The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) supports bilingualism – the use of American Sign Language (ASL) and English – with deaf infants, children, and youth in educational settings.
ASL is the recognized sign language of the deaf community in the United States. (See NAD ASL Position Statement). Use of ASL can facilitate literacy development (Strong, M. & Prinz, P., A Study of the Relationship Between American Sign Language and English Literacy, Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 2:1 1997). Early language acquisition is critical to the optimum development of any child. Since ASL uses a child’s vision, a deaf or hard of hearing child in an environment where ASL is used consistently can acquire language easily.
In this position statement1, the NAD focuses on and provides guidance on the elements that should be present in the educational setting of deaf children age three through 21 where ASL and English are used (See the NAD Position Statement on Early Hearing Detection and Intervention Programs). State and local school districts should ensure that settings serving these children include the following elements.
Compliance with IDEA. Educational programs are required to comply with all aspects of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) for those children found eligible for IDEA services. One section of this law (34 C.F.R. § 300.324) specifically identifies “special factors” that must be considered during the development of a deaf or hard of hearing child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP):
In the case of a child who is deaf or hard of hearing, these special factors must be considered:
- the child’s language and communication needs,
- opportunities for direct communications with peers and professional personnel in the child’s language and communication mode,
- academic level, and
- full range of needs, including opportunities for direct instruction in the child’s language and communication mode.
Educational programs should ensure that this provision is carried out in a way that ensures that the child has full access to all elements of the school program and environment. Some states (for example, Wisconsin, Iowa, and New Mexico) have developed “communication plan” documents that guide an IEP Team in the consideration of these special factors and must be a formal part of the child’s IEP. The NAD supports the use of tools that lead to more thorough and informed IEP Team decision-making.
The IDEA also requires a “continuum of alternative placements” to be available, including regular classes, special classes, special schools, home instruction, and instruction in hospitals and institutions. Schools for the deaf where ASL is used are well suited to serving these children and should receive strong support from state education agencies. (See NAD Position Statement on Schools for the Deaf)
Further, the IDEA requires that children served under this law have access to the general education curriculum, that is, the curriculum used by children without disabilities. Deaf children who are given equal access to language, communication, and academic learning opportunities can and do achieve to the same levels as hearing children.
Support for child’s dual language learning throughout the child’s school career. Deaf children, like hearing children, learn language through natural use with fluent language users. Educational programs should assess the child’s ASL and English language development throughout his or her school career and provide appropriate language learning opportunities. School programs should tailor services and educational environments to ensure that a deaf child’s language development occurs at a rate comparable to that of his or her hearing peers.
Literacy. Educational programs should expose deaf children to print at an early age, engage them in appropriate literacy activities throughout their school career, and be held accountable for deaf children reaching age appropriate literacy milestones.
Support for families and community members learning ASL. Programs should provide ASL classes, deaf mentors, language immersion experiences, and other opportunities for families to become fluent in ASL. Families who use a language other than English or ASL in the home should receive services in their native language.
Professionals fluent in ASL and English. Education programs should recruit and hire teachers and other personnel who have demonstrated competence in the languages of instruction.
Deaf professionals in leadership roles. Deaf children need to visualize a positive future for themselves. Seeing deaf adults in leadership roles every day helps give them a positive perspective on what they are capable of achieving.
School leaders. School leaders, whether or not they are involved directly in the education of deaf and hard of hearing students, should demonstrate respect for ASL and the deaf community.
Accessible physical environment. The physical environment of the education program should be well-lit and free of visual obstructions and clutter. Visual alarms and visual announcement mechanisms (such as text boards or television screens) should be placed and used throughout the environment. All information broadcast through auditory means should be broadcast simultaneously through visual means. Schools should follow approved classroom acoustics standards and provide assistive listening devices and systems for students who benefit from such technology.
Spoken English. Educational programs should provide opportunities for children to learn spoken English. Depending on the child, this could include speech reading and/or using spoken language through listening and/or speaking.
Collaboration with other programs. Schools that do not have a sufficient number of deaf students to institute a dual language program that includes the elements above should collaborate with other schools in order to implement such a program.
- The NAD recognizes that families receive information and resources to address the health and medical aspects of their child’s hearing, including information and resources related to technology, assistive listening devices, and auditory and speech therapies. The NAD supports informed parental choices. Parents have the best interests of their children at heart and make the best decisions they can based on the information they receive. However, many parents do not receive information about American Sign Language and the deaf community perspective from health and medical professionals. For this reason, the NAD focuses this position statement only on these topics.