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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Deaf People Around the World: Educational and Social Perspectives

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Heterogeneity and the Need to Be Different

On the issue of deaf students having group characteristics that may be associated with inclusion, a number of studies have shown that different or, at least more differentiated, models of inclusion in practice are needed for deaf students (Hyde et al., 2006; Powers, 2002; Stinson & Kluwin, 2003). These models could better reflect the great heterogeneity among deaf students who are currently in regular classes and could more comprehensively encompass the needs of those students who could benefit psychosocially, communicatively, and culturally from the use of a sign language in regular classes. These possibilities do not necessarily suggest a form of “exclusion” but, rather, a structure of inclusion that respects the retention of certain individual characteristics. Knoors (2007) correctly suggests that there is no “best model” or one type of school suitable for all deaf students. Some students may thrive in local schools whereas others do well in schools for the deaf or in bilingual programs. He also suggests that we could be more flexible about what we consider to be bilingual conditions because “10% sign language and 90% spoken language is also bilingual” (p. 245, 250).

It would seem that where countries have developed or adopted uniform approaches to legislation and policy with respect to education and inclusion of all students, sound arguments for retaining a sufficient degree of differentiation among programs for deaf students exist. A range of well-advised and comprehensively presented program options for parents would seem to be in best accordance with the evidence and experience that we have available to us. This observation is not to suggest that we do not need more research evidence; indeed, the opposite is true. We urgently need evidence of inclusion from the perspectives of the students themselves, both deaf and hearing.

A practice that seems to have become associated with inclusion more recently is the use of sign language interpreters to provide access for deaf students in local schools. Although at a policy level such access may be seen to be achieved if interpreting is provided, it is of concern that there is very little research evidence that this arrangement provides either equitable access to or participation in classroom communication with hearing peers and teachers in academic and social learning events (Hyde et al., 2006; Marschark et al., 2006). Indeed, it may be necessary for many of these deaf students to learn or be taught a sign language for use in regular class because one cannot assume that they have existing proficiency (Knoors, 2007). This approach, when adopted as a uniform response by school systems to families seeking local school placement for their deaf child, may not produce the inclusive experience that is assumed. Again, research evidence on this issue of policy and practice is urgently needed.

Policy to Practice

In the literature and in practice in many countries, interpretations of inclusion within the contexts of place and process are typically confounded. Even when inclusion is strongly supported by national or state policy, or even legislation, as in many of the countries mentioned here, practices or outcomes in schools can remain substantially unchanged or demonstrate significant delays in their implementation. As Sowell (1995) suggested, policy issues can become ideological debates that present conflicting visions or the “vision of the anointed” (p. 241) that can prevail over others in determining policy, particularly visions that espouse “full” inclusion on only moral and rights principles. In consequence, we need to consider whether any particular approach to inclusion truly embraces diversity and differences, or merely tries to minimize them (Detterman & Thompson, 1997).

This chapter is not intended to be another exhaustive review of the international literature about inclusion of deaf students. It is an attempt to establish a framework for understanding the processes of inclusion and to see how different nations and education systems may position themselves within the framework by their polices and practices. Although the perspectives of African and Latin American countries are not described in the chapter, the framework discussed may well be applied to considerations of their situations.


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