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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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It takes an interpreter about seven years to be fully proficient in ASL and to complete her or his knowledge and understanding of Deaf culture in a satisfactory manner. Unfortunately, noncertified and underqualified interpreters are much cheaper to hire than fully certified and qualified interpreters. Fortunately, though, there are now laws throughout the country that require interpreters for Deaf people to register with the state before they can become paid interpreters. As a prerequisite for registry in Pennsylvania, for example, an interpreter must be certified by one of the national organizations for interpreters for Deaf people (Sign Language Interpreter and Transliterator State Registration Act 2004). This certification requirement precludes any interpreter from getting a paid position without the proper credentials, thus eliminating most situations like the ones above.

The authors have also seen teachers who were not certified to teach deaf children be hired and placed in charge of educating deaf students. One teacher explained that when he was hired to teach Deaf children in a public school (in an intermediate unit/magnet setting), he was certified, but not in Deaf education. He taught for many years under this setup. Another teacher we encountered openly admitted that when he was hired to teach deaf children in the 1970s, he had not one word of sign to his credit. He also said that the students taught him sign. How can learning happen when the “teacher” cannot understand or convey a simple concept to the students whom he is supposed to educate? Granted, these scenarios are relatively old and will no longer be a possibility now that No Child Left Behind is law. However, unfortunately, these stories are more prevalent than we would like to know. Imagine all the students who have experienced classrooms like this; the detrimental impact that these unqualified teachers have had on our Deaf children is incalculable.

2. There is inadequate parent support and training. (Siegel 2000, 19)
The inclusion programs with which the authors are familiar offer parents no training in understanding the cultural or linguistic needs of their Deaf child. In addition, there is no support for enabling their Deaf child to thrive as a culturally Deaf individual. Schools are focused on pathological perspectives and thus create IEP goals that focus on speech therapy and audiological status; however, with such a focus, educators and families of Deaf children forget there are other needs— linguistic and social—that feed into one’s ability to access and thrive in an educational program. Training parents to meet all of the child’s needs in an educational setting is crucial; provision of parent training must start when the Deaf child is identified and must continue throughout his educational career.

Deaf residential and day schools have traditionally had much stronger parental support and training opportunities than inclusion programs at neighborhood schools. One school for deaf people with which the authors are familiar is equipped with an array of counselors, psychologists, teachers, and Deaf mentors who specialize in working with Deaf children. These specialists are trained in outreach skills needed to educate and work with hearing parents of Deaf children. This school realizes that parent involvement in their children’s education and lives is critical; they provide every mechanism to ensure parent involvement, including transportation and short-term incentives for involvement (i.e., food, a safe place to meet and learn new ideas, follow- up, and an opportunity to discuss how to continue positive, Deaf child-centered activities at home).

Many Deaf schools have their own early intervention programs, which often include free seminars in ASL and Deaf awareness to parents of Deaf children. Early intervention programs also dispatch teachers on home visits to households that have Deaf children, where they work on cognitive, social-emotional, and other developmental skills with those children. They also involve parents in those activities, provide emotional support for parents, and answer any questions they may have. Early intervention programs provide classes during school hours that both parents and children can attend, allowing for opportunities to learn from the early intervention specialists and early childhood educators at the school.

3. There is a lack of cultural/linguistic awareness and a failure to provide deaf and hard of hearing adult role models. (Siegel 2000, 19)
This factor applies mostly to the authors’ observations and encounters in a mainstream or magnet school setting. The all-Deaf day and residential schools we have encountered encourage ASL in the classroom, in leisurely conversation, and in extracurricular activities. Indeed, with so many students and staff who sign—essentially, in the Deaf schools, everyone can sign—there are constant opportunities for students to be exposed to and access all “environmental” information— that is, information that is all around them, including both purposeful instruction and incidental learning, whereas, in the mainstream school, our personal contact with individually mainstreamed Deaf students tells us they may not have any exposure or access to sign, signing peers, or information about Deaf cultural experiences (see Oliva 2004).

The Deaf schools with which we are familiar require that all staff members undergo an American Sign Language Proficiency Interview (ASLPI) evaluation and have their scores recorded (for details on the ASLPI scale and the evaluation, see Gallaudet University n.d.). Staff that do not meet the intermediate level are provided an ASL mentor with whom they can practice and improve their ASL skills. They are also expected to take ASL classes to improve their abilities. Should a staff member not improve and meet the intermediate level within one to three years (depending on how long he or she has already worked there), he or she will not be rehired for the next school year.


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