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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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At a school for Deaf students, however, interpreters are unnecessary. The staff that run after-school and sports programs use ASL as their primary mode of communication, thus eliminating the need for interpreters. Students at the day school for Deaf people in our area are not required to find their own transportation should they want to participate in after-school activities; they are given access to transportation to and from school, including after school, should they choose to (or be required to) stay.

These failures to meet the educational needs of Deaf students constitute what the authors consider an offense to Deaf children’s civil rights; if all of the Deaf child’s needs—including linguistic, social, and cultural—were addressed by every IEP team, Deaf children would be placed overwhelmingly in settings that are more conducive to the support and growth of the aforementioned needs. In turn, the quality of their education and their educational lives would improve exponentially.

R e c o m m e n d a t i o n s :  E m p o w e r i n g  D e a f  C h i l d r e n ’ s  R i g h t s

In The Mask of Benevolence, Harlan Lane (1992) suggests a need to “return to a Deaf-centered education” (165). He points out the merits of a maintenance bilingual educational system for Deaf people in which they would be educated in and learn the rules of their natural language, ASL, while building up and eventually mastering their second language, English. Lane highlights the need to restructure deaf education by “centering [it] on the deaf child rather than on the hearing teacher” (184). Ironically, the very essence of IDEA, the Individuals (and we emphasize the word) with Disabilities Education Act, attempts to shift the focus back to the student, creating an Individualized (and, again, we emphasize this word) Education Plan on which the student’s educational future hinges. Yet, this individualized plan—developed by a team of school representatives, the parent(s), and the student himself— generally does not consider the social needs of the deaf child as per his place in what historically has been the foundation of the Deaf community, the Deaf school. Lane states, “the decision to construe and shape [the Deaf student’s] fate in psychometric terms [or audiological ones] rather than historic ones is the most powerful determinant of that future it claims to predict” (82). The IEP in such a context might be student- centered, but not Deaf-centered. However, as we have argued above, the IEP for the Deaf child cannot benefit the Deaf student unless it is also Deaf-centered. A Deaf-centered IEP would look at the student’s individual needs and recognize that he is a student from a linguistic minority who has a rich history and community that can support his educational development and success. No specially trained educator can take the place of the wealth of knowledge that comes from those who have mastered and use daily the Deaf child’s language— ASL—and are fully immersed in the Deaf community.

How, then, can we reconcile the inherent flaws of IDEA and LRE for the Deaf child? Indeed, as we have shown above, in the current educational system, the Deaf child’s civil rights are being violated as he is forced into an educational environment that is in no way linguistically or socially “least restrictive.” Although we are advocates for the changes proposed by the NDEP, we do not feel that we can wait for the lawmakers and educators of the United States to make the aforementioned and recommended changes to meet the needs of the Deaf student. As such, we propose the following be considered when discussing the education of the Deaf child.

1. For children who are identified as needing ASL to communicate, it is essential that the students have ASL standards that they are expected to master (through IEP goals) and ASL standards that their teachers (those specializing in Deaf education) should meet in order to be considered “qualified” in their content area.

Should ASL be determined necessary for meeting the child’s communication needs, that child should not only have the opportunity to use ASL in the educational setting, he should have the opportunity and requirement to master it. Overwhelmingly, Deaf children are not formally taught their native language, ASL. Schools for Deaf people have only recently begun to teach ASL formally to their students. IEPs and their goals are based on the identified needs of an individual child. If ASL is determined to be a need of that child, then why is it not included as a goal? Some schools do not include it because they do not have the resources—qualified teachers and funding—to teach ASL to a handful of students. However, should this be a true need of the child, they must, by law, find a way to provide the service to meet the child’s needs. In our experience, children who need an ASL setting are referred to an all-Deaf day or residential school. However, students who use ASL and are in a magnet or total inclusion program should not miss out on the opportunity to learn their language formally. To ensure the formal instruction of ASL, it should be written into the IEP as a goal for the individual Deaf student.

Time and again, the authors have heard about and observed Deaf students who are, in theory, in an all-signing (full-/part-time Deaf/ hard of hearing) educational setting but are not exposed to or taught in ASL. No Child Left Behind requires that educators be “highly qualified” in their field. The chances are extraordinarily high that any educator who specializes in teaching Deaf/hard of hearing students will teach at least one child who uses ASL. As such, for that teacher to be considered highly qualified, she should have proficiency in ASL, as determined by a sign language proficiency exam such as ASLPI or Sign Communication Proficiency Interview (SCPI). Having this qualification would significantly improve the educational prospects for Deaf children in education today.

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