Position Paper on the continuum of K-12 Educational Placements for Students who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing
The critical issue in the education of Deaf and hard of hearing students is direct access: direct access to teachers and the language of instruction; direct access to peer interaction; and direct access to the whole school environment. Without this full and direct access, the education of Deaf and hard of hearing students is at risk.
Deaf and hard of hearing students do not form one group with all the same needs. For some, their primary language is spoken (e.g. English or French), while for others, their primary language is signed [e.g. American Sign Language (ASL) or la langue des signes québécoise (LSQ)]. Whatever the case, educational placements need to provide students with direct access to the curriculum through a language they can access.
Educational placements that do not offer technical accommodations for Deaf and hard of hearing students whose primary language is English or French, or that do not provide a rich signing environment for Deaf and hard of hearing students whose primary language is ASL or LSQ, create significant academic barriers to the education of these students as well as putting them at considerable risk linguistically, socially, psychologically, and cognitively.
For students who do not have direct access to their teachers, the curriculum, their peers, and the whole school environment, attempts at inclusion can result in exclusion and isolation.
The Canadian Hearing Society (CHS) Position on the Issue
Deaf and hard of hearing students are as capable as any other and have the right to direct access to quality education in accessible and safe school environments where their teachers have the knowledge and skills to assess their needs, abilities, and overall academic achievement.
For students who access information and communication through ASL or LSQ, CHS supports the opportunity to attend schools (“Schools for the Deaf”) that provide direct access to the curriculum, peers, and teachers through a shared signed language in a culturally appropriate school environment that includes accommodations such as visual alerting systems, accessible (captioned) media and communication technology/devices [video phones, teletypewriters (TTYs), etc.].
For students with hearing loss who access information and communication through English or French, CHS supports the opportunity to attend schools that provide direct access to the curriculum, peers, and teachers through a shared spoken language and include accommodations such as assistive listening/amplification systems, visual and amplified alerting systems, accessible (captioned) media, and communication technology/devices.
Each educational placement does not provide every student with equitable access to the curriculum; therefore, it is the responsibility of parents, along with knowledgeable professionals to choose a viable placement from a broad array of possibilities. An educational placement option is not a true option if it is not a viable one.
Educational Placements for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students
The common thread in the continuum of educational placements is access to education based on direct access to the language of instruction rather than on whether a student is hearing, Deaf, or hard of hearing.
Placement #1 – Schools for the Deaf
Students whose primary language is ASL or LSQ
A School for the Deaf offers an inclusive educational placement for Deaf and hard of hearing students who use ASL or LSQ. Students have full access to the curriculum, communication with their teachers, and interaction with their peers and the whole school environment.
- teachers and students use the same language
- the expectation for teacher language proficiency would be the same as the proficiency we expect for all teachers in the school system
- students have direct access to the curriculum through a language of instruction they share with their teachers
- the whole school environment can respond to the needs and abilities of signing students
- the cultural needs of students can be addressed directly
- teachers are knowledgeable about the complex nature of students developing literacy in English or French without having access to those spoken languages
- students have peer experiences that are typical of students in other school environments
- students have access to speech-language pathologists who understand signing students and can offer spoken language support where appropriate
- students can be kept safe by being alerted to emergency announcements visually and by being with adults they understand and who can communicate with them should an emergency arise
In spite of the fact that Provincial Schools for Deaf and hard of hearing students offer a fully inclusive educational environment, some Provincial Schools have been closed, others are threatened, and they are often seen as a last option provided to parents when all else fails.
Placement #2 - Cluster programs within the school system
In these programs, Deaf and hard of hearing students are grouped together in classes. Generally speaking, students whose primary language is English or French will not be placed in these programs because the technical and human resources and supports, when in place, can provide full access in a non-cluster program classroom.
Quality programs of this nature for Deaf and hard of hearing students who sign are possible within ‘regular’ schools if they provide the features mentioned above (for a School for the Deaf).
Placement #3 – Individual Classes in the School System
Many students with hearing loss whose primary language is English or French can have direct access to the curriculum in the school system. In such cases, human resources (speech-language pathologists, audiologists, social workers, guidance, and emotional supports, etc.) and technology supports [assistive listening devices, hearing aids, and text-based alternatives such as captioned media and Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART), etc.] can provide what is needed to maintain access to the spoken language of the school and the safety of the students.
These students need informed teachers who understand how the students’ technology works and how it impacts a student when it is not working; who understand the impact that mild to moderate hearing loss has on accessing information and communication, on the level of concentration required, on fatigue, and on engagement in the whole school environment; who are aware of effective communication strategies, and that technology is not the sole solution. When this knowledge and these resources and supports are not in place, barriers are created and these students’ academic achievement is compromised.
For Deaf and hard of hearing students whose primary language is ASL or LSQ although this placement is encouraged by many - and probably most uninformed - educators today, it offers some of the most barrier-filled experiences. This is due to the fact that signing students will have either indirect access to the curriculum or no access to the curriculum at all when they are alone in the classroom.
Research indicates that we overestimated how much access a signing student has to the curriculum through classroom interpreters. Dr. Brenda Schick and her colleagues studied 2100 ASL-English interpreters in U.S. schools. Their study found that rather than enhancing access to education for Deaf and hard of hearing students, the educational interpreting situation can, in fact, reduce and seriously compromise access.
… many Deaf and hard-of-hearing students receive interpreting services that will seriously hinder reasonable access to the classroom curriculum and social interaction (p. 3).
The Prevalence of Hearing Loss in Children
Approximately four in 1,000 Canadian babies are born with some degree of hearing loss or will develop early progressive childhood hearing loss. Statistics from the Infant Hearing Screening program in Ontario are consistent with the national statistics (Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services, 2007).
Add to this the number of students in the education system who become Deaf or hard of hearing in later childhood or adolescence due to illness or accident, as well as undiagnosed hearing loss, and unreported hearing loss on native reserves and in recent-immigrant populations.
Hearing screenings conducted by CHS show that hearing loss among students continues to go undiagnosed.
Illness, accident, and undiagnosed and unreported hearing loss among student populations indicate the prevalence of hearing loss in children is potentially far greater than the four in 1,000 stated above.
Terms Key to Understanding the Issue
In Canada, there are two main signed languages: American Sign Language and la langue des signes québécoise. Signed languages are processed in the same part of the brain as spoken languages and, like spoken languages, are learned naturally when children are exposed to them.
American Sign Language (ASL): a language with complex grammar and syntax. It is distinct from spoken languages and other signed languages. Signs are composed of movements of the hands and arms, eyes, face, head and body. ASL is used by Deaf people in Canada and the United States primarily.
La langue des signes québécoise (LSQ): a language with complex grammar and syntax. It is distinct from spoken languages and other signed languages. Signs are composed of movements of the hands and arms, eyes, face, head and body. LSQ is used by Deaf people in Quebec and other French Canadian communities primarily.
Human languages are perceived (processed by the brain) in two ways – auditorily (spoken languages) and visually (signed languages) and this processing takes place in the same area of the brain whether a language is signed or spoken. One does not need perfect hearing to access (hear) a spoken language or perfect vision to access (see) a signed language. However, there is a point at which access to language (i.e. hearing it or seeing it) is compromised to an extent that the brain cannot process it.
Approved by the CHS Board of Directors, March 2012
Appendix: Online Resources
This website identifies the right of Deaf people to identify as a linguistic minority and receive education in a signed language.
This website recognizes that Deaf and hard of hearing students can achieve excellence in education if their education takes place in a truly “least restrictive” educational environment and it calls for the continued inclusion of special schools for Deaf and hard of hearing students in the continuum of educational placements.
This website explains that The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) recognizes the value of schools for Deaf students and cherishes their contributions to the education and development of deaf and hard of hearing children for nearly 200 years. "Deaf schools are critical to the education of Deaf and hard of hearing children, and every effort must be made to preserve them. NAD strongly supports the continuation and strengthening of these schools."
This website calls for the recognition of the linguistic human rights of Deaf children and the cessation of systematic language deprivation. It states that “… the linguistic human rights of Deaf children are grossly violated in educational programmes all over the world.”
This website describes the National Deaf Education Project in the United States which is working toward bringing Deaf and hard of hearing students quality education through the use of fully accessible language.
This document recognizes that some Deaf and hard of hearing students might require a signed language to access the curriculum at a Provincial School.
This site provides a statement that rejects resolutions passed by The International Congress on Education of the Deaf (ICED) in 1880 that, through the prohibition of the use of signed languages, denied Deaf students throughout the world with access to education. Along with their regrets for the ongoing negative effects those resolutions have had over the years, ICED called on the nations of the world to advance Deaf communities as linguistic and cultural minorities and the use of signed languages in education.
Visit The Canadian Hearing Society's website for information related to culturally Deaf, oral deaf, deafened, and hard of hearing people: CHS Position Papers on Language Acquisition and Audism & Discrimination; Questions Parents Ask; and other relevant documents.