Deaf Education Policy as Language Policy: A Comparative Analysis of Sweden and the United States

Article excerpt

The history of deaf education can be summarized as a debate over the best way to help deaf and hard of hearing children participate in society. What language should be used to teach them? What language should they use to communicate?

Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center

AS THE OPENING epigraph suggests, the role of languages is a central issue in deaf education. The function of sign languages in education and deaf students'opportunities to develop linguistic abilities in both sign languages and the dominant language(s) of a society are key considerations (Hogan-Brun 2009; Reagan 2010, 53; Swanwick 2010a). Accordingly, what Kaplan and Baldauf (1997, 122-23) term language-in-education planning - planning that deals specifically with education - is a fruitful area of inquiry for sign language policy and planning. It is in this vein that we provide a comparative policy analysis of national education policies that create a context within

Francis M. Huit is Assistant Professor of Applied Linguistics in the Department of Bicultural-Bilingual Studies at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Sarah E. Compton is a doctoral student in the Department of Languages at the University of jyväskylä.

which sign languages exist and operate in the educational systems of two countries - Sweden and the United States.

The purpose of this study, then, is to offer a cross-national analysis that examines how sign language status and acquisition planning (Cooper 1989) are represented in U.S. and Swedish policy documents. We begin with an overview of deaf-education policy in both polities, which is followed by a discussion of principles of status and acquisition planning as they relate to education. We then present our textual analysis, focusing on the ways in which status and acquisition issues are characterized in the policies of each country. Finally, we consider the different implementational spaces (Hornberger 2005; Johnson 2009) that these policies make available for multilingual education.


A constellation of policy documents governs education in Sweden and the United States. In Sweden, these documents include the Education Act,1 as well as national curricula (Lgr 11; Lpf 94, Lpfo 98) and syllabi.2 Deaf students follow the same national curriculum for compulsory education as mainstream students but with certain modifications and accommodations that are set forth in the Ordinance for Special Schools (SFS 1995:401) and the syllabi for special schools (Skolverket 2002).

The Ordinance for Special Schools (SFS 1995:401) and the syllabi for special schools (Skolverket 2002, 2010) apply to governmentsubsidized special schools to which deaf and hard of hearing students in Sweden have access (Bagga-Gupta 2004, 28). These special schools offer the same curriculum as mainstream Swedish schools but make special accommodations for deaf and hard of hearing students (BaggaGupta 2010; Svartholm 1993, 299). 3 For compulsory education, there are five special schools at the regional level and one at the national level, as well as a few at the local level (Bagga-Gupta 2004, 25). Although the special schools are set forth explicitly in policy, other placement possibilities are available in Sweden as well, including the mainstream classroom (Svartholm 2010, 168-69).

Deaf education in the United States is governed principally by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA). While IDEA outlines in general terms the educational rights of students with disabilities,4 the Regulations of the Offices of the Department of Education, which are codified in Tide 34 of the Code of Federal Regulations, provide the federal-level interpretation of IDEA and elucidate the processes by which IDEA is implemented at the state, district, and school levels. Together, these two texts form the legislative framework for deaf education.

There are two primary requirements in IDEA that must be satisfied when implementing the policy. …


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