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American Annals of the Deaf

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Access: Multiple Avenues for Deaf People

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While all-Deaf (student) day and residential schools tend to do a much better job at focusing on the cultural and linguistic needs of their Deaf students, they still contain a significant minority of Deaf role models in a leadership (teacher/administrator) role. Although having few deaf role models in leadership positions does not send as overt a message of “Deaf cannot succeed or make it in higher levels of management” as having no role models at all, it is still a factor that needs to be remedied and rectified in order to improve the self-worth and ambitions of Deaf children in this country.

Providing Deaf leadership and teachers/role models to boost Deaf student self-esteem is, in itself, a worthwhile goal, but Deaf students also need at least a contingent of Deaf teachers to facilitate academic learning. One person whom we interviewed said he and his friends always took advantage of the hearing teachers.

We could never take advantage of the Deaf teachers because they knew what we were thinking; they understood the Deaf- World and Deaf tendencies. We had a lot of respect for Deaf teachers. Hearing teachers didn’t understand us. They often pitied us and we knew it. They were thus more flexible and we took advantage of it easily. We could never get away with that with Deaf teachers. (Matthew Fisher, Deaf of Deaf parents, personal communication, March 15, 2006)

Of course, not all hearing teachers “pity” and are “flexible” with all Deaf students. However, many hearing teachers of Deaf people “go easy” on their students because they think they cannot reach a higher academic potential. Deaf teachers, on the other hand, feel no pity for their Deaf students; they were once in those students’ positions and feel an obligation to educate their students to the highest potential possible.

4. There is insufficient access to extra-curricular and other nonclassroom activities. (Siegel 2000, 19)
While academics are certainly the main component of K–12 education, extracurricular and nonclassroom activities also contribute significantly to a child’s learning and social education. In her book Alone in the Mainstream, Gina Oliva (2004) emphasizes just how important extracurricular activities can be for the Deaf child. She writes, “The ostensible purpose of extracurricular activities is to provide an avenue for the development of friendships, skills, and self-esteem. They are opportunities to prove one’s value to the group, a factor especially important to a deaf or hard of hearing child” (78). A student who may struggle—for various individual reasons—during the school day might, when given the opportunity, excel in after-school activities, thus providing what sometimes is the only school-related time that is positive for that child.

Not being able to participate in extracurricular activities is therefore probably the biggest missed opportunity for the Deaf child to prove himself successful to his peers and, perhaps, to himself as well. In one district, the authors have encountered egregious violations of Deaf children’s civil rights regarding equal access to extracurricular and other nonclassroom activities. The violations seem to center on two issues: lack of provision of after-school transportation and lack of provision for interpreters to stay after school.

Deaf students are bussed in from across the county to attend the Deaf and hard of hearing programs of the district’s magnet schools. Transportation is provided to and from school (often from dozens of miles away), but not after school. Very few students live near the school, and thus very few can get home should they wish to stay after school. This has resulted in an overarching inability of Deaf students to access such programs as extended day enrichment, sports, or summer school unless the children find transportation to and from school on their own. Indeed, those who could use the most help, those who are failing or otherwise behind, cannot get this much-needed assistance and tutoring because they live so far from the school where the Deaf and hard of hearing program is housed. As for the mandatory summer school attendance policy for students who are failing or not meeting the proficient level in standardized tests mandated by No Child Left Behind (for more information on the law, see No Child Left Behind Act of 2001), the district “remedies” the students’ subsequent failures in subjects and possible nonpromotion to the next grade by waiving the summer school requirement for those students. Of course, these students fall further and further behind their peers; the lack of education and remediation compounds each time the student is pushed ahead a grade. These students are at risk of dropping out of school, where “atrisk” is defined as those who are experiencing failure, behaving poorly, or falling short of achieving their educational potential (Hallahan and Kauffman 1997). The most disheartening and disturbing part of this situation is that these students are at risk for failure and dropping out of school not because they do not wish to get help but rather because they have to choose between getting help and getting home.

Suppose a Deaf student manages to find a way to both stay after school and get home. His battle to access equal extracurricular support and leisure is not over yet; many students who rely on interpreters for communication with their teachers and peers do not have access to them after school. Interpreters in the district must have a contract with the school district for school hours, not after-school hours. If they are to stay after school to interpret for sports or any extracurricular activities, many will need to be paid overtime. Sometimes the district is not willing to pay the overtime, and sometimes they are unable to find an interpreter who is willing to stay past her contracted school day.

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