Between a Rock and a Hard Place: the deaf mainstream experience”: –
Little is known about the effects of normalisation of deaf people in mainstream or oral/aural education, but this book alleges growing evidence that deaf people are struggling despite the best intentions of hearing professionals to integrate them. In this collection of individual, often moving, accounts from a diverse selection of deaf people who have been ‘mainstreamed’ or orally educated, there emerges a common desire that the messages presented will be used to influence the educational system to one that is sign-bilingual for all deaf children.
Deaf Toolkit: Best Value Review of Deaf Children in Education, from Users’ Perspective
This comprehensive and well presented report by the Deaf Ex-Mainstreamers Group provides for the first time in one source, a full account of deaf education with a review of current procedures involving deaf children, their parents and services. It concludes with recommendations and a framework for action.
The Deaf Toolkit Report is also available in two other formats:-
a) Deaf Toolkit CD Rom – large print version – £20.00
b) Deaf Toolkit DVD (Summary) – BSL/Subtitled – £15.00
Handing on our Experience: Deaf participation with deaf young people and families
This report summarises a one year feasibility study DEX conducted to find out what deaf young people and parents of deaf children want from Deaf professionals. Some of the findings are that parents and deaf young people want much more information directly from informed deaf users about what it is like for their deaf child throughout childhood and adulthood, and would be willing to pay for training.
Deaf young people want to be with deaf peers and to receive information from deaf adults.
All DEX publications and resources are available from the distributor:
Action Deafness Books
Article by DEX published in Research and Practice in Adult Literacy Network (RePAL)
COPY RIGHT of RePAL. Published in RePAL Journal, Vol no. 75. Autumn/Winter 2011. Permission must be requested from DEX and/or RePAL before copying.
“How can you be yourself, when you do not know who you are?” (1)
Language, Identity and the Case for Bilingual Education
Between a Rock and a Hard Place
When the Deaf Ex-Mainstreamers Group (DEX) (2) gathered deaf people’s firsthand experiences of mainstream education (3), the findings were that deaf children are in limbo between two worlds and cultures, and perceive both as hard places. These findings were reinforced by DEX’s user-red review of education. (4)
The message was clear: it is difficult to fit into hearing communities if an individual is congenitally deaf or early deafened and without the encuituralisation process of special Deaf schools, it is hard to be deaf, (5) and to accept one’s deafness. The person is between a rock and a hard place.
The concept of “rock” can also mean a sanctuary, however, somewhere to hold on to, as in “she is my rock”. In this case, the rock refers to being part of the Deaf community, where deaf people can truly belong because of common shared identity, acquired through accessible language, culture and peers.
The Need to Belong
Everyone needs a sense of belonging; it is a basic human need according to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.(6) This need is the most significant after basic physiological and safety ones are met. Depriving children of it is neglect. The banning of sign language in education in 1880 (7) had an untold effect on the mental health, career prospects and life choices of congenitally deaf and early deafened people who were deprived of a sense of belonging.
Language is not only a means of communication. It is a complex vehicle that includes the enablement of infants to bond with parents and siblings, their wider family members, family friends, peers in playground and nursery, and to start to unravel and make sense of the world that impacts on them. This bonding process enables infants to develop their sense of self, their identity, and labels their feelings. It is such a slow immersion that it is not tangible, and those who belong to their families and networks find it difficult to empathise with those who are excluded from this process. Sign languages are natural languages for deaf people, whereas spoken languages are not, despite long-term efforts to make them so. A general lack of awareness about these issues is the main hurdle that deaf people in the UK face in imparting the need to learn British Sign Language (BSL) as well as English and other spoken languages, i.e. a different home language, Welsh and modern foreign languages.
Learning BSL is important to enable deaf people to communicate more effectively, but also to be an active part of the Deaf community, which is a vibrant community with a vast range of interest groups within it. Deaf people who are monolingual in English do not have easy access to hearing communities even with hearing aids or cochlear implants. They have to endure “always plan”. This is the daily concentration, and stress of trying to stay one step ahead whilst having to lipread and listen vie artificial aids that can never make deaf people hear normally and which, over time, can have a physical and mental impact on the deaf user i.e. Repetitive Strain Injury from turning the head to hear, and depression resulting from longstanding tiredness.
Total immersion in a hearing environment and spoken language also irnparts a “think-hearing identity”. DEX has adopted this phrase to show how deaf cbildren think that they are quasi or fully hearing people, because hearing people are the only ones that they can identify with.
Even those deaf children who attend resourced mainstream schools with a few other deaf peers can still not understand that they are not like the majority peer group, especially if sign language is not used. One deaf young man from such a placement, said to us that he was “hearing impaired”. When it was explained that this means “deaf”, he ran out onto a busy main road in his distress and confusion and narrowly missed being bit by a car. This identity crisis is common in deaf young people. However since most deaf children are placed In local provider schools as lone deaf children in their school, they tend to consider themselves “think-hearing” or not to be deaf.
One of the stories told to DEX by a deaf adult about her experience of mainstream education is of her fear as she was growing up, and the dread of walking through each set of school gates. She felt sick and afraid, but did not realise this was not the norm, since it was an every school day experience for her. She truanted at an early age, but no-one spotted the reason for this even with heavy and easily identifiable hearing aids. She had no confidence, which she says is a key to learning, compounding the difficulties already being faced due to her inability to hear lessons and easily participate in the wider school curriculum.
Other stories reinforce this and mention bullying. One individual described being put in a bin as she was viewed as rubbish, She continued to think this, with suicide bids. These are just some of the thousands of harrowing individual cases still ongoing because of the policy of integration, which prevents most deaf children from becoming bilingual in English and BSL.
The Best of Both Worlds
Bilingualism has been well researched and the benefits are proven. (8). Research suggests that bilinguals:
• have a head start when learning to read and count
• have a better chance of gaining employment, with improved prospects
• will be better at creative thinking and problem solving
• show better concentration and are less prone to distractions
• have a sense of belonging
• have extended social activities and friendship groups
• have an enriched identity and, consequently self-esteem
• have improved communication skills in two languages
• find it easier to have increased appreciation of languages and cultures
• are better able to retain mental abilities in old age.
These are just some of the benefits.
The weight of evidence led DEX to do its four-year Best Value Review in the UK, Norway and Sweden on, bilingual education involving sign language.
Essentially a sen/ice audit with the support of the Audit Commission, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, I&DeA (9) and the Local Government Association, DEX established performance standards in line with UK legislation and regulations, plus UN conventions. Also involved was the Welsh Language Board (WLB) of the Welsh Assembly, which supported DEX in developing a BSL language plan.
The success of the Welsh language plan is viewed as one of the best language plans in the world. (10) DEX is campaigning for this model to be used to ensure revival of BSL, which is a threatened language because of the low take-up of deaf BSL learners due to the normalisation policy. (11). The Welsh Language Act 1993 established the WLB and schemes that statutory organisatlons must submit in order to demonstrate actions taken to promote Welsh and deliver services in Welsh.
On 18 March 2003, the government recognised BSL as an official minority language. It now has a similar status to that of Gaelic or Welsh, but this recognition has not given any legal protection to deaf people. This means lull access to information and services that hearing people take for granted, including education, health and employment, continues to be denied. Following on from the Welsh language model, DEX advocates the need for a BSL Act to give deaf children access to bilingual education and to ensure language maintenance, not only for academic purposes but for the wellbeing of all deaf children and adults.
1. Question asked by a DEX member.
2. DEX is a deaf-led organization that was set up to support deaf people who are being educated in mainstream education, or attended mainstream schools. All members of the group have personal and/or professional experience of mainstream education.They fully understand the needs of the majority of deaf children in mainstream education and the impact this has on the rest of their lives.
3. Deaf Ex-Mainstreamers Group (2003). Between a Rock and a Hard Place. Wakefield: DEX.
4. Deaf Ex-Mainstreamers Group (2004). Deaf Toolkit:Best Value Review of Deaf Children in Education, from Users’ Perspective. Wakefield: DEX.
5. DEX uses the term “deaf” to mean all levels of hearing loss, from mild to profound (as does the National Deaf Children’s Society).
6. Maslow, A.H. (1954, 3rd revised edition 1987). Motivation and Personality. Hong Kong: Longman Asia Ltd.
7. In 1880, non-deaf educators held an international conference in Milan and agreed a world-wide ban on the use of sign language in schools for deaf children.
8. See for example, Baker, C. (4th ed. 2006). Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters Ltd.
9. Improvement and Development Agency (now Local Government Improvement and Development).
10. Personal communication with Colin Baker, linguist and specialist in bilingualism, who was a member of the Welsh Language Society which campaigned for the WLA.
11. Normalisation refers to attempts to make deaf children “normal”, i.e. to act as though they are hearing. This means not allowing deaf children to have the Deaf experience, or to learn to be Deaf, and expecting deaf children to cope with, or without, hearing aids and cochlear implants. It can also mean that schools place emphasis on correcting/improving the speech and hearing of deaf people instead of concentrating on education.