Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

A Comparative Perspective on the Experiences of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Individuals as Students at Mainstream and Special Schools

Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

A Comparative Perspective on the Experiences of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Individuals as Students at Mainstream and Special Schools

Article excerpt

INTEGRATION OF INDIVIDUALS categorized as having special educational needs in mainstream schools has become a dominant policy in many countries. Changes in recent years in the field traditionally called "special education" have significantly influenced the education of deaf and hard of hearing individuals. The movements against segregation and toward integration and, more recently, inclusion, have created the conditions for educational changes, not only in mainstreaming but in special education. The article brings to light the views and experiences of deaf and hard of hearing people as students at special schools and mainstream schools, in order to compare the two systems from the viewpoints of those involved and to explore the possible implications of these views and experiences for the development of the educational system in Cyprus regarding inclusive education. Particular attention is given to improvement of the education of deaf and hard of hearing children.

The integration of individuals categorized as having special educational needs in mainstream schools has been established as a dominant policy in many countries. (Despite the fact that our philosophy is that all children should study in the same school-the school in their neighborhood-because of the nature of the theme of the present article we use the terms "mainstream" and "special school" as they have been traditionally used.) Changes that have occurred in the last few years in the field traditionally called "special education" have significantly influenced the education of deaf and hard of hearing individuals. The movements against segregation and toward, first, integration, and more recently, inclusion, have created the conditions for educational changes, not only in mainstream education but in special education (Lambropoulou, Hadjikakou, & Vlachou, 2003).

The issue of deaf and hard of hearing children attending mainstream or special schools has created many intense confrontations among specialists, parents, and deaf and hard of hearing individuals themselves (Lambropoulou, 1997). (In the present article, by "special schools" we mean those schools that are often called "schools for the deaf.") The views of many authors vary on this issue (e.g., Foster, 2003; Jarvis, 2002; Moores & Kluwin, 1986). However, as a result of certain financial pressures, parental expectations, and technological developments, the integration of deaf and hard of hearing children into mainstream schools appears to be on the increase (Powers, 2001). In Cyprus (where the present study took place), this state of affairs has been reinforced since the Education Act for Children With Special Needs was enacted in 1999. This law gives all children the right to be educated in their neighborhood school together with their peers.

The supporters of integration believe that in mainstream schools deaf and hard of hearing students have more chances for social interaction with their (hearing) classmates and teachers, and that, in this way, they acquire the necessary skills for social inclusion (Lynas, 1999; Powers, 2001). According to Harrison (1988), the natural linguistic environment of mainstream schools helps deaf and hard of hearing children to better develop their oral language, which in turn gradually helps them to acquire more knowledge. In addition, Harrison argues that the environment of mainstream schools has higher goals, more requirements, and a richer curriculum than that in special schools, and that it provides deaf and hard of hearing students with more stimulus and greater opportunities for learning. Further evidence, presented by Hadjikakou (2002), reveals that the majority of deaf and hard of hearing children integrated into mainstream schools have very promising results regarding their emotional and social adaptation, as well as in regard to their self-esteem. On the other hand, Foster (1989) argues that although students in mainstream schools gain academic advantages, they miss the opportunities for social interactions they would have in special schools. …

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