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Deaf People Around the World: Educational and Social Perspectives

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What is now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was enacted by Congress in 1975 and called the Education for All Handicapped Children Act. This law mandated a free and appropriate public education for all students with disabilities. Schools must prepare an Individualized Education Program that details a child’s current level of performance, the services that will be provided, the extent to which the student can participate in general education, and schedules of annual review. The Education for All Handicapped Children Act was amended and reauthorized as IDEA in 1997 and then again as the IDEA Improvement Act in 2004. These amended laws attempt to clarify the meaning of an “appropriate” education and link this concept to student outcomes.

There are tensions evident between the potential provided by this legislative process and the positions of Deaf associations, Deaf communities and the institutions that serve them. The position established by the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), for example, endorses the imperatives of the IDEA but states,

that direct and uninhibited communication access to all facets of a school’s programming is essential for a deaf or hard of hearing child to realize his or her full human potential.

The inclusion doctrine is rooted in ideology and is frequently a blatant violation of IDEA as it disregards the language and educational developmental needs of the deaf and hard of hearing children. (National Association of the Deaf, 2008)

Successful inclusion programs must assist all students—deaf, hard-of-hearing, and hearing—to reach their potential in educational and social development. The students need active and regular interaction with one another to attain effective membership in school and classroom communities (Antia, Stinson, & Gaustad, 2002). Deaf students may experience negative attitudes from hearing peers in mainstream settings, even when they make sound academic progress. Hung and Paul (2006) found that the presence of deaf students in the same school with their hearing peers does not make a significant difference in changing the hearing students’ attitudes. However, providing meaningful forms of interaction, developing close relationships or friendships, and breaking down communication barriers all contribute to the creation of positive attitudes that can lead to the successful inclusion of deaf students.

Although the United States has a long history of providing education to deaf students, there is considerable differentiation within its history and current provisions. These differentiations show a continued presence of independent or private-school traditions, particularly those with an auditory-oral focus, and a continued commitment to state schools for the deaf. The presence of Gallaudet University, the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, and other college programs are further evidence of forms of differentiation. The powerful influences of medical, genetic, and other technologies is also evident in the changing demography of deafness and new balances among the relative influence of stakeholders, especially parents. Changing patterns of the incidence of deafness in the United States (a significant decline in the number of children born profoundly deaf compared with those with lesser levels of hearing loss) and the changing ethnic origins of deaf people (more than 21% having an Hispanic heritage) are further evidence of the pressures for change and differentiation of services (Foster & Kinuthia, 2003; Moores, 2006, personal communication, May 4, 2004). However, continued pressure for uniformity is also found in national testing of the achievements of all students and in the ranking of schools, consequences of the No Child Left Behind legislation of 2002. Unlike Australia, this form of national benchmark testing, with its intended political regulation, includes special schools and programs for deaf (and other “disabled” students) in its procedures and reporting functions.

Asia and South Asia

Asian and South Asian nations present a variety of approaches and challenges to inclusion. Even though most are signatories to the Salamanca Agreement (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, 1994) and subsequent United Nations conventions and the rights of individuals are usually enshrined in their constitutions, many of these countries have difficulty in deploying sufficient resources to support the realization of the potential of their disabled citizens. India is a case in point.

India is the world’s largest democracy and the second most populous country. It is divided into 29 states and 6 union territories. State governments are responsible for the administration of their respective states while the central government is the highest political power in the country (Sharma & Deppeler, 2005). Although India has made impressive gains in economic development in the last few decades, more than 260 million people live below the poverty line.

India was a signatory to the United Nations Conference on the Rights of the Child of 1989, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Jomtein Convention of 1990, and the UNESCO Salamanca Statement of 1994, which advocates education for all. As a result, the central government passed the Delhi Declaration on Education for All policy in 1994 (Singal, 2005), followed by The Persons With Disability (Equal Opportunities Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act in 1995. Chapter 5 of this act states that the government will make provision for every child with a disability to have access to free education in an appropriate environment until the age of 18 years (Alur, 2006). The Indian eighth Five Year Plan 1991–1996 significantly increased the budget for disabled children for the purpose of promoting integrated education for children with a disability (Government of India, 1993).


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