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Educating Deaf Students: Global Perspectives|
Emerging technologies are already influencing the teaching and learning processes in classrooms throughout the world. It took 38 years for radio to achieve 50 million users; personal computers took 16 years, and television took 13 years. However, it took the World Wide Web only 4 years to reach 50 million surfers (Porter, 2000). Technology now can bring the entire world into the classroom and the classroom into the world. Computer networks are natural media for people who are deaf and hard of hearing because vast reservoirs of data and information are accessible for viewing. The Internet is almost completely accessible. Of course, we hope this will not change as technology continues its rapid development. Indeed, automatic speech recognition could lead to “talking computers.” That could be quite a setback.
Let us not forget traditional technologies such as TTYs and interactive pagers, fax machines, and voice telephones through relay services. It is ironic that Alexander Graham Bell, who is credited with inventing the telephone, was a teacher of deaf students. His invention revolutionized systems for communication. However, it was not until 40 years ago that a deaf American scientist, Robert H. Weitbrecht, invented the acoustic coupler that enabled the transmission of text over telephone lines, making the telephone accessible to deaf people (Lang, 2000). Wireless telecommunication devices are now extending communications options even further.
Notwithstanding the powerful dominance of telecommunications and Internet technologies, interpreting is among the most direct and effective services and will always be in demand. There can never be enough interpreters to meet the needs of deaf persons who need access to communication. In fact, interpreter quality is now being harnessed through a developing technology called “video relay interpreting” (Bailey, 1997). This is a system employing a remotely located interpreter who can be accessed through a regular telephone line or computer connected to video equipment. The system is already in place and is expanding service in a number of locations throughout the United States and elsewhere in the world.
It is unfortunate that deaf people in every region in the world do not enjoy the same quality of life as do deaf people in the United States and other developed nations. Many do not have the communication infrastructure, let alone the resources, to make these emerging technologies available. This is a challenge for 21st century educators, social service agencies, and governments, as well as for the families of deaf and hard of hearing children.
What of the Future?
Many advances in science and technology have enhanced the work of professionals in deafness. The invention of the vacuum tube in 1917, for example, led to the invention of radio, television, and hearing aids. The vacuum tube was replaced by the transistor in the 1940s and paved the way for miniaturization, resulting in smaller, wearable hearing aids and more precise measurement devices such as audiometers. Early diagnosis of deafness resulted from such advances. With the advent of semiconductors and microchips, we have seen a revolutionary shift from electromechanical to electronic technology with increased speed and reliability of computers. Hearing aids that fit entirely in the ear and cochlear implants are improving because of these developments.
Looking to the future, we can predict that genetic research will result in the prevention and cure of many diseases. Human genome research will lead to development and testing of vaccines, therapeutic drugs, and early diagnosis that will aid in the prevention of deafness. Advances in DNA analysis and gene therapy will lead to the identification and replacement of defective genes (Frisina, personal communication, May 15, 2000). This could lead to ensuring in the distant future that every baby born will be a “perfect baby.” Clearly, there are some very complex ethical issues that must be resolved in this area. Could this eradicate deafness completely? Not in the foreseeable future and not until the issues related to ethics are resolved.