Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Special Needs/Deaf

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How can we best accommodate children with hearing impairments?

Over the past twenty years, there have been many laws that have led to changes in the mainstream classrooms of our public schools. With these changes, we have seen many cultural integrations taking place. One such integration is that we now see more and more deaf students in the mainstream classroom. A group that was once clustered in their own “world” at separate schools has now begun to make an impact on both the students and teachers in the mainstream schools. This has created new challenges for all involved. Teachers and students both are faced with the impact of the changing climate of the classroom. Some of these impacts will affect the language, learning process and communication. The mainstream classroom must be able to integrate changes needed for all students to be successful. In order for that to take place, it is important to understand the impact of deaf students on the mainstream classroom.

"Enrollment of deaf students (or other students with special needs) in local public schools is alternately known as mainstreaming or inclusion. Mainstreaming often involves deaf children attending special, 'segregated' classes in addition to classes that include hearing peers. It also frequently includes the availability of a resource room and specially trained teachers or aides. Inclusion, in contrast, entails deaf students receiving all instruction and support services within their regular classroom" (Marschark).

It is important to be able to distinguish the two as to know what setting is being discussed. For purposes of this article the focus will be on mainstream setting regardless of which term is used.

Language Issues with Deaf Mainstreamed Students[edit]

When a teacher sees an interpreter walk into the classroom, the main assumption might be that the interpreter is a qualified and skilled sign language interpreter and that the deaf students that utilize the interpreter will be given equal access to the classroom communication with no language issues present. But among deaf educators, there is notice that educational interpreting does not meet the language needs of the deaf students. This is especially true the higher the education level that is examined. Nationally, there is a need for qualified interpreters, and due to the shortage of such professionals, many deaf students struggle both academically and with communication (Marschark).

Many deaf students do depend on an interpreter to provide their communication. A teacher has to wonder if this "secondhand" information is as reliable as when it was first given. An interpreter must first listen for the information given, process it, and then sign it. In this process, there is not a straight "English to English" interpretation. Instead there is an "English to American Sign Language (ASL)" interpretation process occurring. "Like the words of other languages, ASL signs express meanings, not English words. A single ASL sign can express an entire sentence that requires three words or more in English." (Perlmutter).

Not only because of a shortage of qualified interpreters but also because of the sheer complexity of the process, many interpreters may indeed fall short of the need of both the deaf student and teacher. Even a qualified interpreter will begin to lose accuracy during longer exchanges of information. An interpreter must also understand the information being presented themselves in order to effectively interpret. This is true especially in cases of higher education where an interpreter may not be as proficient in certain academic areas for which he or she is responsible as the primary communicator. How does this impact instruction for all in the classroom? If the instructor is not made aware of the situation by either the student or interpreter, it may just cause the deaf student to perform poorly. The teacher may mistakenly attribute the poor performance to having a hearing loss. On the other hand, if the teacher is made aware, there may be other methods used. The teacher may need to slow down the exchange of information to all students or the teacher may have to “segment” information so that the deaf students have the same access as the hearing students. This can pose difficulties with respect to time restraints that are often present in mainstream classrooms. Also, other students may not understand why the teacher is changing the structure of the teachings. There has to be a way to delicately balance the new mainstream classroom so that very little disruption is felt by all students.

Language is something that long ago seemed like such a barrier. As our country has diversified in its population, we see that it is a gap that is much easier to bridge than previously thought as more and more people enter our country that may not yet have command of the English language. Yet, they are still able to thrive and communicate effectively. This is also the case with deaf students. If the student has the necessary qualified interpreter relaying the information presented, and the two of them work closely with the teacher, language will be less of a barrier. There will need to be changes made from all parties, but the outcome of a good, equal education is well worth the effort.

Deaf Students and the Learning Process[edit]

"Active Learning has long been considered a proven method in improving attention, motivation and retention of concepts taught in class. This is especially true for Deaf students and students with limited language proficiency because it facilitates the development of conceptual knowledge and acquisition of language through engaging in an activity. Engaging the students in the learning process during classroom instruction also enables the teacher to monitor student achievement and helps to keep the students focused and on task" (Burik).

A major problem for general educators, it is often to involve deaf students in the actual learning process. Many times, if a teacher has asked a question, the hearing students are prepared to answer the question even before the interpreter has relayed it to the deaf student. How do we bridge this time gap? If the teacher is unaware that this is a problem, they may just think that the deaf student is not engaged in the activity. How can this problem be solved? Teachers could tell all students to wait a minute before raising hands to respond. This would allow the deaf student to receive the message, internalize it, and be able to have an equal chance at responding to the question. Another method could be to give all students dry erase boards to write down their answers on with a pause before all students show their answers to the teacher. Another method could be to put the assignment on the web for students to answer there to submit. There are several alternate methods that can be used.

Many times in the learning process, hearing students give wrong answers. The deaf student may be unaware of this for a few reasons. One may be that the interpreter has so much “correct” information to interpret they do not have time to include misinformation. Another reason that is closely related is that the interpreter may not want to include the wrong answers as to avoid confusion for the deaf student. Imagine the process of relaying correct information, interjecting wrong answers, and then trying to explain what was just signed was not correct information. Now imagine that as this is happening, conversation is continuing that is expected to be interpreted as well. Interpreters have to make decisions in situations like these of what is important and what can be reasonably omitted (remember it would all be signed if time allowed). With the deaf student unaware that it is all right to give a wrong answer, they may feel less inclined to be a part of the learning process in fear that they may not give the correct answer and feel less than adequate. The interpreter, teacher, and student should come up with a system to let the deaf student know when others are not correct, hopefully the deaf student will then be more inclined to participate when they are unsure of their answers. With preparation, the process will be much easier.

It takes time for the interpretation process. Many times deaf students are unable to be part of the learning process due to lack of time or just bad timing. Other times, the deaf student may be afraid of having the wrong answer so they do not participate. By making a few changes, all members of the classroom can be actively involved in the learning process.

Communication Issues with Deaf Students[edit]

"One way of viewing the communication experiences that deaf students face in the mainstream setting is in terms of their own perceptions about their ease or difficulty in communicating" (Stinson). “These perceptions deal with communication with hearing peers, with instructors, and also with deaf peers” (Stinson).

Communication is crucial for success in the mainstream classroom. It is very important for the deaf students to be able to communicate effectively with the teacher. Sometimes, the deaf student is unclear when an appropriate time would be to ask a question because the interpreter does not give these cues to the deaf student. Many times when the communication is about to take place, the teacher is unsure of procedure. The teacher may wonder if it is more appropriate to look at the student or the interpreter. The deaf student may wonder if the interpreter is clearly conveying their message to the teacher. All parties involved may be wondering if anything is getting “lost” in translation. It is important for the deaf student to let the teacher know they look at them and not the interpreter. The teacher should also be made aware that even though the deaf person will want to keep eye contact, they will need to look away to receive the signed message from the interpreter. Also, the deaf student may watch the mouth of the interpreter as to make sure the interpreter indeed understands the communication from the deaf person.

Communication between the deaf and hearing students may be equally frustrating. If the students are asked to work in groups to share ideas, will the interpreter be able to keep up with everyone interjecting opinions and ideas at the same time? What communication will the deaf person "miss"? Will the deaf person have time to interject at appropriate times with the delay in the exchange of information? A plan should be implemented ahead of time. The group with the deaf student can have a more structured sharing of ideas, taking turns in order to be understood by all. The group can also implement a "reflective" moment so that if the deaf person wants to comment they will have the time needed.

With little time to "prep" the hearing students for this situation, the deaf student, interpreter, and teacher should come up with a strategy ahead of time in order to avoid as many communication issues as possible. Planning is the key to successful communication.


With the ever-changing climate of the mainstream classroom, it is important to expect change. The inclusion of deaf students is no exception. All parties must work hard and understand there will be language issues that need to be handled, that the deaf students must be included in the learning process, and that communication issues are expected.

"Mainstreamed adults were usually 'alone' in their school and did not have others who shared their stories. Describing educational experiences to family members, colleagues, or spouses either do not occur or perhaps, fall on ears that cannot fathom the experience of education in isolation" (

Multiple choice Questions[edit]

ASL stands for...
A. American Slang Language
B. Academic Service League
C. Academic Sign Language
D. American Sign Language

D. American Sign Language

An interpreter’s job is...
A. Easy because they are translating “English to English”.
B. Easy because the speaker constantly monitors to make sure the interpreter is at the same pace.
C. Hard because many times they are interpreting “English to ASL”.
D. hard because they are interpreting word for word without omitting anything.

C. Hard because many times they are interpreting “English to ASL”.

If an interpreter is having problems keeping up with the teacher’s pace, the teacher can...
A. Continue at the same pace.
B. Constantly interrupts the interpreter to ask if their pace is alright.
C. “Segment” their information to allow time for the interpreter to stay on pace.
D. Yell at the interpreter for being slow.

C. “Segment” their information to allow time for the interpreter to stay on pace.

In order for the deaf student to respond and participate in the learning process, the teacher can implement all but which of the following?
A. Always call on the deaf student.
B. Ask students to wait a minute before responding.
C. Have students write answers on dry erase boards.
D. Post an assignment to the web to be answered after the lecture.

A. Always call on the deaf student.

When communicating with the deaf student...
A. Always look at the deaf student.
B. Always look at the interpreter.
C. Always look around so the deaf person does not become nervous.
D. Always stare towards the ceiling.

A. Always look at the deaf student.

When a student is mainstreamed he/she is...
A. Swimming in a stream.
B. Put in the main office.
C. Enrolled in a local public school in a regular education class.
D. Kept in a secluded class.

C. Enrolled in a local public school in a regular education class.

Teachers assume when a deaf student has an interpreter, that the interpreter is...
A. The students' friend.
B. A qualified and skilled sign language interpreter.
C. A teacher.
D. Another student with knowledge of the subject being taught.

B. A qualified and skilled sign language interpreter.

To successfully mainstream a deaf student...
A. All parties must work cooperatively.
B. The student should be isolated.
C. The student should hope that someone will sign for him.
D. The class should ignore the deaf student.

A. All parties must work cooperatively.

Essay Question[edit]

In your opinion, with all of the accommodations needed, do you think deaf students should be in the mainstream classroom? Why or why not?