Damned for Their Difference: The Cultural Construction of
Deaf People as Disabled
As far as goals and guiding principles are concerned, the integration policy of the Victorian government, in its opposition to categorization and professionalism, appeared to go to the heart of discriminatory practice, seeking failure not in the child but in social structures and relationships. But the machinery devised to achieve its goals and the way that machinery was (and still is) interpreted and used by administrators and teachers often tended to work in the opposite direction. Research into mainstreaming in Britain revealed similar results, with teachers and administrators operating in terms of conventional categorizations of disability and assuming that special facilities would be provided for the integrated “disabled” to ensure that the “normal” pupils could proceed as before. Indeed, many current mainstreaming practices overtly provide special educational facilities that are operated by special education teachers within mainstream schools, what is being referred to as “inclusion” rather than “integration.” The children who were formerly segregated are now in the mainstream but are included as “disabled” students, their medically based categorizations intact.
Policies of normalization through deinstitutionalization have been widespread in Western societies over the last two decades. The existing ideologies of normality have dominated the process of reform, the assumption being that people who were formerly segregated would adapt to the “normal” world, allowing the normal world to go about its business as before. This assumption is also infused with a feeling of benevolence at having allowed “the disabled” a pathway to assimilate into “normal” society. Studies of individual mainstreamed students have shown that some have benefited while others have not. Indeed, for many students, to be mainstreamed as “disabled” students is a marked improvement on being segregated, as Buckley and Bird (1994) have clearly established for Down’s syndrome students in Britain. What we are concerned with showing here is the way the mainstreaming program, not simply as policy but as a cultural practice, serves to construct and maintain disabilities. The examination in later chapters of the mainstreaming of deaf students will build on the analysis presented here and will show how that mainstreaming resulted not in integration but in isolation.