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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Access: Multiple Avenues for Deaf People

Doreen DeLuca, Irene Leigh,
Kristin A. Lindgren, and
Donna Jo Napoli, Editors

P a r t  T w o :  Education and Literacy

C i vi l  R i g h t s  i n  D e a f  E d u c a t i o n :  W o r k i n g  T o w a r d
E m p o w e r i n g  D e a f  S t u d e n t s  a n d  T h e i r  P a r e n t s

Jami N. Fisher and Philip J. Mattiacci

Several laws have been enacted in the past thirty plus years to benefit persons with disabilities. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 banned discrimination against persons with disabilities; PL-94 142, the Education for All Handicapped Children (now known as IDEA) was passed in 1975 and has been revised twice since then, most recently in 2004; and the Americans with Disabilities Act (Public Law 101-336) was passed by Congress in 1990, thus acting to further extend the laws against discrimination of disabled people set forth in 1973. In each of these laws, deaf people have received benefits because legally they are considered to be disabled. Those people who consider themselves to be culturally Deaf, however, do not feel they fit in the disabled category, yet they need legal recognition and support to offset the discrimination they face as individuals who are different from the majority of American society and to meet the needs they have as a linguistic minority.[1]

There has been an ongoing battle to reconcile the effects of being considered “disabled” and having “different” needs than the hearing majority. This battle plays out in very particular and peculiar ways in education, as one of the aforementioned laws—IDEA—actually seems to work against the needs of the Deaf children whom it intends to protect. It is the purpose of this chapter to explain the legal and cultural factors that cause this conflict. First, we review the current laws that shape educational choices for d/Deaf children. Second, we offer a brief historical overview of the American Deaf community in order to show how educational choices affect a child’s ability to participate fully in this community. Third, we explore specific instances of flaws and injustices in current educational plans for Deaf children, using Lawrence Siegel’s work on behalf of the National Deaf Educational Project (NDEP) as a framework.[2] We cite specific accounts of these injustices, demonstrating that IDEA is not, in practice, meeting the needs of most Deaf children in education today. Last, we present our thoughts on how to empower Deaf children and their parents to ensure that their rights are considered and safeguarded under the current laws of the land.

1. We label the culturally Deaf with a capital D. Anything referring to audiological status only uses the lowercase d—deaf. In addition, we assume that all culturally Deaf students also use and espouse American Sign Language as their preferred and natural mode of communication.

2. Siegel (2000) argues that IDEA’s provisions for students with disabilities neglect the cultural and linguistic needs of the Deaf child. As such, he suggests ways in which the law should be amended to serve Deaf children best.

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