In 1975, the "Education of All Handicapped Children" Act, PL 94-142 was passed and called for children with disabilities to be appropriately educated in the "least restrictive environment" (LRE), which meant to the greatest extent possible with their "non-handicapped" peers. (Nowell-Innes, 1997) Public schools were deemed the least restrictive environment for deaf children, and consequently, many Schools for the Deaf closed their doors for lack of enrollment. Most deaf children were educated in self-contained classrooms or resource rooms and had limited contact with non-deaf peers during the school day. The concept of inclusion appeared with the Regular Education Initiative, and a modification to PL 94-142 was introduced in 1990 called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, IDEA. (Nowell-Innes) The term inclusion, for the purpose of discussion, refers to the inclusion of disabled students in the same classrooms as non-disabled students.
How the inclusion model relates to deaf students and best serves them has been the subject of much research and debate since the LRE mandate was created. It must be considered that deaf persons use a different language mode, and this differentiates them in a unique way from the rest of the disabled population. A deaf student communicates in a fundamentally different way than his teachers and peers in a regular public school setting, and this presents several challenges. Access to direct communication is critical for a quality education. Many public schools in an attempt to meet the requirements of IDEA now include interpreting services for the deaf. However, the wording of IDEA actually indicates direct teaching in the student’s language and mode and direct communication with peers in the student’s language and mode. How effective is it for a deaf child to learn academically and develop socially through an interpreter in a mainstream setting? This is the main question I want to address, and the answer I offer is based on the content of my research.
There are many factors that contribute to academic and social success in any environment just as there are many that hinder. Language, the means by which we interact with the world around us, will be our focus. We’ll examine the role of language in education and culture and how it fosters a sense of identity and belonging.
First, what are some possible benefits to mainstreaming deaf children in the public schools? Not the least of importance, there is the opportunity for the child who is deaf to live at home and be with their families during the week. Deaf students who attend a special school that is beyond commuting distance must live at the school during the week. There is plenty of opportunity to communicate with the hearing world. Daily association with hearing students in an inclusion setting might help students who are deaf to better develop their ability to communicate with hearing people, leading to skills they will need in later years (Nowell; Innes). Nowell and Innes further state that, in a public school setting, deaf students have the opportunity to learn the standards of the hearing world and master the norms of the greater society, perhaps better than those who are immersed in the culture of a special school for the deaf. There might be a greater availability of academic or vocational programs in the home school district than in their nearest special school. A deaf student might have more incentive to learn how to lip read, and with support from paraprofessionals such as speech pathologists, may receive services such as the opportunity to learn how to communicate orally.
On the other hand, what are some limitations of inclusion? The potential for isolation from teachers, peers, and other members of the school community is considerable because of the language barrier. Individuals in a public school setting may not be adept at communicating in the deaf student’s language and mode of communication. Opportunities for direct instruction are limited. “Inclusion of deaf individuals often means receiving translated or transliterated messages through an interpreter or transliterator” (Nowell; Innes). “Opportunities for direct and independent interaction and communication with peers and the professional support staff are limited. School counselors, medical personnel and administrators often are not able to communicate directly with a student who is deaf, which limits their access to support services that are readily available to other students.” (Nowell; Innes)
Turnbull (2010) states in the textbook, Exceptional Lives that for a school program to be effective and meet the requirements of IDEA, the social and emotional needs of the students must be adequately met. IDEA not only provides that a student’s communications be direct and in their own language and mode; it further provides that a child’s full range of needs be met. “If the IEP team strictly follows this provision, it may decide that the child’s academic and other development will prosper more if the child is educated with others who have hearing impairments…than in integrated general education programs.” (Turnbull et al, 2010) It’s obvious that clear, direct and fluent language is indispensable for effective understanding leading to satisfactory academic achievement. But perhaps it’s less widely considered that language is central to a person’s identity and social development. “For the linguist Edward Sapir, language is not only a vehicle for the expression of thoughts, perceptions, sentiments, and values characteristic of a community; it also represents a fundamental expression of social identity. Sapir said: ‘the mere fact of a common speech serves as a peculiar potent symbol of the social solidarity of those who speak the language.’ In short, language retention helps maintain feelings of cultural kinship.” (Kilgour, 1999 ) In contrast, the following account takes place in a public school in Somersville, Massachutsetts:
“It's a few minutes before the class will start. Everyone's fishing notebooks from knapsacks and sharpening pencils and it's all 'What did you put for the last answer on the algebra?' and 'Tomorrow's the last day for yearbook money, right?' and 'If we want to stay for the game, Toni says she can give us a ride.' All of the eleventh-graders are speaking or listening, directly or indirectly. Except for one student, sitting down front. She is neither speaking or listening; she is not involved; she is deaf.
"I am her sign-language interpreter. I stand at the front of the class, poised to begin signing whenever she looks at me, but she doesn't; she is resting her eyes on the sky outside the window. When at last she does turn her face, it is not to see what her classmates are saying but to chat with me about her weekend, about the book I am reading, about her dog, my sweater, anything. She is hungry for communication and chooses me -- an adult satellite paid to follow her through the school day -- rather than her peers, who do not speak her language.
"Class begins. She pays attention for a while. Sometimes when the teacher asks a question, she signs a response, which I interpret into spoken English -- always a little late, just a few seconds after the other students. Sometimes the students all talk at once; their voices overlap and I have to choose one thread to follow, or compress them all in a quick synopsis, inserting who said which thing to whom and in what tone of voice.
"Sometimes I make a mistake and have to correct myself and then we both fall behind and I scramble, signing extra-fast to catch up. Sometimes, when I am speaking for her, I don't understand something she has signed. I have to ask her to repeat it, and I can see her flush, both of us sensing the polite and condescending impatience of the teacher and the class.
"Sometimes the teacher uses a roll-down map or an overhead projector, and all the students train their eyes on the visual information while listening to the teacher. I move closer to the map or screen, trying to make my hands make sense of all the information. The girl looks at me, then at the visual display. The teacher talks on. By the time the student looks at me again, she has lost three sentences. She looks at her notes and loses more sentences. Frustration flickers across her face, her eyes go blank and she gives up, returning her gaze to the sky.
"I do not eat lunch with her, but I have seen her in the cafeteria at a long white table with other students. She is able, sort of, to participate in conversation, if someone makes a point of turning and speaking directly to her. Because she has trouble lip reading and they have trouble understanding her speech, she often resorts to pen and paper. The students are patient. But conversation usually ricochets across the table too rapidly for her even to pretend comprehension, so she takes a bite of her sandwich. She chews carefully, almost surreptitiously; she has been told that deaf people make funny noises when they eat.
She's a good athlete. She runs with the cross-country team, but she doesn't participate in student government or school plays or the literary magazine or cheerleading. More often, she doesn't go to the cafeteria at all. She spends her lunch period at the library. She prefers activities in which she can excel alone.” (Hager -Cohen, 2004 )
In an empirical study, data were collected in four inclusive classes for the deaf in three public elementary schools. According to this study, (Kelman; Branco, 2009) these classes were called “bilingual” by the public education system, because signs were used by one of the two teachers. Each classroom had an average of 25 students, six being deaf. Interactions were directly observed and transcripts were made from videotape. The purpose of the study was to answer the question, “How can an inclusive classroom for deaf students be successful?” It was observed that,
“…relations between teachers, as well as among teachers and students, strongly differed. In Dyad A, both teachers knew sign language. However, they worked separately, according to well-defined, differentiated roles in the class context. They actually created two separate groups that rarely communicated with each other, the members of each restricting communication to the group to which they belonged (deaf or hearing).” (Kelman; Branco 2009)
The results of this study show the relationship of language to culture and development.
“The strict relationship between culture and development has implications for the investigation of how deaf individuals internalize aspects of the hearing culture and generate their own individual culture while developing. Language processes play an important role, since they are present in real, daily activities involving people and society. Language is not a mere tool for conveying information and creating knowledge. Through language, thoughts are actively constructed and regulated. That is, socialization and cognition processes are both grounded in language. Language is the most meaningful symbolic tool of [the] human condition. According to Bruner (1996), people create meanings, interpreting and creating their realities through multiple verbal and nonverbal pathways. “
“How can deaf students capture meanings and communicative subtleties in regular classrooms, if many messages are not converted into sign language? The ways through which they create meanings may or may not coincide with hearing people’s interpretations. The influence of the communication in the social formation of the mind is well known.” (Kelman; Branco)
It is reasonable to conclude that the socialization process and the process by which one’s identity is formed in relation to a group as a whole is dependent on language fluency, and language shared, and not only with the teacher or an interpreter, but with every communication within the group. According to the U.S. Department of Education, an individualized education program (IEP) must consider “social, emotional and cultural needs, including opportunity for peer interactions and communication,” (Nowell; Innes) and, according to the provisions of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, IDEA, these must be in the child’s language and mode.
At times, an interpreter will facilitate peer interactions, but merely employing an interpreter doesn’t adequately fulfill this provision. The passage below shows an example of peer interactions between deaf and hearing students through an interpreter:
“G (the teacher) intermediates the relations between deaf and hearing peers. Her body posture (she remains seated) shows how little involved she is in the intermediation process. The way she does the intermediation ultimately inhibits direct interactions between hearing and deaf children. Deaf students in this classroom do not seem comfortable directly addressing their hearing peers. Here, the teacher misses an important opportunity to promote interactions among them. Does her behavior relate to lack of interest, or sheer laziness? By ignoring opportunities to promote interactions, the teacher does not encourage effective inclusion.” (Kelman; Branco)
Jessica Cleghorn, a professional interpreter working for a large agency in Syracuse, New York sometimes gets assigned to public school classrooms to interpret instruction for a deaf student. She relates that she sometimes feels sorry for the deaf students. “Sometimes a deaf student will act as if I’m their main friend (which I’m not) and I’m also expected to be their teacher too, which I’m not trained to do.”
In many schools, teachers are taught “Total Communication,” as a solution to the language barrier between teacher and student and to satisfy the provision of IDEA that direct instruction is provided in the student’s language and mode. Total communication refers to signing and speaking at the same time. But, according to Turnbull, “Most teachers using total communication methods actually use Pidgin Sign English, which is an incomplete version of both ASL and English providing none of the grammatical complexity of either language.” (Turnbull) This is definitely a concern. Perhaps higher-quality direct communication would be possible if regular classroom teachers were fluent in ASL. But requiring public school teachers to be fluent in ASL is a tall order. To learn ASL, most interpreters spend at least four years in a special college mastering a whole new language and learning Deaf culture and history.
The effect of isolation and lack of natural, everyday communication with peers actually has negative effects on academics and social integration. “Since the mid-1970s, with PL94-142, IDEA and now No Child Left behind mandating assessments, the majority of deaf students are starving for accessible, comprehensible linguistic input in the public school system.” (Andrews, 2006) Jean Andrews provides language assessment for young Deaf students in the court system. Author of “Inclusion, the Big Delusion,” Andrews states that all the Deaf youths that he works with have been products of public mainstream programs and they can’t read the legal documents that they have to sign. Furthermore, he states, “they have trouble understanding the ASL interpreter assigned to them by the courts.” (Andrews)
According to Deaflinx, a deaf education and empowerment website, however, interpretation within the mainstream or inclusion environment can be viewed from more than one angle. On the one hand, the interpreter can act as a link to classroom and all that is within it. “…I went to a hearing school. As the only deaf student, though, I experienced a lot of difficulty. Once my school hired a sign language interpreter, however, I had access to my education. I was able to stay at my school instead of flunking out.” (deaflinx) “Classroom situations are usually rife with group discussions. The presence of an interpreter can be useful in these situations, since group discussions are particularly difficult for most deaf individuals to follow. Interpreters, however, are not educators. If a child is having difficulty with a concept, the child/teacher pair must always go through a third party. On the other hand, deaf children are often isolated from their peers, even with an interpreter. The free and easy communication that occurs between children is less likely to happen between a deaf child and his hearing peers, even with an interpreter. The learning that comes from that social interaction is also less likely to occur.” (deaflinx)
Does inclusion really provide the deaf child the benefit of access to the larger hearing society? A Deaf student who was mainstreamed his whole school career says, “The real world was not accessible to me in my mainstream school. All I got were little trickles of information from my group of friends about personal relationships, about school events, gossip, etc etc., and THAT Is what the real world is made up of...human beings interacting on a regular, uninhibited basis (Cohen, 2009). “The full-inclusion, one-size-fits-all approach, even with its promises of support services, is naive at best and irreparably harmful at worst" (deaflinx).
When students go to school every day, they learn a lot more than the content of instruction. If school is a microcosm of the larger society, students learn their place in society through the quality of their social interactions in school. They learn how to develop relationships. “When communication is easy, students learn social norms, rules of conversation, (and) appropriate ways of responding in various situations.” (Turnbull) If a student can’t easily communicate and senses others’ awkwardness with communicating or relating to them, he may become isolated and lonely and not develop his true potential socially or academically. Disabilities Studies Quarterly states that G. A. Oliva wrote a book called, “Alone and Together,” where she provides an analysis of deaf students’ narratives on their experience being placed in public schools (with interpreters), and the word she uses to describe them is “solitaires.” (Disability Studies Quarterly, 2009) And not only is social and academic development restricted in regular classroom settings, but patterns of negative social interaction are created. In the Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, W. Karnilowicz (1988), “confirmed that the difficulty of building intimate relationships between nondisabled students and students with disabilities contributed to negative attitudes toward students with disabilities.” (Hung; Paul, 2006)
According to Nowell, Innes (1997) when contemplating inclusion in a regular classroom setting for a deaf individual, the most important issues to consider are related to language and communication. These are closely related to a child’s core intellectual and social development. “At the very least an individualized education program (IEP) for a child who is deaf must consider the following (U.S. Department of Education, 1992):
• Communication needs and the child’s preferred mode of communication
• Linguistic needs
• Severity of hearing loss and potential for using residual hearing
• Academic level
• Social, emotional and cultural needs, including the opportunity for peer interactions and communication.
A local or state education agency cannot presume that inclusion is appropriate for a child who is deaf without incorporating the above issues in its IEP process.” (Nowell; Innes)
A recent study of deaf students in regular schools in Australia found that as far as social integration is concerned “only one-third of the Australian deaf students were being well-integrated with their hearing peers with another 30 percent seen as “going along with” the school activities without playing a significant role in their planning and execution.” (Hyde, 2004) Summarizing their research, the author states, “the full inclusion of these students, in the strictest terms of this concept, is questionable.” (Hyde)
The above findings and firsthand reports suggest that assigning a deaf child to a regular education classroom in a public school with an interpreter is not the least restrictive environment for learning, even if there are other support staff assigned to the case.
What about Schools for the Deaf? In residential schools for the Deaf, according to Deaflinx, children develop social skills with their peers through their natural communication, ASL. “At residential schools for the Deaf, children feel normal and secure. They aren’t singled out for being different. Many students in schools for the Deaf feel a sense of community; they are proud to be Deaf. Deaf students learn about Deaf history and Deaf culture. This instruction isn’t available in public school. Teachers sign so students understand their lessons.” (deaflinx) It seems that in classrooms wherein all students are deaf and where the instruction is given directly in the child’s language and mode there is less confusion to add to the challenges of learning. A deaf student named Rena explains why she likes her Deaf school on a video posted on You Tube:
“In my Deaf school, I can socialize with my deaf friends. There are smaller class numbers, and my teacher signs, so I don’t have to focus on two different people, interpreter and teacher, back and forth at the same time.”
According to Listen-Up, a deaf education website, interaction with others that are Deaf and have the same mode of communication can help student's better cope with their hearing loss while learning how to communicate and function in a silent world. Students in these Deaf schools also have access to regular adult Deaf role models, so that they can see that it is totally possible for an individual to live and excel in a world where hearing is not a luxury that they have. These role models can help inspire children that may be otherwise depressed about the state of their condition, giving them hope to learn more about how they can function in the world. Public schools may provide the children with the ability to learn the everyday course material, but they do not offer the kinds of lessons and skills that Deaf schools can in regards to learning how to communicate without the ability to hear. (Listen-up) “At the very least, any and all children suffering from some kind of hearing impairment should attend one of these Deaf schools, at least in a part time capacity.” (Listen-up)
Traditionally, residential schools have had a long and venerable history in this country, according to the Listen-up website:
“There are real advantages to residential schools. The schools are designed with the needs of deaf students in mind. Some of the schools have excellent programs. The opportunity for peer interaction is available, as are extracurricular activities like boy scouts and after school clubs. “The students are involved in student government, peer study-groups, volunteer activities in the community at large, sports …all kinds of extra-curricular activities.” A child who lives in a locality where he is the only deaf person for miles in any direction is able to meet other deaf children. Deaf kids have adult Deaf role models. “Educators and parents who advocate for the availability option point out that the presence of deaf adults who are well-educated and fluent in sign language has a significant long-term impact on young deaf children’s educational and personal well-being.” In many cases, friendships are made that last a lifetime. The children are exposed to the cultural values of the Deaf community and to the language of the Deaf, ASL. “ (Listen-up)
The School for the Deaf option is attractive mostly from the “cultural mode of deafness” perspective. “The cultural model of deafness defines the deaf individual as a linguistic minority with a distinct language, culture and mores. “Deafness is viewed as a difference, a difference which in no way connotes inferiority.” (Listen-up) Listen-Up further relates that in the cultural mode or paradigm of deafness, the individual is viewed as a visual being whose natural language is ASL or any other naturally occurring signed language. The individual does not need to be fixed. A parent of a Deaf child relates: “We always said Kathleen was “diagnosed” as deaf. In 1991, due to exposure to the Deaf Community, our perspectives and ideas changed completely! We now say that Kathleen was “identified” as Deaf. She wasn’t and isn’t sick. She didn’t need to be “fixed”.” An individual is deemed successful if he/she attains fluency in ASL. A person with this viewpoint is considered “Deaf”. (Listen-up)
The website goes on to state that the medical model, on the other hand, is distinguished by the viewpoint that deafness is a functional disorder that needs to be fixed. From this viewpoint deaf people are seen as handicapped. “My deafness is a functional defect. I can’t hear anything at all—conversations, music, automobile horns, the radio, Scud blasts. I unquestionably recognize that in one specific area I am, yes, impaired/disabled/handicapped/deficient/deviant in the real world. This causes me a number of problems—some big, some small. It’s obvious to me that I have a set of completely broken, totally useless ears.” (Listen-up) Generally, people holding this viewpoint consider the ability to hear as optimal, according to this website, and use auditory methods to communicate, such as learning to speak and read lips. “The use of assistive devices such as hearing aids and cochlear implants is considered appropriate. A person who has this viewpoint is called “deaf”. (Listen-up)
During my research for this essay, I searched for publications in the Syracuse University database. The keywords I used to find all my references were: “inclusion” and “deaf.” After reading the research, I realize that the cultural paradigm of deafness is being recognized and appreciated. Deaf students “speak” a different language, just like a person from Russia speaks another language, but they’re a completely different kind of language group because they use a naturally occurring visual language. Though not central to the purpose of this paper, it’s probably useful to point out that ASL is an internationally recognized full language. The problem with including the deaf in the English speaking environment of today’s public schools has to do with the fact that the student who comes from Russia to study here in the United States can learn and become fluent in English, because it’s an aural language. The deaf child can’t. He can learn to read and write any language he chooses with significant effort, but it will never be as easy to use as the language that he socializes with. I also have come to the conclusion that even though the deaf student is exposed to the hearing world while in an inclusion environment, his identity is necessarily formed up as one who is different and apart. This is who he learns to be. It becomes his inner reality. I think of the old story where it says that the best way to teach a child to swim is to throw him off the deep end. I don’t think I agree with this way of thinking. What if the child learns from his near-drowning experience that he is profoundly insecure and incapable while he is in deep water? This is, understandably, a weak analogy to apply to a student’s education that is accomplished over the course of many years, but we must ask, in light of the research presented, what is the deaf children really learning from their experience in mainstream programs? Even if our primary focus is on academics, surely we must take into consideration the whole child, according to the provision of IDEA. This research clearly indicates the difficulty of developing and maintaining deep and sustaining relationships in a group when nobody shares your language except a hired interpreter. Since the multitude of daily interactions have so great an effect on one’s development and academic achievement, it’s clear that the public school classroom may not be the least restrictive environment for the deaf child.
The implications of this research may encourage reevaluation of current thoughts and policies regarding placement of deaf children in public schools. I know that ASL is offered as a second language for students to study in some high schools in the United States, but this isn’t enough to create an environment that serves the needs of a deaf child in that school.
According to the Gallaudet Research Institute, about 2 to 4 of every 1,000 people in the United States are "functionally deaf," though more than half became deaf relatively late in life; fewer than 1 out of every 1,000 people in the United States became deaf before 18 years of age. Funding Schools for the Deaf for a population this size should not be difficult and would indeed provide a less restrictive environment for the education of deaf children.
Nowell, R.; Innes, J.
Educating Children Who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing: Inclusion
ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education, Reston, VA
Descriptors: Access to Education, Deafness, Decision Making, Elementary Secondary Preschool Education, Social Integration, Special Schools, Student Placement, Student Rights
Inclusion of deaf students: An examination of definitions of inclusion in relation to findings of a recent Australian study of deaf students in regular classes
Deafness and Education International, 6(2), 2004, Whurr Publishers Ltd.
Abstract: This paper considers the definitions of inclusion for deaf students, in particular those relating to the general education class model. Some of the findings of a recent study by the authors of deaf students in regular schools are used to reflect on current policies and practices and how these relate to the implementation of inclusion in Australia.
Kelman, C; Branco, A
(Meta)Communication Strategies in Inclusive Classes for Deaf Students
American Annals of the Deaf 154 no4 371-81 Fall 2009
Abstract: (condensed) Considering the need to better understand successful experiences of deaf children’s inclusion, we aimed in the present study to describe, analyze and interpret what happens in the elementary school bilingual education classes for the deaf. The idea was to focus on communication and metacommunication strategies used by teachers and students during classroom activities.
Andrews, J.F. Ph.D.
Inclusion: The Big Delusion
American Annals of the Deaf 151 no3 295-6 Summ 2006
Abstract: (first paragraph) Inclusion, mainstreaming and monolingualism as language policy for the majority of deaf youths is one of the most colossal failures in the history of education, resulting in an entire generation of Deaf semilingual students.
Hung,H; Paul, P.
Inclusion of Students who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing: Secondary School Hearing Students’ Perspectives
Deafness and Education International,
Abstract: This paper focuses on secondary school hearing students’ perspectives on inclusion of peers who are deaf or hard of hearing (D/HH) in their general education classroom. Adopting insights from contact theory and ecological theory of human development, the researchers examined the effects of contact related factors (contact experience, closeness, and class norms) and demographical variables (class setting, grade level, and gender) on hearing students’ attitudes toward inclusion of peer who are D/HH through the use of self-reported survey data. The findings and their implications for educational practice are also discussed.
"Deaf Education Options Guide." Deaf Linx.com. 1998. 9 Nov. 2008
Listen Up Web: Resources for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing,
Disability Studies Quarterly
Remarks by the Honourable David Kilgour, P.C., M.P. Edmonton Southeast
Secretary of State (Latin America and Africa)
Southern Alberta Heritage Language Association Calgary, October 9, 1999
Cohen, Oscar. "Deaf persons and experts speak out against Inclusion." Deaf Info--Everything You Wanted to Know About Deafness. 20 Apr. 1994. 9 Nov. 2008 http://www.zak.co.il/d/deaf-info/old/inclusion.
Hager Cohen, L.
Train Go Sorry: Inside a Deaf World
Abstract: "Train Go Sorry" is the American Sign Language expression for "missing the boat." It is also a metaphor for the missed connections between the deaf and the hearing worlds, including the failure to recognize that deaf people are members of a unique culture.
Turnbull, A.; Turnbull, R.; Wehmeyer, M.
Exceptional Lives: Special Education in Today’s Schools
In 1975, the "Education of All Handicapped Children" Act, PL 94-142 was passed and called for children with disabilities to be app...
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