Now that updates are out of the way, something happened this morning that really got me thinking. Can you guess what this could possibly be about? If you read my blog on a regular basis, I'm confident you have an idea.
This morning I learned a little bit about CEASD, the Conference of Educational Administrators of Schools and Programs for the Deaf. They have recently held a conference to discuss something they call "IDEA - Child First". IDEA is the acronym for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. (Can you see where I'm going already?) Here's is what their mission is with this endeavor;
"What: Child First is a national campaign to ensure that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) appropriately addresses the language, communication, and educational needs of deaf and hard of hearing children.
Who: Child First was developed and is being driven by national organizations that advocate for the educational rights of deaf and hard of hearing children.
Why: At the time IDEA (then the Education for All Handicapped Children Act) was passed in 1975, many children with disabilities were precluded from going to school, either by law or because schools were not equipped to teach them. IDEA changed that by requiring states, local school districts, and schools to provide them with an individualized education. The main principles include:
- Individualized Education Program (IEP): A program tailored to the child that supports the child's progress in the general education curriculum. For deaf and hard of hearing children this includes consideration of language and communication.
- Evaluation: A child's IEP is based on information gathered through an appropriate evaluation. The evaluation must be performed by qualified personnel.
- Least Restrictive Environment (LRE): To the maximum extent appropriate students with disabilities are educated with students who are not disabled.
- Procedural Safeguards: The student and his parents have certain rights that are protected by law, such as the right to be involved in developing the IEP and the right to be part of the team that decides placement.
It is time to ensure that deaf and hard of hearing students across the United States experience the same kind of access to language development, social interaction, and academic opportunities experienced by their hearing peers."
This comes directly from their website, http://www.ceasd.org/idea/ . After reading it, I could not agree more. The main idea of this is simple. According to IDEA, deaf children are disabled, and therefore must have an IEP (Individualized Educational Plan) while enrolled in school. "Disabled" is a very tricky label to put upon a deaf child or deaf/Deaf people in general. Deaf people are not less intelligent than the rest of us, yet because of Audism, many people (including those with the power to make decisions) see them as just that, intellectually disabled. Talk about a good idea gone wrong for at least one group of individuals. This may be great for children who are in fact intellectually handicapped, as they are the population who do need such support. Do deaf children need this in the same way?
This is why I am happy to see an organization try to address this with the powers that be at the governmental level to try and bring about change. I just have one more question.... Is this the right place to start?
I ask this because I am looking at the overall problem of Audism in America. Audism typically starts affecting deaf children from birth. When diagnosed by a doctor, all sorts of referalls are made to medical professionals, like audiologists and cochlear implant specialists/surgeons, speech therapists, etc. Where are the referalls to successful Deaf adults who use ASL as their primary language, are successful people, so they may inform parents about the benefits of a deaf child having a Deaf identity, that said deaf child has a right to a langauge that is naturally and completely accessible from birth without the use or need of hearing technologies intended to promote development of spoken language (which, by the way, require endless hours of speech/audiological therapy in order to use at all, and still have the majority of deaf children fail to be successful at)? All that it would require is the parent/s and family to learn ASL. To me, that's a lot less time and stress invested in order to give a deaf child a better chance at being independently successful and well rounded. The problem is that acts of Audism committed by these medical professionals (not cultural professionals) often keep that information away from parents of deaf children. That is the root of the problem with Audism.
What CEASD is doing is also fighting Audism, but in my opinion, a "further down the branched out chain" of issues relating to deaf children. It seems as though that are taking issue with a symptom of the root problem, and not the root problem itself. Please don;t get me wrong. It's still a very positive venture and has merit. But couldn't their time be better spent to change the culture of Audism in America at its' very root? If change was made there, wouldnt it be far easier to affect change where they are focused now? My gut tells me yes.
Invited and attending that conference were the following groups: CEASD, NAD (National Association of the Deaf), DWU (Deaf Women United), NBDA (National Black Deaf Advocates), NADC (National Deaf Coalition), National Organization for Hispanic Individuals, DBC (Deaf Bilingual Coalition), Deafhood, DSC (Deaf Senior Citizens), ASDC (a parent group). I am not familiar with the reputaion for all of these groups, but reading that list seems pretty impressive. What I do know is that many members of the Deaf community are not happy with the NAD for what they perceive to be a lack of ambition to advocating for Deaf people, and many are also critical of the NAD's stance against gay marriage (seems to me that the NAD is not considering advocacy for ALL Deaf people, and thats a shame). From personal experience, I have found the DBC to be unresponsive to requests for help and advice in deaf educational needs, for whatever reason that may be.
Even more striking to me was that there was no mention of AFA (Audism Free America). As far as i can tell, that is an organization who is trying to fight Audsim at its root more often than not. Why were they not attending? Were they even invited? To me, it seems as though more organizations and people need to stand up and fight Audism at it's root. Instead of working within IDEA laws to create change, we need to change the laws, period. This was a long read to get back to the difference between physical disabilities and intellectual ones, but here we are. IDEA is proof that the government makes no distinction between the two. That is Audist in nature. That is at the root of the problem, as it effects everything down the road in deaf education. Why can't people and organizations start there? Did everyone give up, or are they all lost? If those who stand up and fight Audism would start there and with the medical profession (ie, the roots of the problem), we would have a better chance to affect change. Affecting change at the root of the problem would force the government to make distinctions, and therefore create a different perception of Deaf people in American society. It would happen overnight, but eventually the perception would shift. Right now, all we ever seem to do is butt heads and no one without the power is ever really heard because we don't go after the root of the problem.
As far as I'm concerned, this really comes down to a deaf child's civil rights. Deaf students were successful in 1988 with the "Deaf President Now" protests at Gallaudet University. Perhaps its time to raise the bar nationwide, and set an example for the world. Let's stop fighting for scraps from the table and instead fight for a seat at the table with everyone else. It's my opinion, and I hope more people feel the same way deep down inside.