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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Access: Multiple Avenues for Deaf People

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always side-conversations and simultaneous conversations that cannot be captured by one person. Unfortunately, not all interpreters in schools are qualified or certified. One of the men interviewed above made the following comments about his mainstream experience:
The communication was a bit different than I usually got when I grew up in residential schools for the deaf. When I had to communicate through sign language interpreters, many were not able to interpret me most of the time. All of them were not certified interpreters, which is probably the reason why they couldn’t understand my fluent and high-speed American Sign Language. I had to sign at below normal speed and frequently repeated the spelling or sign to be sure that the sign language interpreter understood what I wanted to say. (Matthew Fisher, personal communication, March 15, 2006)
4. All schools/districts that house programs for Deaf and hard of hearing people or districts that have at least one d/Deaf child enrolled in their schools should have parent and student training available that caters to the needs of educating and empowering d/Deaf students.

Because over 90 percent of parents with a Deaf child are hearing, there must be a significant effort to provide them with education about the cultural, linguistic, and social needs of their Deaf child. Exposure to the abilities of Deaf people and the benefits of Deaf-centered educational programs will endow parents with a clearer understanding of their child’s unique needs. Parents of Deaf children and the Deaf students themselves must also be made aware of their rights. Receiving a copy of the Procedural Safeguards is not enough. This document, which contains twenty-plus pages listing advocacy groups and offering advice on how to proceed should one disagree with program recommendations, contains enough legal jargon to confuse any parent or student. For a Deaf student and his family whose first language is not English, it is virtually inaccessible. Deaf advocacy groups should be called on to elucidate these rights.

It is essential that there be training to ensure that parents feel they can learn about, feel welcome in, and be included in the Deaf community. Too often, hearing parents refer to Deaf people as “they” and view “them” (Deaf people) as a foreign group of which they have little knowledge or understanding. Many parents fear their Deaf child will be “lost” into the Deaf world and thus prevent children from learning ASL and socializing with their Deaf peers. Hearing parents must be made to feel that they are welcome to join the Deaf community along with their child. The mechanisms to implement such training are included in IDEA; parent training is mandated by the law. However, this training must be organized by a person or a group that has a Deaf focus. Deaf community outreach and education groups are the best resources for this training.

Parents are, in theory, the most powerful decision-makers on the IEP team; a program can be proposed, but they have the power to decide whether they agree or disagree with it. When parents have a more balanced view that includes knowledge of all the educational options available to their child, they will be able to advocate for a Deaf-centered program—one that has a critical mass of Deaf students with whom their child can interact, learn, and be Deaf.

Lastly, Deaf children should have opportunities to learn about themselves to ensure they are acknowledged and empowered within any school setting. Most of this knowledge comes from being exposed to the ways of culturally Deaf people. However, opportunities to learn about themselves and their rights as students protected under IDEA should be incorporated into their educational programs. Deaf students can be exposed to cultural and political activities such as Deaf Awareness Week and Junior NAD, but unless they have an understanding of what their needs and rights are, they cannot take full control of their education. While it is true that most teenagers, deaf or hearing, do not take full advantage of all educational opportunities they are afforded, unless Deaf children are made aware of these rights, they are not fully equipped to analyze and advocate for their own needs. As such, the authors feel that workshops should be instituted specifically for Deaf students that inform and remind them of a key component of IDEA: that the child’s placement and program are determined by his or her individual needs. These needs are based not only on psychometric or audiological assessments, but also on social, linguistic, and cultural requirements for accessing the child’s education. These needs are not static; they evolve as the child grows and goes through the educational program. If at any time children feel their needs are not being met, they, too, have a right to call an IEP meeting to discuss their progress or lack thereof. They and their parents have a right to disagree with the school or the local educational agency about their proposed or current educational program. Should they disagree, there are specific legal steps that the family can take to remedy or rectify this conflict. In essence, these workshops will empower students and allow them to take control of their educational destiny, a power that very few Deaf or disabled students currently experience.

5. At the request of the Deaf student or his parents, Deaf advocates should be available for consultation on any decision that would potentially impact his education. These Deaf advocates should be available to consult on various levels in the educational process, from individual IEP decisions to state and federal policy initiatives.


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