Educating Children Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing: Inclusion
The ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education (ERIC EC)
ERIC EC Digest #E557
Authors: Richard Nowell and Joseph Innes
What Is Meant by Inclusion?
The "inclusion" of students who are deaf refers to their being educated within a classroom of students with normal hearing. Inclusion differs from "mainstreaming" in that mainstreaming may refer to a variety of degrees of contact with hearing students, whereas in inclusion, the student who is deaf is actually placed in a classroom with hearing students. Inclusion may involve an assortment of services including interpreters, notetakers, teacher aides, teachers of students who are deaf, and consultants, but these services are provided within the context of the regular classroom.
Before 1975, although there had been attempts to educate students who were deaf in regular schools, about 80% of students who were deaf in the United States were being served in special schools (Cohen, 1995). This changed with the passage that year of PL 94-142. The "Education of All Handicapped Children" act called for all children to be educated as appropriate in the "least restrictive environment" (LRE), which meant to the greatest extent possible with their "non-handicapped" peers. Although the law resulted in some students who were deaf being educated in the regular classroom, many students with hearing losses were put in self-contained classrooms or resource rooms within regular schools and had contact with hearing students only during non-academic activities. In 1995, more than 60% of students who were deaf were educated in the regular public schools (Cohen, 1995), although it is not clear how many were in being served in a true "inclusion" model.
Inclusion emerged from the Regular Education Initiative (REI) of the 1970s and 1980s and the modification of PL 94-142, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1990. The application of inclusion to the student who is deaf has been a source of ongoing debate, particularly as to how to interpret "least restrictive environment."
Two general positions have emerged from the debate on inclusion. One position is that all students with disabilities have the right to go to school with their non-disabled peers. The other position is usually labeled "full inclusion" and is stronger in its position that all students with disabilities should go to regular schools. The first position is consistent with the range of placements which emerged from PL 94-142 and IDEA, while the latter position is generally consistent with the eradication of all "special education," including the closing of special schools for students who are deaf.
Who Can Choose an Inclusion Option?
Should parents wish their deaf child to be in an inclusion program, they would indicate their preference during discussions with their school district and/or special education intermediate unit concerning their child's recommended assignment and individualized education program (IEP). Some school districts or intermediate units may indicate that an inclusion option is not available for deaf children in their area or that inclusion is not appropriate for that parent's deaf child. Nothing in existing laws supports excluding children who are deaf from an inclusion placement.
On the other hand, the absence of such regulations does not mean that inclusion is appropriate for all children with hearing losses. Parents should make the decision based upon an informed consideration of all options and discussions with various educational professionals. If the local education agency (LEA) does not agree to an inclusion placement and parents continue to believe that inclusion is right for their deaf child, they have the right to due process to challenge the LEA's decision. The LEA may recommend inclusion, even though the parents do not think inclusion is appropriate. Once again, if the parties involved cannot reach agreement, the decision for placement would go to due process.
What Are Some Possible Benefits of Inclusion?
What Are Some Limitations of Inclusion?
What Are Some Questions to Ask Before Choosing an Inclusion Option?
The first question a parent, professional, or other individual needs to ask when considering inclusion for a deaf child is whether this environment will provide the intellectual, social, and emotional development the student who is deaf needs and to which he or she is entitled?
To answer this important and multifaceted question adequately,
several other related questions need to be addressed, including:
The most important issues, when contemplating inclusion for a deaf individual, are related to language and communication. At the very least an individualized education program (IEP) for a child who is deaf must consider the following (U.S. Department of Education, 1992):
A local education agency (LEA) or state education agency (SEA) cannot presume that inclusion is appropriate for a child who is deaf without incorporating the above issues in its IEP process. Likewise an LEA or SEA cannot presume that a deaf child belongs in a center or residential school for deaf children.
References and Additional Resources
Cohen, O.P. (1995). Perspectives on the full inclusion movement in the education of deaf children. In B. Snider (Ed.), Conference proceedings: Inclusion? Defining quality education for deaf and hard-of-hearing students. College of Continuing Education, Gallaudet University, 800 Florida Avenue, NE, Washington, DC 20002.
Easterbrooks, S., & Baker-Hawkins, S. (Eds.). (1994). Deaf and hard-of-hearing students: Educational service guidelines. National Association of State Directors of Special Education, King Street Station, 1800 Diagonal Road, Suite 320, Alexandria, VA 22314.
Johnson, R. C., & Cohen, O. P. (Eds.). (1994). Implications and complications for student who is deaf of the full inclusion movement. Research Institute, Gallaudet University, 800 Florida Avenue, NE, Washington, DC 20002.
National Information Center on Deafness, Gallaudet University 800 Florida Avenue, NE, Washington, DC 20002.
Snider, B.D. (Ed.). (1995). Conference proceedings: Inclusion? Defining quality education for deaf and hard-of-hearing students. College of Continuing Education, Gallaudet University, 800 Florida Avenue, NE, Washington, DC 20002.
United States Department of Education. (October 30, 1992) Federal Register, 57(221), 49274-49276.
Dr. Nowell is currently chairperson of the Department of Special Education and Clinical Services, Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Innes is an assistant professor of education, Gallaudet University.
ERIC Digests are in the public domain and may be freely reproduced and disseminated, but please acknowledge your source. This publication was prepared with funding from the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education, under contract no. RR93002005. The opinions expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the positions of policies of OERI or the Department of Education.