Krystallo Tziallila: Hands Free Reading for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children

My husband and I are both deaf and use sign language on a daily basis. He originally is from Germany, while I am originally from Greece. We were thrilled when I became pregnant with our twins. At that time, we were living in Athens, Greece. Our twins were born there.

I knew from my graduate studies in Deaf Education at McDaniel College and Gallaudet that reading books to kids early on is critical to their language development. So, I had been signing children’s picture books to the twins in both ASL and Greek Sign Language since they were babies.

The kids were exposed to four languages in total. Aside from signing to the kids in ASL and Greek Sign Language, I spoke to them in Greek. My husband spoke to them in German. However, we ended up going back to the USA when they were 20 months old.

At that time the twins knew no English. We had to get them up to speed quickly. We read picture books. I also encouraged the kids to explore the books on their own.

However, there was a challenge: I needed my hands free while signing the stories. So, I created a book stand and covered it with fabric for protection against the kids’ touching and exploring. I loved the result – it held even oversized books. The picture below shows my original stand.

The dining table was my favorite place for book sharing and encouraging the kids to read independently. You can also watch the full video of what they did:

The video shows my 4-years-old kids talking about their favorite book by Mo Willems, along with the use of my book stand. The kids also loved reading while eating their meals at the same time. As they grew up, they ended up becoming bookworms and excellent students.

This picture was taken at the Barnes and Noble bookstore in Augusta, Maine during our vacation in the summer of 2019. They had run through all the books they had brought with them on the trip, and so we had to resupply. Even so, the twins managed to finish all these additional books before the end of our vacation.

Many educators for deaf students digitize books for virtual ASL storytimes. However, I believe in having physical books around, because this enables kids to see the connection between signing/talking and the print language of a physical book. And that is why I am a big advocate for these kinds of book stands.

In a nutshell, my message for educators and parents of deaf and hard of hearing kids and KODAs is:

Read children’s picture books and other genres to the kids in any modality (not just ASL) every day from the beginning with the support of the stands. Compared to ebooks, traditional books have two main advantages. One is that they enable adults to point at text or images in a book and explain the meaning at the same time. Second, children’s picture books are usually much bigger than ebooks on tablets, and they encourage kids to explore hands-on.

A Greek woman with brown, shoulder-length curly hair wearing a zip up shirt.

You can follow me on my website: There is a free tutorial for a DIY book stand for interested educators and parents.

About Krystallo: I was born and raised in Athens, Greece. I have been profoundly deaf since my birth. I went to schools for the Deaf throughout my school years. I am the first deaf graduate of the computer science department at the University of Athens. Because educational technology, math education, and instructional design fascinated me, I decided to pursue a masters in Deaf Education from McDaniel College. Ι have experience in teaching, instructional design and project management.