Listening to the Voices of Deaf Students: Essential Transition Issues

Article excerpt


Here's important "up-front" information:

I am a deaf Hispanic faculty member and am familiar with the stigma placed on deaf individuals who are not from the mainstream. As a deaf student, I was not involved in transition from school to life for many of the same reasons given by the participants of this study. If you are a teacher who works with deaf students, I hope you will gain an understanding from an insider's point of view. Although the issues raised in this article remain unresolved, I hope that these deaf students' stories will provide direction and a foundation to ensure that your deaf students are heard in the transition process.

This article describes perceptions of deaf students as they help identify key services and experiences that facilitated their successful transition from secondary and postsecondary education into adult life and employment. The investigation considered students' participation in the planning process and its effect on student goals (see box, What Does the Literature Say?"). The article presents implications for teachers and administrators who work with these students.

Transition Challenges and Issues

Despite the importance of student-centered transition planning for deaf students, several issues impede success in the transition planning process:

A steep decline in the enrollment of deaf students in residential schools has occurred over the past 20 years. The President's Commission on Education of the Deaf estimated in 1987 that the dropout rates for deaf students was at 79 % for AA degree programs and 71 % for BA degree programs. (Fernandes, 1997, p. 3).

* Over the past 20 years, the educational system has seen a large increase in deaf minority students. In a recent article on the diversity revolution in deaf education, the most recent Annual Survey report indicates that about 44% of deaf and hard-of-hearing children and youth enrolled in educational programs are from diverse multicultural backgrounds. These students, however, continue to significantly lag behind their white peers on nearly all national and regional studies of educational and occupational attainments (Anderson, 2001, p. 24). Consistent with earlier findings, 55% of deaf students of color, compared with 45 % of white deaf students, left school without a high school diploma (Schildroth and Hotto, 1995).

* Deaf students, by virtue of their communication difficulties, have uneven academic development when compared to their hearing peers (Allen, 1992).

* Participation in vocational programs was neither necessarily helpful nor predictive of future employment or career planning. The effect of family influence appears to be the strongest predictor for determining employment outcome, not work experiences or training (Sitlington et al., 2000).

* Employment opportunities in the future will require higher levels of literacy and mathematics. Deaf students often are placed in vocational tracks where reading and mathematics are de-emphasized; these lower skill levels will impose barriers to employment (Stewart & Kluwin, 2001, p. 241).

* Deaf students often lack instruction in advocating for themselves during transition planning; this lack of skills limits their opportunities for additional academic and vocational training (Garay, 2000).

* Communication and language concerns are central to many employment and transition issues for deaf students. Lower academic achievement levels and reduced mastery of literacy skills coupled with poor selfadvocacy skills documented in the literature, as is the case for many students with disabilities, can result in a lack of successful transition planning. The outcome for future employment for students with disabilities in general is lower than their peers without disabilities.

A New Transition Study

Researching about deaf students' accomplishments has long been a tool used by administrators for reporting program outcomes and their program's accountability. …