Assuming that a person is born deaf and has never heard spoken language, as they learn to read, do they on average read faster than people with healthy hearing who learn to read the usual way?

The reason I'm wondering this is that the first step most speed reading teachers mention is eliminating "sub-vocalization" that is not to imagine the sound of the word as you read since it will limit your reading speed to the speed at which you can comprehend spoken language.

Deaf people presumably never have to deal with this subvocalization issue as they are taught to read in different ways (most likely through associating words to images and/or sign language which in a way is also an image) so I'm wondering if there is a major difference between the reading speed of deaf people and people who are not deaf, or if they are relatively similar, and of course I am wondering how this is without either the deaf or the not deaf having been trained for speedreading beforehand.

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    $\begingroup$ You might want to have a look at: Bélanger, N. N., Slattery, T. J., Mayberry, R. I., & Rayner, K. (2012). Skilled deaf readers have an enhanced perceptual span in reading. Psychological Science, 23(7), 816-823. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 13, 2015 at 4:14

1 Answer 1


There doesn't seem to be much research on this, but based on my review of the research it appears that deaf people are generally slower readers than non-deaf readers - but that this may be affected by age. Essentially they may start as slower readers but become faster readers when they are older. See the evidence I found below:

Conrad, Richard. "The reading ability of deaf school‐leavers." British Journal of Educational Psychology 47.2 (1977): 138-148.

“4.5% of young deaf people were able to read at the level commensurate with their age”

Shroyer, Edgar H., and Jack Birch. "Captions and reading rates of hearing-impaired students." American Annals of the Deaf 125.7 (1980): 916-922.

The mean of the median scores for Hams and Sipay(s (1975) fourth, fifth, and sixth-grade students (intermediate) is 145 words per minute compared with a mean of 142 for the intermediate deaf students. For the hearing students on a junior high school level, the mean of the median reading rates was 188 words per minute and the mean for the deaf students 181 words per minute.

Hearing high school students had a mean of 216 words per minute compared with a mean of 275 words per minute for deaf students

Kelly L, Barac-Cikoja D. The comprehension of skilled deaf readers: The roles of word recognition and other potentially critical aspects of competence. In: Cain K, Oakhill J, editors. Children’s comprehension problems in oral and written language: A cognitive perspective. Guilford Press; 2007. pp. 244–279.

The median reading level of young deaf adults graduating from high school is 8 years below the average of their hearing peers

Bélanger, N. N., Slattery, T. J., Mayberry, R. I., & Rayner, K. (2012). Skilled deaf readers have an enhanced perceptual span in reading. Psychological Science, 23(7), 816-823.

Reading rate (words per minute) as a function of window size for skilled hearing readers (SKH), skilled deaf readers (SKD) and less skilled deaf readers (LSKD)

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    $\begingroup$ (+1) Could you add the reference from the comment by @Jeromy Anglim ? $\endgroup$
    – jona
    Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 9:09
  • $\begingroup$ Nice, so in general they seem to start slower but in their teens overtake the hearing ones in reading speed, this is good info :) Too bad there's not more research, but this will have to do. $\endgroup$
    – Cestarian
    Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 14:11

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