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American Annals of the Deaf

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From Integration to Inclusion: A History of Special Education in the 20th Century
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It must not be assumed that once the long battle concerning oralism and manualism ended that educators of the deaf reached consensus. Rather, a debate on communication modes persists, although the arena has changed to a struggle between (a) advocates of ASL and bilingual-bicultural education (see later discussion) and (b) proponents of various manually coded communication approaches such as Signing Essential English, etc. At the same time, the deaf community battles specific types of educational and medical interventions.

Cochlear implants—audiological surgical techniques designed to dramatically improve the hearing status of an individual—“have met tremendous opposition from the Deaf community” (McKinley & Warren, 2000, p. 252). Founded on the belief that children’s birthright of silence should not be violated, many deaf advocates consider the devices as genocidal to deaf culture (Lane & Bahan, 1998). They argue that the implantation of children conflicts with the right of the deaf cultural minority to exist and flourish.

The reform movement of inclusive education, so dear to many educators and parents of children with disabilities, is viewed by the Deaf community as a brutal type of assimilation that is inimical to their strength and propagation. They describe inclusive schooling as “forced assimilation”—an “unnatural attempt to make deaf persons hearing” (Elliott, 1993, p. 11). Centrally concerned with the problem of intergenerational renewal, the Deaf community supports a strong separate special education system in which residential schools serve as the primary and sustaining factor in the Deaf community.3 Further, they assert, because deaf people constitute a legitimate cultural and linguistic group, “they are entitled to educational programs which take this into account” (Reagan, 1988, p. 1). Within the residential framework, bilingual-bicultural education (bi-bi) is promoted.

The bi-bi approach, first explored at Gallaudet University in the 1970s (Swanwick, 1998), allows deaf children to mingle daily within a sign environment. ASL is the major medium of instruction in preschool through the primary grades, with a focus on sign production and comprehension of signs and written English (bilingual). Advocates also see the world of deafness as distinctive, rewarding, and worth preserving, and they focus on exposing pupils not only to the standard cultures of the spoken word but also to the rich heritage of folklore, literature, customs, and values found within the signing world (bicultural). Bi-bi, therefore, stresses immersion in a program where many of a child’s experiences are couched within deaf culture, and the interaction with deaf peers and role models both in and outside the classroom provide “for the self-esteem and emotional well-being of [the] deaf child” (Gallimore & Woodruff, 1996, p. 93). Today, an increasing number of schools for the deaf are using the practices of bi-bi education. Miller and Moores (2000) present data to indicate that bi-bi education is already a reality in 75% of the largest programs for deaf students.

A clear picture of inclusion for students with severe hearing losses in general classrooms has not yet emerged. Experts contend that “deafness is arguably, . . . the most difficult [impairment] for teachers to deal with, since in its severe form it is not so much the deprivation of sound but the deprivation of language which creates a barrier to learning” (Palmer & Sellars, 1993, p. 37). Many general classroom teachers are not very knowledgeable about hearing impairment and it is not unusual for teachers to express anxiety about working with a student with a hearing impairment in a general setting, especially if adequate communication and social supports are lacking (see Jones, Clark, & Soltz, 1997). In general, what is seen as the most effective educational setting for a specific child is determined by (a) linguistic needs; (b) the severity of the loss and the potential for using residual hearing with or without amplification; (c) academic level; (d) social, emotional, and cultural needs, including appropriate interaction and communication with peers; and (e) communication needs, including the child and the family’s preferred mode of communication (Marschark, 1993).

Almost all of the concern in the area of hearing impairment was devoted to deaf people. The phrase hard of hearing entered the lexicon after 1867 and came into common use after World War II. A true audiometer, providing accurate parameters of loss across frequencies and intensity levels did not emerge until the 1920s, at about the same time as the first mechanical hearing aids. With technological advances, consistent definitions emerged. Generally, hard of hearing people were described as those who could obtain information through auditory means; deaf individuals were unable to use the auditory channel with or without a hearing aid. Special classes for hard of hearing children emerged in the 1920s. By 1936, reports noted that efforts on behalf of hard of hearing children “have risen from a state of chaos to a workable program” (Peck & Samuelson, 1936, p. 116).

Children With Visual Impairments Go To School

People who were blind did not form identifiable communities as did their deaf counterparts. Their tale is focused far more on solely education. Three points stand out in the history of education services for the blind population: the myriad agencies and legislation devoted to serving the group, the relative ease with which integration into general classrooms was accomplished, and the fruitful relationship with technology.

A major spurt in interest and intervention occurred when soldiers affected or blinded by mustard gas returned from World War I. Guide dogs were introduced in 1928, new agencies such as the American Foundation for the Blind formed, and federal legislation promoted braille as a reading aid. Similar advances ensued after World War II. Hoover introduced the white cane, and the term low vision was introduced when a distinction from totally blind was necessary to tailor specific rehabilitation services for veterans returning to the work force (Goodrich & Bailey, 2000).

Throughout the 19th century, the segregation of those who were blind in institutions was the common educational mode. However, the trend in America toward loosening the institutional element in the education of blind students arrived early. By 1900, the practice of institutionalization came to be seen as only a step toward integration with the seeing community (Best, 1934).


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