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American Annals of the Deaf

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Access: Multiple Avenues for Deaf People

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Historically, deaf individuals within the Deaf community were thrust together due to assumptions that deaf people need to be taken care of and/or kept out of sight. Although today, this kind of educational isolation is viewed as paternalistic and hegemonic, this means of educating deaf people is the historical cornerstone on which the Deaf community is founded, and it provides many rich memories of social and linguistic opportunities for Deaf individuals. Members of the Deaf community value the opportunity to socialize with one another and to communicate readily and directly—not through an interpreter—with their Deaf peers. As such, the essence of the Deaf community, a closeknit group that shares the same language, values, and beliefs on how to educate “their” deaf children, is inherently at odds with IDEA, a law that looks at deaf children as disabled individuals who have needs based not on social or linguistic factors but only on their audiological status. Furthermore, by looking only at audiological status, IDEA neglects the historical and social foundation of Deaf culture—the Deaf sense of community defined as having a critical mass of individuals with the same linguistic and communication needs. Until the needs of Deaf people as a linguistic minority are included in IDEA, Deaf students’ individual needs will not be met, and their rights as a linguistic minority will be violated.

I D E I A ,  L R E ,  a n d  t h e  D e a f  C h i l d

In 2004, IDEA was scrutinized, supplemented, and then reauthorized by Congress and signed into law by President Bush. Henceforth, it became known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA). While there were amendments to and improvements in IDEIA that benefit districts, teachers, and students alike, the linguistic and social needs of the Deaf child were still not being met.

Members of the Deaf community, linguistic experts, and professionals with extensive knowledge of Deaf culture have long recognized that FAPE and LRE conflict with the needs of the Deaf child (e.g., see Lane et al. 1996, and Siegel 2000, 32). Lawrence Siegel (2000) documents such problems in the following accounts:

In 1989, Dr. Larry Stewart testified before the U.S. House of Representatives, Sub-Committee on Select Education, that IDEA is “not being implemented properly—many deaf children have been neglected, sometimes to the point of mental and emotional abuse.” A parent testified after Dr. Stewart that a regular classroom was a “nightmare” for her child; he was a “victim” of IDEA and the damage to him “irreparable.” (32–33)
There are many problems that Deaf and hard of hearing children face on a daily basis at regular schools where they are “included” with “normal,” hearing children. The authors have witnessed and document below some instances of what Siegel (2000, 18) calls “unacceptable” features of the current state of deaf education. We include only the features with which we have had direct experience. Although some of these failures exist throughout the LRE continuum, most occur in settings where there is an intermediary or barrier to direct instruction. This may be a result of inclusion and education via interpreter, or it may occur when another sign method (Signing Exact English [SEE], for example) is used instead of ASL. The fact that these anecdotes exist and are not unique to a particular city or region of the country is testimony to the fact that Deaf education, as we know it, is not working.
1. There are significant variations in age, cognitive skills, and language among children in existing classes for deaf and hard of hearing children. (Siegel 2000, 18)
In the multi-age, self-contained classes that the authors have observed, the age range can vary up to three to four years (depending on whether the child is an elementary or secondary student). If the children are grouped based on ability level, there is a potential for social stigma for the individual who is oldest, yet academically behind. He may be a nine-year-old in a classroom with some six-year-olds. While this kind of grouping might help the child catch up academically, socially and emotionally it leaves him embarrassed, which can lead to a disinterest and lack of motivation in school.

However, the lack of equal access to the target lesson and language is evident not just in an all-deaf class. Siegel (2000) documents Dr. Steven Nover’s ethnographic study in which hearing children are exposed to exponentially more English than their deaf counterparts. He writes, “in classrooms in which there are hearing and deaf students and sign language interpreters, the hearing students were exposed to 15 times more English words than were the deaf students” (Siegel 2000, 18).

Many teachers, administrators, interpreters, psychologists, and other support staff are not adequately trained in, or knowledgeable about, deafness and the educational and communications needs of deaf and hard of hearing children. Many are not proficient in the child’s communication mode/language. In addition, there is an insufficient number of professionals available to serve deaf and hard of hearing children (Siegel 2000, 19).

The authors have observed several teachers, mostly in mainstream settings, who have taught students in a self-contained (all-deaf) environment for years. In that time, many teachers have not made improvements or updated their ASL and Deaf culture awareness through workshops or social interactions. While professional development in “how to teach” deaf people (and topics related to deaf


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