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Educating Deaf Students: Global Perspectives|
Although the protest prevailed and a deaf president was appointed at Gallaudet, a question subsequently has often been asked, “Did the protest open doors to opportunities for deaf people elsewhere?” While it did, this question must be considered in the context of expanded educational and career preparation opportunities that have been created in the United States and in countries throughout the world. Seventeen American schools for deaf students have appointed qualified deaf persons as chief executive officers in recent years. Advances made by deaf persons in business and industry also have been promoted by expanded study opportunities at institutions like the NTID and others.
Change is taking place and is being fueled by positive public awareness of deafness and higher educational attainment by deaf persons. A 1994 survey of colleges and universities in the United States reported that close to 25,000 deaf and hard of hearing students were attending regular postsecondary educational institutions and are receiving support services (National Center for Education Statistics, 1994).
What is significantly different in the United States is that secondary and postsecondary education is practically universal for all deserving and qualified deaf and hard of hearing persons. To be sure, exceptional deaf persons have always been able to attend college in many countries. For almost 100 years following its founding, Gallaudet University was the world’s only college for deaf students, but it can no longer claim such a distinction. The 25,000 deaf and hard of hearing postsecondary students I mentioned previously are attending more than 2,000 American colleges and universities. This number does not include the 2,500 students who are attending the NTID and Gallaudet University. For many in the American deaf community, a university education has made the difference. A quality education, leading to a good career choice, levels the playing field and creates economic parity between deaf persons and their hearing peers.
We Are Still a Long Way From Reaching Our Goals
As encouraging as the increase in higher education opportunities for selected deaf persons may be, we must remember that deaf and hard of hearing students attending universities worldwide are a very select group. In fact, even in the United States, the majority of deaf students still are not receiving adequate support and assistance.
Assessment and placement of deaf children and adults in appropriate programs staffed by fully qualified professionals using effective communication is a battle that has not yet been won. In spite of the progress I have described, communication issues remain unresolved throughout most of the world. Many parents still are not receiving adequate support during the critical early development years, and many remain uninformed and unable to assist their deaf children at home. Lacking knowledge and information, parents cannot make appropriate educational placement and communication choices for their children. In many countries, professional communities have been slow to embrace diversity. These circumstances create a chasm that often cannot be bridged in a timely manner—and deaf children invariably lose out in these situations.
We can take pride in the accomplishments of our best and brightest students, but we must temper the enthusiasm that derives from the success of a few to remind ourselves that much remains to be done. The great majority of our students still face an uncertain future.
Utilizing Emerging Technologies to “Level the Playing Field”
The students of today and tomorrow must develop a set of skills that enable them to adapt to the demands of the workplace and their adult social life. Therefore, they need good communication skills, good reasoning and problem-solving skills, self-discipline, and determination to reach realistic goals set for them. It is our responsibility to ensure that students completing our programs are well prepared to deal with the demands of the rapidly changing workplace.