The Changing Landscape of Deaf Education

By Krywko, Krystyann | Volta Voices, November/December 2012 | Go to article overview

The Changing Landscape of Deaf Education


Krywko, Krystyann, Volta Voices


James attends a mainstream classroom in his neighborhood where he receives speech services and works with a teacher of the deaf three times a week. Susan, who is hard of hearing and lives in a rural community, logs onto her computer three times a week to work with her speech-language pathologist. Myles commutes two hours every day in order to attend a specialized school for the deaf. Kayla is homeschooled by her mother, who uses a combination of ASL and spoken language.

The above scenarios highlight the diversity in educational opportunities for children who are deaf and hard of hearing (DHH). Legislative, technological, and pedagogical changes and innovations have greatly impacted the field of DHH education in the United States. These changes have provided children who are DHH with a greater range of options for educational experiences that have historically not been available to this population.

This article highlights some of the major changes in the field of education of the DHH, along with addressing some of the future opportunities and challenges that result from such rapid change.

Legislative Changes

Federal legislation in the United States has played an important role in shaping the landscape of education of the DHH. Most notably, legislative acts have increased access to education, focused attention on the need for newborn hearing screening, and increased educational standards and school accountability.

Increased access to an appropriate education dates back to the enactment of The Education for All Handicapped Children Act in 1975. This was the first time the law specifically addressed the education of children with disabilities and ensured they would be "provided a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment (LRE)" (BodnerJohnson & Sass-Lehrer, 2003). Educational institutions that received public funds were required to provide children with "special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs" (Bodner-Johnson & Sass-Lehrer, 2003). These changes have resulted in the education of students who are DHH occurring more frequently in public schools than in specialized schools for the deaf. It is estimated that 85 percent of students who are DHH spend at least part of their day in a mainstream classroom (GAO, 2011).

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (which was reauthorized in 2004 and formerly known as the Education for All Handicapped Children Act) introduced some of the same terminology that is found in the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). For example, special education teachers must meet the highly qualified teacher requirements in the core academic subjects they teach. Schools are also required to use "proven methods of teaching and learning based on replicable research" (NCLB, 2001).

NCLB had an impact on the field of education of the DHH by changing academic expectations, measurement of student progress and consequences for not meeting those goals (Cawthon, 2007). On the one hand, NCLB calls for greater accountability for schools in the education of students who are DHH as it provides access to the same standards and benchmarks used for other students, and students who are DHH are no longer excluded from any type of assessment. However, the emphasis of NCLB is on student outcomes rather than student access (Cawthon, 2007). The challenges of NCLB is to ensure that students who are DHH receive adequate support and appropriate assessments, and that realistic outcomes are in place to help improve education of the DHH despite where it occurs.

The early identification of hearing loss has also influenced the field of deaf education. The Newborn Infant Hearing Screening and Intervention Act (1997) recommended every infant in the United States be screened for hearing loss within five days of birth; however parents had the right to choose to not have their child screened. Federal funds were provided to help states design and implement model screening programs.

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