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American Annals of the Deaf

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Deaf People Around the World: Educational and Social Perspectives

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These terms and the policy objectives or “performance indicators” that usually accompany them are seen by many professionals working for deaf children and by some deaf groups as denying the linguistic rights of deaf children and of deaf people as a minority group. They challenge the disability perspective inherent in such conventions and policies. Critics (for example, Brennan, 2003; Padden & Humphries, 1988) argue that the psycho-medical model of deafness as disability actually restricts the access, participation, and outcomes that deaf children may receive. Failure to have effective national recognition of sign languages and the policies and practices that reflect such recognition is seen as a central criticism of such uniform approaches (Vonen, 2007).

Some stakeholders, however, especially many of the 95% of hearing parents of deaf children, government and social economists, and those associated with medical and technological progress, see that an approach to deafness wherein deaf people are “different” denies their preferred reality and their perspective of deafness as being an impairment that can be “habilitated,” or at least one whose effect can be reduced. These stakeholders point to current high rates of early detection and diagnosis of hearing loss (now down to a few days after birth in many countries), high rates of early cochlear implantation, and successful auditoryoral outcomes as being portents of a different and, in their terms, a more inclusive future for deaf children and their families. However, McDonald (2006) cautions that “people’s perceptions about the capacity of deaf babies to grow into happy, life-embracing deaf adults are shaped as much by all that they don’t know as by the little that they do know” (p. 1).

Strong human value systems are inherent in these positions, as are apparent incompatibilities within these contrasting perspectives. Each country has a history of approaches toward the recognition of the rights and needs of people with a disability. This history typically follows a pattern that begins with early social, health, and educational responses involving charitable systems and moves toward more publicly funded government provisions. More resource-rich countries with longer democratic traditions have generally moved along this path more rapidly than poorer countries. Associated with this pattern has been the development of legislation, public policy, school systems, and community expectations. The balance between differentiation of needs or provisions for a particular group or individual and attempts at more uniform systems that champion equal access for all is an outcome of the political and social traditions of the countries involved and their response to international agreements and covenants. The following pages explore how a number of countries provide education for their deaf students.

The United Kingdom

In more recent times in the United Kingdom, this process toward more government involvement has resulted in a transition from the vestiges of the Warnock Report (Warnock, 1978) and the 1988 Education Reform Act and their processes of “statementing” the support needed by individuals with a special education need toward the path of full inclusion. Under the Blair government’s New Labor initiatives, only a small minority of students continued to be educated in special schools. The Index of Inclusion developed by Booth and Ainscow (2002) and the Inclusion Charter (Centre for Studies in Inclusive Education, 2002) were influential in implementing this transition. This situation is not to suggest that the system in the United Kingdom is completely transformed or has resolved all the complexities but, rather, that the British government has placed itself at the forefront of international developments toward full inclusion through the implementation of such a uniform policy. This process has not pleased all those associated with deaf education in the United Kingdom, especially those individuals who had unhappy experiences in mainstream schools and those who express a view consistent with the politics of difference and of recognition (Taylor, 1994). Expressions of the politics of difference are found in the writings of Ladd (2003) and Kyle (2005), and there is support for the government’s direction found among some parent organizations, some teacher associations, and the Royal National Institute for the Deaf. The policies of the British Deaf Association were unclear on this issue at the time of writing, but the organization has an active campaign directed at achieving bilingual education for all Deaf children in the United Kingdom.

In 2003, the British government officially recognized British Sign Language, an outcome that was significantly influenced by the work of the late Mary Brennan. She had for many years espoused a case for difference and differentiation based on the rights and needs of deaf children for linguistic access to British Sign Language and for the development of a Deaf identity (Brennan, 1999). It is this issue of identity that demonstrates a tension between government moves toward full inclusion and those who would maintain separate programs for deaf students or bilingual education programs. Such tension may be considered as a useful outcome and can result in a range of differentiated options being available for parents and deaf people.


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