About the Program

Early intervention is essential for every child.

Who We Are

The Deaf-Hearing Family Literacy Program at Madonna University uses research-based methods that are cutting edge, current resources, and qualified mentors to support children who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing and their parents. We are a home-based program where trained Deaf mentors visit the family’s home every week for two-hour sessions throughout the school year to teach children and their parents how to sign and read together, as well as to create meaningful language experiences that allow parents to help teach their children in their academic and non-academic environments. By supporting the whole family, the DHFLP strives to make a difference in the quality of lives of Deaf and Hard of Hearing children and their families now and in the future. The program originally was established through a grant from the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy.   It has continued thanks to additional financial support from the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, Lewis Foundation, Carls Foundation, Lions Club, and Detroit Association of the Deaf.  The DHFLP is forever grateful for their generosity and support.

Our Mission and Vision


Bilingual literacy begins at home.


Families in Michigan with at least one family member who is Deaf, DeafBlind, Hard of Hearing, and/or a Cochlear-Implant user, will communicate and do literacy activities together through American Sign Language and English at home with the guidance of trained mentors.


  1. The parents will improve in signing skills from September to May, as demonstrated by pre- and post-assessment scores.
  2. The parents will utilize signing skills to communicate with and read to their children through active parental participation under the guidance of their mentor.
  3. The families will utilize American Sign Language and English literacy through play-based activities.
  4. The families will understand and utilize some to all of the 15 Principles of Reading, as demonstrated through shared reading activities observed by their mentor.


  1. Assess families and provide resources for literacy and communication needs.
  2. Improve families’ literacy and signacy through guidance from their mentor.
  3. Utilize the Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center’s 15 Principles of Reading through mentor guidance for families.
  4. Use resources to support families in reaching important developmental and language milestones.
  5. Provide access to valuable information about the Deaf community, ASL linguistics, bilingual literacy, and bilingual research to families.
  6. Empower families to enjoy a relationship with each other through communication, information, literacy and play.

Our History

In the summer of 2013, representatives from the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy visited Detroit to recruit partners to aid in expanding their successful family literacy programs into Michigan. After meeting with a number of organizations, the BBFFL chose Madonna University as one of three institutions with which to partner, and as the only organization to replicate their successful Deaf Family Literacy program.

Using proven practices in American Sign Language (ASL), and with the aid of digital technology, children and their hearing caregivers learn how to sign and read, engaging in meaningful language experiences and allowing parents to help teach their children. The program uses Gallaudet University’s 15 Principles of Reading to a Deaf Child as the foundation for its activities and assessments. The Deaf Family Literacy programs have achieved remarkable results, including parents learning how to read to their children in ASL; families reading together more often; and Deaf children improving their reading comprehension skills.

Madonna University’s Deaf-Hearing Family Literacy program reflects the best practices from BBFFL’s Deaf Family Literacy programs in Florida and Tennessee, with a focus on the needs of families located in the tri-county area, which includes Detroit, Michigan. The area boasts the largest percentage of Michigan’s Deaf population, and also the State’s most financially stressed communities. The economic challenges are noted most acutely in the City of Detroit, where in 2012 the school district closed the city’s last remaining specialized school for Deaf children, the Detroit Day School for the Deaf. Recently, the Dearborn school district has also ended its program for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing students.

Components of Madonna University’s Deaf-Hearing Family Literacy program include Deaf adults serving as mentors and instructors. In the first year of operation, four (4) mentors were hired and trained to teach American Sign Language to both hearing parents and Deaf children. The program currently serves 11 families through a combination of home-based and center-based services. Approximately 7 5-80% of program activities are conducted in the home, with Deaf mentors traveling to visit families on a weekly basis. The remaining 20-25% of the services include parenting education sessions and guided “Parent and Child Time” (PACT) which will take place at Holley Family Village during the summer.

Unique to Madonna University’s planned Deaf-Hearing Family Literacy program is a week-long educational retreat for participating families at Holley Family Village at DeSales Center in Brooklyn, Michigan. Each summer, the Holley Family Village offers residential programs featuring unique educational and mentoring opportunities, including education for families with Deaf children and classes in American Sign Language. The Holley Family Village has agreed to host Madonna University’s Deaf Family Literacy families again for a dedicated one-week session during the summer of 2016.

The University’s program builds on the research supporting the primacy of the family to facilitate the natural language acquisition of children who are Deaf and hard-of-hearing and utilizes the power of the family in promoting reading skill development. The basic tool for family members to be effective in this process is the acquisition of American Sign Language. Beyond that, the program focuses on practical strategies for parents to facilitate reading skill development and to communicate high expectations for success to their children in their educational and academic endeavors. By supporting the whole family, the program can make a difference in the quality of the lives of Deaf children now and in the future.