The Effects Of Legislative Enactments On The Education Of The Deaf

As future legislation is enacted, the success of deaf children should not be measured by how closely they emulate their hearing peers, but that they are given an education that will enable them to become successful human beings, not imitations of hearing people.

When examining federal laws that have had significant impact on the education of the deaf child, one can begin with the sweeping educational acts of the 60s, then move to P.L. 94-142 and trace this law’s subsequent reincarnations up to the present. It is important that the parents of a deaf child understand how these laws have been misinterpreted and have often led, directly or indirectly, to the least appropriate and most restrictive educational environment for the child.

PL 88-352, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was the first federal legislation that indirectly affected the education of the deaf child. The intent of this law was, of course, desegregation; but for the deaf child it inadvertently ushered in segregation. Without a doubt, this enactment positively impacted the educational rights of hearing minority populations, but the idea of desegregation for a student who is unable to hear English and to fully access a spoken and written language has segregating consequences. Along with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, PL 89-10, the Elementary and Secondary Act of 1965 which was intended to address educational inequality, the misinterpretation of this law has negatively impacted the education of the child who is deaf by placing him/her in a public school classroom that is often not appropriate, is most restrictive, and not language accessible. It is important to realize
that for the deaf child, their language is often of a visible, not an auditory nature.

The Bilingual Education Act of 1967, PL 90-247, was a federal enactment that had the possibility to positively impact
the education of the deaf; however, because of the exclusionary misinterpretation of this law, it has been ineffectual in benefitting the deaf child. This act was the first federal legislation regarding minority language speakers (the deaf primarily are users of a visual language). The purpose of this act was to provide school districts with federal funds to
establish educational programs for students with limited English speaking ability, and to provide the opportunity to provide bilingual education programs without violating segregation laws. If the federal government had had the foresight and understanding that being deaf is not a disability, but a socio-cultural minority, this law could have been fortuitous for the deaf child.

The next federal legislation that impacted education of the deaf was enacted in 1975 and is known as the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, PL 94-142. The intent of this law was to provide a free, appropriate public education for every child between the ages of three and 21, regardless of how, or how seriously, he/she may be handicapped. Even though the intent of this law was good, the misinterpretation for the deaf child as being placed in an educational environment of mainstreaming in public school classrooms with hearing children has been, for many deaf children, catastrophic. Since the law was enacted in 1975, education of the deaf child has been in a quagmire relative to what is deemed appropriate and least restrictive. The federal enactments passed through the years up to the present as amendments to PL 94-142 continue to place the deaf child in the category of disabled, handicapped, and sensory impaired, thus inadvertently, through a labeling process, placing limitations on the potential that the child has if given a fully accessible language, a critical mass of deaf peers, deaf adult role models, a cultural milieu that promotes identity, and a truly appropriate education in a least restrictive environment.

The latest incarnation of PL 94-142 is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), PL 101-476, that was enacted in 1990. The basic tenets of IDEA are that 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. Two questions are immediately raised: Should the deaf child be categorized as disabled;
and, for the child who is deaf, can socialization ever occur without deep and meaningful communication with peers and teachers? It is apparent that without communication of a deep and meaningful nature among peers, teachers, and the deaf student, it is impossible for socialization to occur, thus resulting, in fact, in providing the most restrictive educational environment.

This misinterpretation of least restrictive has created a situation in which many deaf children continue to be placed in inappropriate programs within the public schools. Often, these placements are accomplished disregarding or
misunderstanding the child’s linguistic preferences, language development needs, identity, and sociocultural needs. The placement decision of mainstreaming the deaf child into public schools for hearing children is often made by 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 (even though the child is primarily a visual learner, with or without advanced technological enhancements). It is evident that most deaf children who are placed in mainstream programs are being educated near hearing children, rather than with them. The child is often
given a limited, partially accessible language, a limited social environment, and resultantly, a limited education.
The reality is, because of the misinterpretation of a well-intended law, many deaf children are being given the worst of both worlds (hearing and deaf), instead of the best of both worlds.

As future legislation is enacted, the success of deaf children should not be measured by how closely they emulate their hearing peers, but that they are given an education that will enable them to become successful human beings, not imitations of hearing people. The education received should enable them to believe that being deaf is not a pathological condition; instead, in a quality educational program supported by Congressionally-enacted legislation, the student should be well-educated, successful, and encouraged to be socio-culturally Deaf. •

J. Freeman King, Ed.D. is Director, Deaf Education, Utah State University, Logan, Utah.

Source Exceptional Parent Magazine

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