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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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The evolution toward inclusive education in Canada and the United States has a long history. Both countries have had major influences on policies and practices in other countries. In Canada, government legislation has evolved on a province-by-province basis around the national Federal Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Many aspects of Canadian legislation have been influenced by U.S. developments. However, historically, the principles of “normalization” espoused by Wolfensberger (1972) were most influential in Canada and around the world because he considered that the circumstances for disabled people should be as close as possible to the regular circumstances of society.

Current Canadian legislation and policy reflects a tension between (a) international covenants and national imperatives and (b) the legislation and the practices of the provinces. This tension has resulted in a number of court challenges, particularly to the interpretation of inclusion as placement (Mitchell, 2005). These challenges have been brought by advocacy groups and have the capacity to redefine the interpretation of inclusion in that country. The Canadian Association for the Deaf seems to have many policy positions, but not one specifically on inclusion of deaf students. The closest is a statement that “the centralized schools for the Deaf must be kept open as an alternative for the education and socialization of Deaf children” and that the regular schools where deaf children are educated should have access to their sign language (Canadian Association for the Deaf, 2007).

Another influential and enduring development from Canada is that it is the home of Auditory-Verbal International (AVI). This organization has continued to affirm a set of principles of auditory-verbal education established more than 30 years ago by Pollack (1970), and two of their principles are particularly germane to the debate about inclusion of deaf students in local schools (Natural Communication, Inc., n.d.). Principle 3 is to “guide and coach parents to help their child use hearing as the primary sensory modality in developing spoken language without the use of sign language or emphasis on lipreading.”[1] Principle 10 is to “promote education in regular classrooms with typical hearing peers and with appropriate support services from early childhood onwards.” Together, these principles firmly establish that normalization remains an objective and that the place of deaf students is in age-appropriate classes with hearing students. There is an obvious tension between these objectives of AVI and those of some deaf associations and school authorities in Canada. Some in Canada were also early advocates of bilingual approaches to education for deaf students as a way of presenting new models of inclusion (e.g., Ewoldt, 1996), although not without sustained and reasonable criticism of their own and others’ assumptions and misassumptions about the application of Cummins’s (1981) interdependence theory to bimodal bilingual education contexts (Knoors, 2007; Mayer & Wells, 1996).

Thus, Canada appears to be a country with some national legislation but provincial application and a diversity of programs structures for deaf students. Some criticism of interpretations of inclusion are still associated with placement.

The United States

The United States has a long history of inclusion, which stems back to debates between Edward Miner Gallaudet and Alexander Graham Bell at the end of the 19th century, about the educational placements possible for deaf students under their respective doctrines about communication (Bell, 1898/2005; Osgood, 2005). In many ways, that debate and their largely separate philosophies of communication and education still shows its influence today.[2]

The influence of national legislation has also been particularly great, as have been court cases and technological developments in amplification and in cochlear implantation. Legal challenges to U.S. education policies for people with disabilities began in the 1950s when, in a racial segregation case, the U.S. Supreme Court established that separate education was inherently unequal. The Supreme Court affirmed two principles that were to influence education for deaf students: that exclusion from public education was unacceptable and that it was inherently unequal.

1. Interestingly, this principled restriction of speechreading does not reflect the views of Alexander Graham Bell, founding father of the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, the planned merger partner of AVI.

2. It is of interest to note, however, that A. G. Bell affirmed strong support for the legitimate linguistic status of signed languages in a series of letters to the journal The Educator in 1898 (Bell Family Papers, U.S. Library of Congress) in which he also posited that deaf students so educated could reach similar levels of academic achievement to those of students educated orally. He differed from Thomas Gallaudet in that he believed that deaf children educated orally could more readily take their place in a hearing community.

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