Alone in the Mainstream

Looking Back on Public School as a Deaf or Hard of Hearing Child

First Edition, 20th Anniversary Edition

By Gina A. Oliva

Series: Deaf Lives
Imprint: Gallaudet University Press
Ebook : 9781954622333, 242 pages, July 2024
Paperback : 9781954622326, 242 pages, July 2024
Request a Desk or Exam Copy Request a Media Review Copy

Table of contents


Foreword to the First Edition: Alone and Together

Brenda Jo Brueggemann and Lauren Kelly

Preface to the Twentieth Anniversary Edition


Author's Note

1       Beginnings

2       Lessons from the Neighborhood

3       A Glimpse at Everyday Life

4       But Mom, I Hate Telling People!

5       Academically It Was Better Than a Deaf School, but Socially, Well . . .

6       Social Life in Adulthood: The Oasis

7       The Best of Both Worlds

8       Alone in the Mainstream Again: Constructing Inclusion

9       Children of Our Hearts: A Change in the Neighborhood

Appendix: Research Methodology


Selected Resources

Discussion Questions

Personal narratives express the long-term impact of mainstream educational settings on deaf and hard of hearing children.



In 1975, federal legislation initiated drastic changes in the education of deaf and hard of hearing children. Public Law 94-142, later known as IDEA, proposed to provide the “Least Restrictive Environment” for all such children. In the years since, advocates for deaf and hard of hearing children have raised the alarm that mainstream educational settings can cause language and social deprivation for these children.

In Alone in the Mainstream, author Gina A. Oliva documents her experience as a “solitaire,” the only deaf or hard of hearing student in her school. Oliva felt alone because she couldn’t communicate easily with her classmates and because she had no peers who shared a similar experience. As an adult, when she began her career at Gallaudet University, she realized that she wasn’t alone and that her experience was widely shared with other mainstreamed students.  She decided to write about this commonality and invited other solitaires to reflect on their own experiences in emails and essays. Collective themes of isolation, low expectations, and low self-esteem emerged. Alone in the Mainstream blends Oliva’s personal narrative with the reflections of sixty other solitaires and makes the case that deaf and hard of hearing children need each other.

This twentieth anniversary edition is a reminder that little has changed for deaf and hard of hearing students in public school settings. Oliva brings this new edition up to date with observations, resources, and discussion questions that accompany her appeal for all deaf and hard of hearing children and their families to have access to sign language, to develop a deaf identity, and to be part of a deaf community.


Retired from a thirty-seven-year career at Gallaudet University, Gina A. Oliva is enjoying life in historic Old Greenbelt, Maryland, with her husband, Joe, and their cat, Noelle. She plays pickleball, rides her bike, walks around the neighborhood with Noelle (no leash!) and sings/signs fun songs with a local Ukelele group. She continues to support summer camps for deaf kiddos with both her money and her time.