Deaf Education: Mainstream vs. Inclusion

by Adam Jefferys

    Both mainstream and inclusion placement options involve educating a deaf or hard of hearing student alongside hearing students. In an inclusion program, a deaf or hard of hearing student attends all classes with hearing students, whereas mainstreamed students typically attend some special classes in addition to classes with hearing students.

    The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, mandates that “to the maximum extent appropriate” every child with disabilities be educated with children without disabilities, and that special classes or separate schooling occur only when this cannot be accomplished satisfactorily. The National Association of the Deaf, in their “Position Statement on Inclusion,” argues that this does not, however, require that students be placed only in classrooms with hearing students, and expresses concerns about “full-inclusionists” who “call for the elimination of special schools and programs for all students with disabilities.”

    Many mainstreamed students spend most of their school day in classes with hearing students, however, their home classroom is a special education class. Mainstreamed students are often expected to keep up in classes with hearing students without additional resources. Because special instructors or interpreters do not accompany students, mainstreamed deaf or hard of hearing students can interact more directly with hearing students. However, depending on the individual student’s difficulty communicating with his or her hearing peers, the lack of an interpreter can increase isolation.

    Deaf or hard of hearing students in inclusion programs attend classes with hearing students. A variety of additional services and resources may be involved in inclusion -- interpreters, note takers, teacher aides, teachers of students who are deaf, and consultants. Disadvantages of inclusion include limited opportunities for direct instruction and communication, since the student interacts with teachers and peers primarily through an interpreter. In addition, there may not be enough qualified interpreters or support staff in a local school district to adequately support inclusion.

    When deciding what placement decision is best for their student, parents and caretakers should first consider the student’s academic, social and communication needs: the student’s academic level, what form of communication he or she best uses to learn, what opportunities for interaction with peers and role models best suit the student, and what the student’s preferred method of communication is for social interactions. When considering mainstreaming or inclusion for their student, parents or caregivers should also consider the level of support for the student, including access to TTYs, closed-captioning services, note takers and other assistance devices, and whether the school includes other deaf students of similar age.

    About the Author

    Based in Chicago, Adam Jefferys has been writing since 2007. He teaches college writing and literature, and has tutored students in ESL. He holds a Masters of Fine Arts in creative writing, and is currently completing a PhD in English Studies.

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