently exposed to service words because it is almost impossible for hearing persons to sign all of what they say, and the signed words that typically fall out are the service words. Deaf children of hearing parents who learn and use American Sign Language (ASL – that has no speech equivalent) are also typically not exposed to service words because ASL does not include most of the service words used in spoken English.

The Project H.E.L.P. DVD program helps parents and family members learn and use service word concepts visually with their young deaf children. Other important visual literacy skills are taught to families on the DVD program.

The Ready to Read DVD Series includes 8 units. Each unit focuses on a service word category (such as prepositions, adverbs, etc.). Each unit has four parts: Use of the service words in real-life situations as demonstrated by a deaf and hearing instructor interacting with deaf children and their families. Teaching of signed service word concepts to families in: (a) signed English, (b) American Sign Language (ASL), and (c) Bi-Bi or Bilingual-Bicultural (both signed English and ASL). Presentation of the service word concepts in these three visual communication methods makes it possible for families using any of these methodologies to use the DVD program. Teaching family members specific visual literacy skills (different skills for each of the eight units) that include “embedded use” of the service words already taught in (1) and (2) above. A self-paced assessment.

The Project H.E.L.P. Ready to Read program was field tested in the Utah School for the Deaf Parent-Infant Program. Eighty-two (82) family members participated in the field test. Ninety-one percent (91%) of the participants met the performance criteria of the study to either (a) demonstrate an increase from pre to post of 30% or more or (b) score 80% or higher at posttest for all concepts in all 8 units (183 concepts).

The Ready to Read DVD Series was awarded the Silver Telly which is the highest Telly Award honoring excellence in video, DVD, and film production.

Through the family’s use of the Ready to Read DVD program, young deaf children will be better prepared to enter preschool/school with a basic sight vocabulary of service words that are especially difficult for them to learn but that they will frequently encounter in their earliest basal reading. They will also learn from their parents and families other visual literacy skills needed for them to successfully develop early literacy competencies in preparation for school.

The Ready to Read DVD Series is now available through HOPE Inc.