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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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In March 2005, the Minister for Human Resource Development restated the government’s “zero reject” viewpoint for children with special needs, saying “It should and will be our objective to make mainstream education not just available but accessible, affordable, and appropriate for students with disabilities” (Alur, 2006, p. 15). However, development of education for individuals with disabilities in India, and for deaf children in particular, remains a substantial challenge for the provincial governments, who struggle with the many crises in health, unemployment, housing, and education associated with their large populations. As a consequence, services for deaf children and adults are often extremely differentiated and frequently are offered by nongovernmental organizations, charitable associations, and international aid projects, with support from governments to the extent that it is available within tight budgets (Parasnis, DeCaro, & Raman, 1996).

This pattern of (a) uniform national objectives, often reflecting international agreements and covenants, and (b) national philosophies expressing strong human values is common in many South Asian and Asian nations. The Salamanca Statement of 1994 and the United Nations Comprehensive and Integral International Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons With Disabilities of 2006 have been instrumental in leading national governments toward uniform approaches to inclusion of deaf students that also reflect their national values and current capacities. The differentiated range of government schools and programs available to deaf students and their families in many Western countries may not be an objective of some governments for some time, if at all.

A School for All?

The framework of uniformity and differentiation established at the beginning of this chapter and the examples discussed suggest that, as far as deaf children are concerned, a “school for all” is not a definable construct. In any system, there will always be a degree of exclusion for some groups or individuals, even where inclusion is an avowed goal and policy. Because it was most often in deaf schools and programs that the features of Deaf culture were established and practiced for many Deaf people, the policies of inclusion and especially the “school for all” concept may appear most threatening or destructive of Deaf culture and community. Even if a school system and its local schools meet the principles of inclusion in supporting the access, participation, and outcomes for a deaf child, the acculturation of that child into a Deaf community may be limited at best if left until the postschool years.

Some countries have created programs to bring deaf students together from their local schools; these include “deaf weekends,” Internet and video-streaming connections, and even mandatory periods to be spent in a deaf school or program each year. There are also blocks of time that parents can spend, or are required to spend, in deaf centers learning a sign language. Although not all of us would support the views of Tijsseling (2006), who suggests that the genetic relationship between a deaf child and his or her hearing parents is no more important than the natural relationship between a deaf child to a Deaf community, forms of contact are available to most schools to establish associations between deaf children who may be socially and culturally remote in inclusive education settings and the Deaf communities in those regions.

This contact remains a special challenge for nations or school programs that follow the United Nations Comprehensive and Integral International Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons With Disabilities of 2006 or the Salamanca Agreement of 1994. Alternatively, some countries interpret these conventions to mean that a deaf school or program is of itself an inclusive experience and that enrollment in a local school is a potentially excluding experience, if one changes (a) the assumptions behind inclusion—from going to one’s local school to going to a deaf school—and (b) assumptions that reflect the values of Deafness and its linguistic, social, and cultural dimensions and differentiations.

These features of acculturation do not develop spontaneously unless there are sustained opportunities for deaf students and Deaf adults to come together, in the same way as there need to be structured, positive, and shared contexts for deaf and hearing students to come together in local schools. Many deaf children from hearing families may even need to be taught their national sign language, and having no access to it may be very excluding if the local school cannot provide it. Hence, enrollment in a local school could be a potentially excluding environment if it cannot provide an inclusive “Deaf ” experience.

Although some countries develop a range of education options for deaf children (in reality, options for their parents to consider), this approach entails a significant financial and personnel resource base from the country involved. In addition, extensive efforts are necessary to ensure that all the options and their consequences are understood by and accessible to parents. Not all nations are able to fund such a range of options from within their contested national budgets.

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