Deaf youth tend to be out of touch or not involved with the larger Deaf community, to lack access to power and the ability to use it within decision-making processes, and to be uncertain about their identity.
Deaf organizations need to make greater outreach efforts to introduce the youth to their rightful language and culture, to bring Deaf role-models, culture, and language into the regular schools, and to keep the centralized Deaf schools as a valid option for education and socialization.
The tendency in recent years has been for governments to close Deaf schools and Deaf programs and to place all students in regular schools, regardless of their language preferences and regardless of whether or not there are sufficient and appropriate support services for them in the regular schools. In most cases, the support services for Deaf students is limited. The interpreters are frequently unqualified, or are not available for the entire school day. In most non-Deaf schools, teachers and administrative staff are not familiar with Deaf culture or with the Sign language.
We hold that placement in regular schools, even at its best, is alienating for Deaf youth. It devalues their natural language and culture and it leaves them with minimal if any peers or role-models who are also Deaf. It gives them minimal opportunity to be introduced to Deaf culture and to learn its ways and values. It insists that the Deaf youth must adopt a language, culture, peers, role-models, and values which are not only foreign but which cannot provide a true and comfortable identity for the Deaf youth, simply because s/he is Deaf and they are not. All these factors can influence a student’s view of their identity and their self-esteem: they are placed in the context of a minority trying to become like the majority, a status which implies that somehow they are sub-par.
The Canadian Association of the Deaf – Association des Sourds du Canada believes that at a minimum, the centralized schools for the Deaf must be kept open as an alternative for the education and socialization of Deaf children, and that the Deaf culture and language must be respected and maintained because they are valid as any hearing culture and language.
In addition to maintaining the centralized Deaf schools, we insist that Deaf culture and Sign language must be welcomed into the regular schools wherever Deaf youth are present. Adults who are themselves Deaf must be hired as school personnel such as counsellors, administrators, teachers, and special course instructors; these individuals can also act as role models for the Deaf youth, by showing them that Deaf individuals are valued and contributing citizens of society with their own culture and language. Deaf youth must be provided with lessons in ASL or LSQ by qualified Deaf instructors; research has shown that a strong basis in an individual’s first language will help them with the maintenance for their second language – in this case ASL/LSQ will help the students with their bilingual education in English or French. Deaf youth must also be provided with information about Deaf history and culture, and they must be encouraged to participate in local Deaf organizations. Knowing one’s own cultural history and roots will promote a sense of belonging and acceptance within an individual. The exposure to local Deaf organizations will help the Deaf youth feel part of a community and establish one’s own identity.
A curriculum supplement should be developed which can be integrated into the present provincial curricula. As an example, a section on Deaf culture, ASL linguistics, and Deaf history could be made part of a unit on multiculturalism within the Social Studies curriculum. Regional and local Deaf professionals and Deaf volunteers should be invited to present in the classrooms as part of this program.
The local and national Deaf organizations (including the CAD-ASC itself) must make a greater effort to reach out to mainstreamed Deaf youth and to introduce them to their own natural language and culture. They must make it clear that all participation by Deaf youth is welcome, because the youth are needed to develop into the Deaf leaders of the future.
Support groups are needed for youth who are placed in regular schools and require assistance in moving into the Deaf community. Many oral deaf youth need help and encouragement to overcome the difficulties of learning Sign language at this relatively late time in their lives.
Particular efforts must be made by all agents – regular schools, Deaf schools, and Deaf organizations – to deal with the social and psychological difficulties facing Deaf youth. Deaf youth are trained into passivity and self-denigration by the fact that non-Deaf people (family, school, medical, etc.) control their fate and make life decisions about them. This must be fought by providing Deaf youth with training and opportunity to develop self-esteem, political skills, leadership, life skills, assertiveness, and communication skills.
CAD-ASC strongly supports the national organization Deaf Youth Canada as a place where our Deaf youth can acquire these skills, experiences, and identity. Our by-laws include an automatic Board of Directors seat reserved for the president of DYC. This organization is an Ordinary Member of the World Federation of the Deaf – Youth Section, just as CAD-ASC itself is an Ordinary Member of the WFD.
Deaf youth need the security of a strong identity, skill in their natural language, and a sense of cultural belonging in order to successfully function in both the Deaf world and the non-Deaf world.
Recommended reading: “Critical Needs of Students Who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing: A Public Input Summary”, by Christne Szymanski, Lori Lutz, Cheryl Shahan, and Nicholas Gala. Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center, 2013, www.gallaudet.edu/documents/Clerc/PublicInputSummary.pdf
APPROVED: 3 JULY 2015
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:
The Canadian Association of the Deaf-Association des Sourds du Canada
606 – 251 Bank Street
Ottawa, Ontario K2P 1X3