Hear and Now: How Park and Recreation Professionals Can Hear the Needs of the Deaf Community

By Olivia, Gina | Parks & Recreation, May 2004 | Go to article overview
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Hear and Now: How Park and Recreation Professionals Can Hear the Needs of the Deaf Community


Olivia, Gina, Parks & Recreation


Imagine riding the bus to your high school soccer game. Your teammates are talking about their weekend plans, your coach is giving last-minute instructions, and someone else discusses what player to look out for on defense. Although all these conversations are happening, you can't hear one single word. You're the only deaf student onboard, and the social aspects of recreation are foreign to you. Other than playing the game, you really don't know what it's like to be on a team.

For the past 30 years, the educational setting for most deaf and hard of hearing children has shifted from the deaf school to the mainstream. Today, approximately 80 percent of such children are mainstreamed. With the additional push for full inclusion, more and more are in their local neighborhood school with only a few, if any, deaf or hard of hearing peers.

This represents a change not only in the academic environment for deaf and hard of hearing children, but also in their social and recreational world. Up until the last quarter of the 20th century, most of these children were educated in residential schools for deaf children, most of which were founded in the late 19th century following the footsteps of Edward Miner Gallaudet and his deaf colleague, Laurent Clerc. Most older deaf adults look back on their years in those schools quite fondly, and will tell you that they had ample and excellent extra-curricular activities in settings with full access to the accompanying information-sharing and informal conversation. The culture of the deaf community blossomed in these schools. Today's youngsters who are mainstreamed have, in large part, lost this benefit, according to popular wisdom within the deaf community and according to studies that have asked these adults to share their perspective.

Studies on mainstreamed deaf and hard of hearing children have also shed light on their social involvement and resultant self-esteem. Researchers have used sociograms (instruments that ask children to rate their classmates for likeability) to find that 75 percent of mainstreamed deaf and hard of hearing subjects fell into the neglected category and none were in the popular category The findings show that the deaf and hard of hearing subjects had significantly lower self-esteem in three of five areas: academic competence, social competence, and behavioral conduct.

Author Claire Ramsey (who compiled extensive research for her book titled "Deaf Children in Public Schools: Placement, Context and Consequences") labeled a category of interactions between deaf and hearing children as "evaluations." These interactions were generally limited to instrumental communication, e.g. questions and answers about school work or expectations, with the deaf children doing the asking and the hearing children doing the answering. Ramsey summarizes her observation in no uncertain terms.

"For the purposes of learning and development, the interaction among deaf and bearing children in the mainstreaming classroom ... was highly constrained and not developmentally helpful," she says. "Few parents of hearing children would judge sufficient for their own children the personal contact and peer interaction that was available for the deaf second graders at [this school]."

The Solitary Mainstream--The Adult Voice in Retrospect

After asking 60 adults ranging in age from 24-60, who had been mainstreamed most of their lives to write essays about their experiences, four themes began to emerge: that there were certain teachers and classmates that stood out in memory as either wonderful or awful, that they rarely talked to people about their hearing loss, that the academic life was good but the social life was dismal, and that as adults they chose to learn sign and have friends who use sign.

"When asked to write further about the academic/social juxtaposition, the participants wrote extensively about a few more subthemes. It is these that may be of special interest to park and recreation professionals.

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