Bill of Rights for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children
Abundant information can be found in the literature on the status of American deaf education over past years, especially about two important factors: communication access and educational placement for deaf and hard of hearing children. Too often decisions about these factors are made without sufficiently addressing deaf and hard of hearing children’s cognitive, emotional, linguistic, social, and academic development. As a result, a pattern of ignorance and oppression may exist regarding the education of deaf and hard of hearing children in the United States.
In 1988, the Commission on Education of the Deaf (COED) report described the unsatisfactory status of deaf education and recommended specific changes to the President and the Congress. In 1992 and 1994 the U.S. Department of Education published policy guidance on how the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) should be applied in order to ensure an appropriate education for deaf and hard of hearing children. Further, the 1997 and 2004 amendments to IDEA require education programs for deaf and hard of hearing children to consider the language and communication needs of these children.
In 2005, a coalition of national education, parent, and consumer organizations, including the NAD, released National Agenda: Moving Forward on Achieving Educational Equality for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students. The National Agenda sets out a roadmap for deaf education reform at the national, state, and local levels. Since 2005, a national summit has been held annually for states pursuing reform based on the National Agenda.
Building on these developments, some states have devised an individual “communication plan” to be used with each deaf and hard of hearing child to ensure that their language and communication needs are met through their education program. Some states have passed a law known as the deaf children’s bill of rights.
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Deaf children’s bills of rights have certain elements in common:
Deaf and hard of hearing children’s ability to communicate is a priority.
These bills stress the basic human need for a child to be able to communicate freely with others. The bills usually state that their purpose is to promote understanding of communication needs and not to favor any one particular communication mode or language over another.
Availability of qualified and certified personnel who can communicate directly with deaf and hard of hearing children.
In order for an educational placement to be appropriate, the child must be provided, when appropriate, qualified and certified teachers, psychologists, speech therapists, assessors, administrators, interpreters, and other personnel who understand the unique nature of deafness and are specifically trained to work with deaf and hard of hearing children. These personnel should be proficient in the primary communication and language mode of deaf and hard of hearing children.
Deaf and hard of hearing children shall have an education with a sufficient number of same language mode peers who are of the same age and ability level.
This is designed to ensure a “critical mass” where there is a sufficient number of peers of the approximate age and ability level with whom deaf and hard of hearing children can communicate directly in the same language.
Deaf and hard of hearing children shall be provided opportunities to interact with deaf and hard of hearing adult role models.
Parents and educators should be informed of the benefits of an education in which deaf and hard of hearing students have deaf and hard of hearing role models or adult mentors available as part of the student’s education experience in school and during extracurricular activities. Children should be provided access to deaf and hard of hearing adults as teachers, mentors, and advocates.
Deaf and hard of hearing children shall be provided equal opportunity to benefit from all services and programs at their schools.
Deaf and hard of hearing children must have direct and appropriate access to all components of the education, including recess, lunch, extracurricular, social, and athletic activities.
Deaf and hard of hearing children shall be assessed appropriately.
Language, communication, academic, and social development should be assessed at an early age and throughout the child’s educational experience. Qualified and certified individuals proficient in the language(s) of the child should perform the assessments.
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Some legislative bills offer unique provisions for particular issues:
No deaf or hard of hearing child shall be denied the opportunity for instruction in a particular communication mode or language solely because of the child’s remaining hearing, the parents of the child are not fluent in the communication mode or language being taught, or the child has previous experience with some other communication mode or language. The child’s preferred mode should be respected in order to attain highest education possible for that individual in an appropriate environment.
Teachers must demonstrate competency in American Sign Language (ASL) in addition to English language and communication competencies in order to obtain any certification required to teach deaf and hard of hearing students.
Opportunities should be available for interactions that enhance the child’s intellectual, social, emotional and cultural development.
An education should be provided in which the child’s unique communication mode (such as ASL) is respected, utilized, and developed to an appropriate level of proficiency and vocabulary equivalent to that of students of similar ages who are hearing.
There should be provision of early educational intervention to provide for the acquisition of a natural language base whether it be ASL, Speech, Cued Speech, Sign Language, another method, or a combination of methods. There shall be a consistent communication system during the child’s early, critical language acquisition years.
Curriculum and Program Development
The child should have the right to have ASL as one of the academic subjects in his/her educational curriculum when the child’s primary language is ASL.
Consider that the state school for the deaf may be the least restrictive environment for a deaf or hard of hearing child.
Ensure that the extent, content, and purpose of programs and services for deaf and hard of hearing children are developed with the involvement and assistance of deaf and hard of hearing people, parents of deaf and hard of hearing students, and qualified and certified teachers and professionals trained in the education of deaf and hard of hearing students.
Services & Assistance by the Appropriate Educational Agency
Equip deaf and hard of hearing children with appropriate assistive technology across a full spectrum.
Ensure that the parents are enabled to make informed decisions about which educational options are best suited to their child, by receiving and reviewing information about all the educational options provided by the school district and available to the child, as well as about options not provided by the school district.
Establish an outreach program that provides sign language training and assistance and other support services to the parents of a deaf or hard of hearing child.
Take steps to implement the Bill of Rights, including developing materials, disseminating information, and providing workshops, symposia, and other gatherings to ensure that decision makers understand and implement the Act.
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Developing a Bill of Rights: What Can You Do?
Ideally, a bill of rights for deaf and hard of hearing children should include the concepts discussed in this article. The enactment of such a bill in your state may be possible by keeping your legislators informed of deaf and hard of hearing education issues, working with your State Association of the Deaf, and maintaining open communication with local, state and national service providers, programs, organizations, agencies, and other appropriate individuals and entities.
Deaf and hard of hearing communities throughout the country should help develop and implement state bills of rights for deaf and hard of hearing children. You should continually educate legislators about the unique needs of deaf and hard of hearing children, including the need for deaf culture and sign language.
Legislators may be more like to support a state bill of rights if education and literacy, and their role in allowing deaf and hard of hearing citizens to become productive citizens, are stressed. Educate your legislators about the educational needs and rights of deaf and hard of hearing children and help them to become knowledgeable and enthusiastic about this cause.
Seize the opportunity to pass legislation that guarantees an appropriate education for deaf and hard of hearing children in all states during our time.
If you have additional information, please let us know.