Fifty percent of deaf people read at or below a fourth-grade level. 

Onudeah “Oni” Nicolarakis, born deaf, has taught deaf and hearing students and is earning her Ph.D. Her research focus is helping deaf people become proficient writers: “My preschool communicated with parents through writing, and my mother always asked me what I wanted to tell them. I recognized writing’s power to express something others can understand. Written language is the map of spoken language.”

At New York City’s P.S. 347, once exclusively for deaf students, Nicolarakis taught hearing children fluent in signing (their parents were deaf) and others eager to learn. Language acquisition is “messy — it doesn’t have to be perfect,” she says. “Make contact, have interactions, and language develops in an organic way.”