Equality and Quality Education for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children:
A Statement of Child First Principles
Quality access to language and communication is a human and educational right.
This right is fundamental and indispensable in the provision of a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) for deaf and hard of hearing children under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Sadly, however, the implementation of IDEA does not adequately protect this right.
Language deprivation is disabling.
On-going access to language and communication is taken for granted for every hearing child and is essential for healthy cognitive functioning and development. Without such access, deaf and hard of hearing children lose the opportunity to become thinking, literate, self-sufficient individuals. Instead, they experience disadvantages and delays that can become impossible to erase. It is diminished exposure to language and communication – not being deaf or hard of hearing per se – that disables a deaf or hard of hearing child. Educational programs must ensure that deaf and hard of hearing children have opportunities for language development, on-going interactive access, and age-appropriate use of language. Language and communication are central to the educational progress of deaf and hard of hearing children.
Research supports need for full access to all interactions.
Research shows that children and adults learn more from human, social interactions and active learning than from anything else. Children need to have access to and be connected with a variety of peers and adults with whom they can communicate spontaneously and effectively. As fundamental as this issue is, such genuine opportunities are all too often elusive for the deaf or hard of hearing child at school.
The Individualized Education Program (IEP) determines the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) for a child served under IDEA.
The IEP identifies the unique educational needs of the child, which ultimately leads to the choice of placement. IDEA requires a continuum of alternative placements to be available, as any single placement cannot be the LRE for all students. Because LRE varies by student – a setting that meets the needs of one may not necessarily meet the needs of another - all placements on the continuum, including specialized programs and schools, are equally valid and necessary. Discussions about LRE that focus solely on location without taking into account the quality of education, support services and social interactions a child experiences in that environment are misguided.
One size does not fit all.
As with other students receiving their education through special education, a “one size fits all” approach cannot be used to determine a deaf or hard of hearing child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) goals or subsequent placement. Each child’s unique strengths and needs must drive these. Every child must have an education and learning environment that goes beyond mere physical inclusion – it must provide accessible language development and interaction opportunities so that the child is a true member of the school community.