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American Annals of the Deaf

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Disabling Pedagogy: Power, Politics, and Deaf Education

Linda Komesaroff

Chapter Three
Curriculum of the Hearing University

Legal reform in the 1990s led Australian universities to establish policies of equal opportunity and consider issues of diversity within their staff and student populations. Legislation such as the Disability Discrimination Act (Commonwealth of Australia 1992) sought to protect the rights of people with a disability, and the requirement for organizations to develop a Disability Action Plan was to detail the objectives and actions intended to increase these people’s access to and participation in society. The principle of equity enacted in Australian university policy targets four categories of difference: women, indigenous peoples, people with disabilities, and people of non-English-speaking background. The measure of inclusivity of members of groups traditionally excluded from higher education is based on their increased participation and success (Nunan et al. 2000). A federal grant, the Higher Education Equity Program (HEEP), is available to Australian universities for projects whose purpose it is to improve the success of these students.

Deaf students are targeted in the university equity policy under the category “students with a disability.” In 2001 I conducted a pilot study of deaf students enrolled in undergraduate teacher education programs to obtain information on their experiences in higher education. The study coincided with two larger HEEP-funded projects. The first one provided mentoring and a role model program for deaf university students and was followed by a second project in 2002 and 2003 that profiled the achievements of deaf adults qualified through higher education.

My study consisted of interviews with two deaf students (one in her second year, the other in her third year) at two different universities in Victoria. I knew one of the students well since I had been her instructor and tutor, advocated for her rights, supported her struggle for her children’s access to Auslan, and encouraged her to enroll in a teacher education program. In conducting the study, I was highly aware of the way in which deaf students have been positioned in education and alert to issues of category politics. I was also sensitive to the way in which research and researchers have historically positioned deaf people as the subjects of research in much the same way as indigenous people have predominantly been researched (see Waitere-Ang and Johnston 1999). I decided to interview deaf students rather than hearing members of the faculty and university departments responsible for administering and providing services to deaf students in order to represent the voices that are overwhelmingly absent in the “hearing university.”

I interviewed both participants in Auslan. I asked them to respond to a series of questions that focused on their motivation for becoming a teacher, issues of identity, and academic literacies (dealing with university studies in a second language). The interviews were videotaped and interpreted into spoken English for the purpose of transcription, and copies were provided to the participants. They were invited to make changes or additions to the transcripts, giving them an opportunity to expand on or correct what they had intended to say and to also check the accuracy of my transcription. Neither participant chose to make any additions or alterations to the transcripts. The interpretative framework used in the analysis of data in this study was “category” or “identity politics” and the construction of difference. As such, the framework determined what I noticed and registered as important (Held 1991, 15). It also played a significant part in my understanding of the way in which deaf people’s identities are represented: “Who you are [seen to be] does matter” (Pettman 1992a, 131; cited in Bacchi 1996, 3).

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