BY FREEMAN KING, Ed.D If parents decide a school district’s inclusive/mainstreaming program is the optimum and appropriate educational program for deaf children, this should center around an approach that offers a quality education that prepares the deaf student to compete as an equal with hearing children in the school.
Education for the child who is deaf has historically gone through many changes related to educational ideology and placement decisions. Presently, for good or bad, in the United States, approximately 75 percent of deaf/hard of hearing children are educated in an inclusion/mainstreamed setting housed in the public schools. This educational placement decision can be directly attributed to the interpretation of PL 101-476, The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1990, which reinforced an earlier federal mandate, PL 94-142, The Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 that stated: the child who has a disability will be educated in the most appropriate and least restrictive environment, and that this environment will lead to socialization of the child with his/her non-disabled peers.
On the interpretation of the law, the consensus has been that an inclusive/mainstreamed educational environment is best for the deaf/hard of hearing child. However, two important questions beg to be asked: (1) Should the deaf child be categorized as disabled? and, (2) Can socialization ever occur without deep and meaningful communication with peers and teachers?
Answering these vital questions can often be difficult for the parents of a deaf/hard of hearing child, but arriving at the answers can assure that the child will have the optimum educational and social experience in the least restrictive and most appropriate environment.
The interpretation of the law as being inclusion/mainstreaming (into the local school district) has created a situation in which many deaf/hard of hearing children are being placed in the most restrictive and inappropriate environment. Often, this placement decision is made, disregarding the child’s linguistic preferences, language development needs, identity, and sociocultural needs. Administrators, special education specialists, audiologists, and speech-language pathologists who do not understand the predisposition of the deaf child to acquire a natural, visual language with or without technological enhancements often make the decision.
Parents are also often led to believe that having an interpreter for their child will solve the “problem” of communication with his/her teacher and peers. The assumption is made that the interpreter will provide for equal language access and remediate the social and emotional needs of the child. This is not necessarily the case, in that many interpreters are not certified or qualified and do not possess the requisite skills to truly equalize communication in the classroom environment, especially if the child does not already possess a deep and meaningful visual language. It is also important to note that many inclusive/mainstreamed settings have only one or two deaf students in the entire program, thus circumventing the need for a critical mass of deaf/hard of hearing students that will foster identity and language development. Therefore, if parents decide a local school district’s inclusive/mainstreaming program is the optimum program for offering an appropriate educational program for deaf children, this program should center around an approach that will offer a quality education that prepares the deaf student to compete as an equal with hearing children in the school.
Without a strong language and communication base and appropriate educational, social and emotional growth, the anticipated development for deaf students is not possible, and the prospects of deaf and hard of hearing students meeting high proficiency standards are diminished. Educational programming and the assessment of educational progress must reflect this reality. If a local school district offers an appropriate inclusion/mainstreaming program for deaf/hard of hearing children, the foremost consideration should be focused on providing not only a quality academic education, but also a program that enables the student to be respected by his/her teachers and peers, well educated, and allowed to be Deaf, not an imitation of his/her hearing peers.•
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Freeman King, Ed.D. is Director, Deaf Education at Utah State University, Logan, Utah.
There are certain criteria that should be considered in order to assure appropriateness, effectiveness, and a least restrictive environment:
- The program should include a critical mass of deaf children (at least five per class) in order to provide for socialization, identity development, and language growth and enhancement;
- Homogeneous grouping possibilities should exist that will facilitate grouping by age, IQ, and linguistic competence;
- Only teachers who are qualified/certified and have a respect for and understanding of Deaf culture should have deaf students in their classes;
- Only teachers who can communicate directly and appropriately with deaf students should be utilized in classes with deaf children;
- Deaf adult role models should be present on a regular basis in the educational process, either as administrators, teachers, or aides;
- Curriculum that includes Deaf history and Deaf culture should be available in classrooms that have deaf children;
- Only intelligence, achievement, and other placement tests that have been normed on a deaf population and administered by personnel who can communicate fluently with the deaf child should be used;
- Interpreters involved in the program should be highly certified and knowledgeable concerning the Deaf culture;
- The hearing administrators, teachers, and students in the school should be offered continuing opportunities to learn and use American Sign Language, or whatever signing system is being employed.