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Educating Deaf Students: Global Perspectives|
Deaf Education Has the Capacity to Adapt
Deaf education faces three contentious trends: inclusion, communication philosophies, and the demand for highly skilled workers. Educators of deaf students are a very resourceful group and have a history of responding well to such changing demands.
During the 1963–64 worldwide rubella epidemic, almost twice as many deaf children were born than in any previous two-year period—many were born with additional disabilities. Our profession responded admirably to the challenge posed by the “rubella children.” We learned quickly how to cope with the issues of learning and accommodation that they presented. We also learned that many of these children differed slightly from other deaf children in terms of their educational, social, and cultural needs. Funding for programs increased, and in the United States, national demonstration elementary and secondary schools were established to provide education, to carry out research and development, and to disseminate their findings throughout the country. In subsequent years, the “rubella bulge” progressed through the educational system and entered colleges and universities at the same rate as peers deafened by other causes. Special new higher education programs were established, including the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID), which has served as a model for similar institutions in other countries. Further, increased federal support resulted in the four-fold expansion of Gallaudet College’s student enrollment. Although the rubella epidemic was seen initially as a formidable challenge, it proved to be a blessing in disguise. The epidemic revitalized the profession and gave it the impetus to move ahead with new energy and purpose. This successful experience fuels my confidence in the future.
Protest at Gallaudet Sets Off the Empowerment Movement
Since the 1960s, the world has been swept by waves of social reforms dedicated to expanding the base of democracy and ensuring human rights for minorities. Tyrants and despots have been toppled, and people long oppressed have gained access to the ballot box. In a word, empowerment has become a goal for people yearning to determine their own destinies. In the United States, the civil rights movement ignited the battle for equality for African Americans and other minority groups. The struggle for access by people with disabilities took its lessons from the larger civil rights movement.
Persons with disabilities united to form coalitions to “speak” with a unified voice. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted in 1990 and is considered among the most sweeping civil rights laws in the history of the United States. Chapter IV of the ADA, along with provisions in other sections, mandates access to communication on the telephone and to public services for deaf people by requiring 24-hour telephone relay services and the provision of interpreters or captioning in public places. The Television Decoder Circuitry Act of 1990 and the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which mandated built-in decoders in all television sets and closed-captioning of all television programming by the year 2006, complemented the ADA.
If the ADA was the Magna Carta for Americans with disabilities, the 1988 “Deaf President Now” protest at Gallaudet University was a major turning point for deaf people throughout the world. Gannon (1989), deaf former director of public information at the university, subsequently wrote a book about the protest entitled The Week the World Heard Gallaudet. I believe a symbolically appropriate title for his book could have been The Week the World Learned About Deaf People. It was certainly one of the most catalytic events in the history of deaf people’s struggle for equality. It was, as President I. King Jordan of Gallaudet University has said, “a declaration from deaf people of the world that they can and will control their lives. And the world listened” (Fernandez, 1998).