Disagreements on Deaf Education Emerge as Funds Get Scarce

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July 27, 2011; New York Times | A front page article in the New York Times on July 27 describes the intensification of disagreements among parents of deaf children in Indiana regarding their education. As many of you will already know, there are different ideologies about deafness and deaf education that reflect very different paradigms. On the one hand, some feel that children who can get their hearing augmented by surgery or technology should be encouraged to do so and mainstreamed in schools while others value deeply the use of American Sign Language, and separate schools for the deaf, where children are exposed to culturally deaf role models. These schools, in many states, have fallen victim to budget cuts. Marvin Miller of the Indiana Association of the Deaf explained his concern over the cuts, saying, “We view this (mainstreaming) as inflicting violence upon thousands of innocent deaf and hard-of-hearing babies — taking away their language and pinning their hopes on dismal success rates of cochlear implants.”

In Indiana, this debate has heated up as budget cuts have been implemented with a 13% cut to the Indiana School for the Deaf.  The new governor has installed six new board members at the school– three of whom are hearing and seen as being advocates of the listening and spoken language approach. Parents of children at the school have protested because they feel that the changes are harbingers of a policy shift regarding deaf education. The article states “The two approaches — sign language and the so-called listening and spoken language approach — are both in wide use. Many people do not see them in conflict with one another, and view the two approaches simply as a matter of personal choice.  But shrinking state budgets, with less money to be spent on programs for the deaf, are hardening the debate because they are turning preferences into policy decisions.” Our guess is that this will not, however, go down easy.

Advocacy by and for deaf people is alive and well in Indiana apparently and determined not have policy made “for” them. “The Indiana Association of the Deaf (IAD) was founded in 1886 by Deaf people who were concerned that Deaf people were not included in the decision and policy making processes affecting their lives. Today, the IAD is a dynamic and growing organization with organizational affiliates, and direct members. The IAD serves as an advocate for more than 400,000 Deaf and Hard of Hearing Hoosiers.”–Ruth McCambridge