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American Annals of the Deaf

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Social Constructions of Deafness: Examining Deaf Languacultures in Education
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Both my parents and I vehemently disagreed with having an interpreter sit in front of me and “interpret” for me due to my “hearing loss.” My parents and I reminded the school that we had been told that ASL was ineffective for an oral student like me and that it would be counterproductive. Also, I was already distraught enough with my personal struggle with deafness; the last thing I needed was more stigma and more reason to be ridiculed. Ironically, during this time, many other parents of deaf children (notably on the more progressive East Coast) were fighting for their right to have an interpreter for their child.[1] Nonetheless, we came to an agreement that the interpreter be oral with no use of ASL and that I would wear a cigarette-pack shaped audiological device known as an FM system very visibly around my neck while the teacher had a microphone to transmit sound. Now, I had a FM system attached to my two already visible hearing aids. I felt that the addition of the interpreter to my already technological self (hearing aids and FM system) would serve to solidify my deviant identity just in case it was ever in doubt.
My IEP would later state the following:

2. PERFORMANCE LEVEL AND GROWTH:

Thomas has good speech intelligibility, but needs to be careful to monitor his speech when with teachers and peers. He needs to continue to receive maintenance [sic] speech-language services to monitor classroom intelligibility with teachers. Teachers this year have not noted any difficulties with Thomas’ speech. Intelligibility has been maintained at 80%. Teachers report that Thomas is an excellent student who is eager to learn. cooperates [sic] and willing [sic] participates in all classroom discussion. He is a prepared and organized student who is very aware of the adaptations needed due to his hearing loss in order to achieve academic success. He is doing A work in all classes. Periodic discussions by the Itinerant teacher of the Deaf with Thomas and his teachers has insured that adaptations/modifications are met in the regular classroom and that staff is aware of the impact Thomas’ hearing loss has on his academic performance and comprehension of material. (from the Special School District of St. Louis County IEP)

Was I really aware that adaptations (i.e., speech-language services) were needed to achieve academic success? I never would really understand how and in what ways that “staff is aware of the impact Thomas’ hearing loss has on his academic performance and comprehension of material” (emphasis mine). Did they mean that the degree of the modification of speech-language has a direct determination on my academic performance? If I was failing a subject, was my speech-language a part of the issue? Was my “intelligibility” based on speech by means of spoken English as a language? In what ways was I supposed to be “careful” to monitor my speech? Was it not intelligible enough? According to whom? How was my intelligibility “maintained” at 80%? Finally, although I relied on an interpreter, this fact was mentioned nowhere under my performance level and “growth” section of the IEP. However, accepting an interpreter would be a major turning point in my journey to reconstruct my own deaf identity in a positive way.

After meeting Leslie, the interpreter, I made it very clear to her, several times through a series of meetings, that I did not want her to sign and that all translations from the teacher would be oral. The first day the interpreter showed up “for me” was a complete embarrassment; it seemed as if I needed an interpreter to make me whole. I felt so deviant since I was being told to rely on an adult to help me reason and function in my classroom. Making the situation worse, the representative from the special school district, who would later be assigned as my academic tutor (or what the IEP called “Itinerant teacher for the Deaf”), spoke for nearly 10 minutes to the entire class, explaining my hearing loss and the purpose of the oral interpreter. According to the IEP, she would provide “introductory inservice training to all students’ instructional staff . . . and classroom demonstration regarding hearing disabilities to grade level peers.”

She talked about me to my grade-level peers as if she knew me better than I knew myself, and the other students in the class easily adopted the notion that I was incapable of speaking for myself. She left out all the pain and sacrifices I had made to “fit in” to the classroom and, instead, explained that I had a “hearing disability” and that the hearing aids, the FM system, and the interpreter were necessary to make me successful—as if I required these foreign accommodations to successfully “complete” me. By speaking for me, I felt that she, “the expert,” attempted to take on the role of my identity as if I were incapable of explaining who I was as a deaf person. Her presentation was a missed opportunity for her, a hearing individual, to educate the other hearing students and teachers that being deaf was okay.

Soon thereafter, I realized that only I could reconstruct my identity in a positive way. I informed her that she was dismissed from her duties as a tutor and that I never wanted to see her again. This instance was the first time I tried to claim authority in terms of my issues. This burden was mine only to keep, and I alone should decide how it ought to be presented to the rest of the world. During my adult years, I went through my old IEPs and would soon learn that my “teacher of the deaf” also provided “consultation” each week to instructional staff members regarding my “hearing disability,” including “(1) Hearing disability/audiogram; (2) Preferred mode of communication; (3) Impact of hearing disability on academics; (4) Environmental adaptations necessitated by hearing loss; (5) Amplification and use of residual hearing; (6) Impact of hearing disability on speech/language development; (7) Literature/articles/newsletters regarding children with hearing disabilities included in general education classroom; (8) Notetakers, captioned films, TTY; and (9) Interpreters, interpreting services” (from an IEP from the Special School District of St. Louis County).

Most of the annual goals involved my “hearing disability” and “speech” as major criteria of success while the interpreter (the most important accommodation for me at the time) was dead last and described only briefly. If there were any literature/articles/newsletters regarding children with hearing disabilities as a “guideline” for staff members to use, I would assume that it was sure to be presented in a one-sided view based on the medical language and IEP being framed in the medical model.

1. In 1982, the U.S. Supreme Court in Rowley v. Board of Education of the Gloversville Enlarged City School decided that public schools did not need to provide interpreters for deaf students. This sent shockwaves to many parents of deaf children fighting for their right to have their child be provided an interpreter. Later court decisions muddled public school’s obligation to provide an interpreter and there was no clear enforcement; finally, in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed, specifying under Title II that all public schools must provide accommodations, including interpreters, on request.


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