During the 1970s, I attended an elementary school that had the “Hearing Impaired and Hard of Hearing Program.” (Note: “hearing impaired” is not an acceptable term; the preferred term is “deaf.”) I was in a self-contained classroom with other deaf students; the teacher was hearing, and used an artificial sign language system. At times, I was mainstreamed into regular classes with ASL interpreters.
It was an overwhelming time for my hearing parents, who had to decide what kind of educational setting to provide me: a mainstreamed program, a deaf program where support services were available, being the only one at my school with limited supports, or a deaf school (which was several hours away, which meant I would have to live in the dormitory). My parents felt we should stay together as a family, so they chose to have me attend the school I did. That was fine, but I also encountered a lot of audism and a lack of language access in school because I wasn’t taught in my natural language of American Sign Language (ASL) or even bilingually.
Today, there’s an organization working to end language deprivation and to ensure that students are kindergarten-ready. That’s LEAD-K (www.lead-k.org), which states:
The LEAD-K Campaign is a direct response to the alarming number of Deaf and hard of hearing children arriving at school without language. Language deprivation has irreparable catastrophic consequences on the educational, social and vocational development of Deaf and hard of hearing children.
When provided with access and opportunities, the Deaf child has normal ability to develop language. The Deaf child who has the foundation of language will acquire English literacy.
The Campaign aims to end language deprivation through information to families about language milestones and assessments that measure language milestone achievements, and data collection that holds our current education system accountable.
At LEAD-K, we believe that Deaf children benefit from American Sign Language (ASL), a natural visual language, however our goal is language acquisition regardless of the language used, whether ASL or English or both. We cannot afford to lose another generation of Deaf children by engaging in a ideological war. Deaf children who have language are Kindergarten-ready.
What a fabulous idea! I wonder what my life would have been like had LEAD-K existed during my early years. I’m so thankful that my parents always used sign language with me, which helped me become fluent in English. Perhaps, if LEAD-K had existed during the 1970s, my parents wouldn’t have been so overwhelmed by how to handle my education. I could be in a completely different field — but I’m very happy being with Referrals by Robb, because all of my experiences have led me here right now to this point in life.
It has become my mission to share information with people about Deaf people, Deaf education, and most importantly, access for Deaf people. Another important thing to remember is that not all Deaf people have the same goals, needs, or desires; they all have individual dreams and goals. Yet we all have a shared experience: discrimination.
I once shared my experience of discrimination with a nearly 80-year-old Deaf guy, and he could relate to me perfectly. This is also true for almost every other Deaf person I’ve talked to, and this is why LEAD-K is such an important program. With increased awareness of Deaf people’s capabilities and language acquisition needs, Deaf people will then be positioned to know about opportunities and choices they have throughout their lives, especially in their careers. Otherwise, without all these resources, they experience lower self-esteem and lower motivation because they think there are no other options — when in fact, there are many resources they can access.
LEAD-K offers many opportunities to provide resources that fits the Deaf child’s educational and linguistic needs. There are numerous states that have incorporated LEAD-K’s bills for equal access in Deaf education, the first being in California in 2015. Other states include Hawaii, Kansas, Oregon, and soon South Dakota, Georgia, and Louisiana. Yet there are still 42 states remaining that need to incorporate this law. Even so, it’s a great start. I only wish LEAD-K had been around when I was a little boy, so all of my friends whose parents didn’t sign could’ve had more access.
Keep fighting for Deaf people!