Deaf persons and experts speak out against Inclusion

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This document contains the opinions of several people - both deaf and professionals who work with the deaf, who speak out against the Inclusion movement.

I wish to thank the several people who contributed and forwarded to me articles for inclusion in this document:

"'Inclusion' Should Not Include Deaf Students"

"'Inclusion' Should Not Include Deaf Students"
by Dr. Oscar Cohen, Superintendent,
Lexington School for the Deaf
Jackson Heights, New York

(The following article, printed in EDUCATION WEEK (4/20/94), was distributed to participants at an Inclusion? Conference.)

"What is wrong with mandated 'full inclusion' for all deaf children, and why must the continuum of alternative placements be maintained?

"Sometimes it seems as though rhetoric and value judgments have taken over the so-called 'regular-classroom movement' to such an extent that a reasoned and informed consideration of the real needs of deaf children is obliterated.

"For many inclusionists, the guiding tenets is the 'normalization principle' of making available to disabled persons conditions as close as possible to the norms and patterns of mainstream society. This position, which emanates from a relatively small and insular group that advocates primarily for children with severe intellectual disabilities, The Association of Severely Handicapped (TASH), presumes to speak for all disabled students. Their goals call for the abolition of special educationas a means to: 1) enhance disabled students' social competence, and 2) effect changed attitude in teachers and nondisabled students toward children with disabilities. It is noteworthy that social acceptance, and not academic realization, appears to be their primary measure of success.

"Most would agree that full access to communication among peers is crucially important to the cognitive and social development of all children. But this process occurs in hugely different settings for deaf and hearing children. Face-to-face spoken communication is problematic for many deaf children, even after years of speech and lipreading training. Most deaf children cannot and will not lipread or speak effectively in regular classroom settings. This is a result of biology, which all the well-wishing in the world won't change. For these children, full access to communication - and therefore full cognitive and social development -- includes the use of sign language. Thus, to equate the means of meeting the needs of deaf children to those of meeting the needs of developmentally disabled children is misguided.

"Furthermore, research shows significant gains as measured by performance intelligence tests of deaf children who attend schools for the deaf -- gains that are not found in deaf children who attend mainstreamed programs.

"Those who espouse the 'normalization principle' as the rationale for full inclusion for all deaf children simply do not understand the role of the language and culture shared by most deaf persons. Contrary to the claims of those who champion on 'normalization', placement in a school setting that lacks appropriate communication with peers and adults creates an ABNORMAL and impoverished milieu. It is naive to believe that public schools will develop an environment where everyone in the school -- children, teachers, secretaries, school nurses, administrators, cafeteria workers -- will be able to communicate directly and proficiently according to the learning styles and needs of all deaf children.

"Those advocating mandatory inclusion often use the term 'segregation' when referring to special schools or classes indicated in the Individual with Disabilities Education Acts. In the united States, 'segregation' implies legally imposed isolation and has strong associations with the enslavement of Africans and its aftermath. As such, it carries a powerfully negative tone. 'Segregation,' as it occurs when some disabled children are placed in special classes or schools, may be negative or it MAY CONTRIBUTE TO POSITIVE DEVELOPMENT. For this reason, the more neutral term 'alternative setting' better conveys the special educational placement. Using the term 'segregation' to describe alternative placements for deaf children is manipulative, in that it suggests values antithetical to professed ideals of equality and democracy. (According to the logic of full inclusionists, our historically black colleges should be closed.)

"The Americans with Disabilities Act provides the basis for an argument by many that children with disabilities have a civil right to attend school in the general-education setting. Those who would mandate full inclusion ostensibly in order to safeguard a right are actually denying the right of others to attend school in alternative settings.

"We must ask ourselves the real appeal of mandatory inclusion. Does it serve deaf people, or is it simply a way to further the great American myth that we're all created equal? To treat all children as though they are the same is not democracy; it is injustice.

"The goal of many inclusionists is to enhance disabled students' social competencies in order to promote acceptance by their nondisabled peers. A leading advocate of the 'full inclusion' movement, TASH, is primarily concerned about children with severe intellectual disabilities. Social competence and acceptance may mean different things to different groups. In contrast to the situation for most mentally retarded children, it is possible for the majority of deaf children to form full, purposeful, intimate relationships with their peers, deaf or hearing, provided that they share a common means of communication. Deaf children neither want nor tolerate relationships that are patronizing, subordinating, or superficial. Notwithstanding the honorable intentions of full-inclusion advocates, gestures of benevolence by persons who neither possess the requisite communication skills nor desire to communicate fully and effectively with deaf children are not acceptable to the majority of deaf children and their families.

"The frequent response from full-inclusion advocates to questions related to the unique needs of deaf children is that speech or sign language interpreters will be placed in classrooms. This position is simple not responsive to the research on early language acquisition in general and on deaf children in particular.

"There is a dearth of both qualified educatonal interpreters throughout the United States, and research on the effectiveness of educational interpreters for meeting the emotional, social, and educational needs of deaf students. For example, does the student feel self-conscious with an interpreter sitting next to him or her? What proportion of spoken classroom interaction actually gets interpreted? How does the interpreter's presence affect interactions with classmates -- sharing gossip, jokes, secrets? What impact does interpreter lag-time have on a deaf student's comprehension and achievement?

"These and many related questions must be addressed before social policy affecting the education and development of deaf children is determined, lest irreparable harm be done. Simplistic solutions to complex problems are not helpful.

"As far as profoundly deaf children are concerned, full-inclusion advocates have no ground, informed theoretical framework to bolster their case. Their argument is based primarily on an image, not unlike the melting-pot theory, lacking legitimacy and credibility.

"Deaf children are as diverse as any other group of children. Their difference individual needs suggest that they will be best served by a variety of settings, including the opportunity to attend inclusive schools when appropriate. But the full-inclusion, one-size-fits-all approach, even with its promises of support services, is naive at best, and irreparably harmful at worst.

"Complex problems do not have simple solutions, nor can an emotionally based appeal to old myths substitute for an informed appreciation of the culture of deafness."

Oscar Cohen is the executive director of the Lexington School for the Deaf in Jackson Heights, N.Y.

Son of deaf parents, Superintendent Dr. Cohen's daughter, Leah Hager Cohen, who is author of "Train Go Sorry: Inside a Deaf World", also wrote an article, "An Interpreter Isn't Enough" printed in THE NEW YORK TIMES on February 22, 1994. The article accounts Ms. Cohen's personal experience as interpreter. See below.

"'Interpreter Isn't Enough!"

The following note was printed in THE NEW YORK TIMES (2/22/94), and distributed to participants at an Inclusion? Conference.

"'Interpreter Isn't Enough!"
by Leah Hager Cohen

"Somerville, Mass.
It's a few minutes before the class will start. Everyone's fishing notebooks from kanpsacks and sharpening pencils and it's all 'What did you put for the last answer on the algebra?' and 'Tomorrow's the last day for yearbook money, right?' and 'If we want to stay for the game, Toni says she can give us a ride.' All of the eleventh-graders are speaking or listening, directly or indirectly. Except for one student, sitting down front. She is neither speaking or listening; she is not involved; she is deaf.

"I am her sign-language interpreter. I stand at the front of the class, poised to begin signing whenever she looks at me, but she doesn't; she is resting her eyes on the sky outside the window. When at last she does turn her face, it is not to see what her classmates are saying but to chat with me about her weekend, about the book I am reading, about her dog, my sweater, anything. She is hungry for communication and chooses me -- an adult satellite paid to follow her through the school day -- rather than her peers, who do not speak her language.

"Class begins. She pays attention for a while. Sometimes when the teacher asks a question, she signs a response, which I interpret into spoken English -- always a little late, just a few seconds after the other students. Sometimes the students all talk at once; their voices overlap and I have to choose one thread to follow, or compress them all in a quick synopsis, inserting who said which thing to whom and in what tone of voice.

"Sometimes I make a mistake and have to correct myself and then we both fall behind and I scramble, signing extra-fast to catch up. Sometimes, when I am speaking for her, I don't understand something she has signed. I have to ask her to repeat it, and I can see her flush, both of us sensing the polite and condescending impatience of the teacher and the class.

"Sometimes the teacher uses a roll-down map or an overhead projector, and all the students train their eyes on the visual information while listening to the teacher. I move closer to the map or screen, trying to make my hands make sense of all the information. The girl looks at me, then at the visual display. The teacher talks on. By the time the student looks at me again, she has lost three sentences. She looks at her notes and loses more sentences. Frustration flickers across her face, her eyes go blank and she gives up, returning her gaze to the sky..

"I do not eat lunch with her, but I have seen her in the cafeteria at a long white table with other students. She is able, sort of, to participate in conversation, if someone makes a point of turning and speaking directly to her. Because she has trouble lip reading and they have trouble understanding her speech, she often resorts to pen and paper. The students are patient. But conversation usually ricochets

                     Schools for the deaf fill a gap
"across the table too rapidly for her even to pretend comprehension, so she takes a bite of her sandwich. She chews carefully, almost surreptitiously; she has been told that deaf people make funny noises when they eat.

"More often, she doesn't go to the cafeteria at all. She spends her lunch period at the library, in woodshop, on the basketball court shooting hoops. She's a good athlete. She runs with the cross-country team, but she doesn't participate in student government or school plays or the literary magazine or cheerleading. She prefers activities in which she can excel alone.

"Her parents are proud that she attends a regular public school. They do not use sign language. On Mondays, she comes to school ravenous for conversation with me. She signs gregariously before class and even during class, and I smile in a small way and sign back; wait, wait, we'll talk about it later, the teacher's speaking now.

"Her teachers ask me how I think she's doing. I tell them that I cannot say; as the interpreter, I'm not permitted to give an opinion. I say, 'Maybe you would like to ask her? I'd be glad to interpret if you'd like me to ask her yourself.' They do not take me up in it.

"This girl could go to a federally-financed school for the deaf, where all the students can converse with each other, all the information is presented visually, teachers sign and deaf adults serve as role models, deaf kids lead the student government and star in the school play.

"These schools prepare students for jobs and college. they also give the students access to the deaf community, which has its own language, folklore, traditions, social clubs, periodicals, athletic teams and political events. The schools have always served as the cultural center of the deaf community. Yet proponents of inclusion would like to close them, claiming that it would would liberate deaf people from the 'discrimination' of separate schooling and give them equality. All it would require are some sign-language interpreters to smooth out the difference, they say.

"To many deaf people, this is at best maddeningly naive; at worst, it is chauvinistic. The history of deaf people is one of mandated assimilation: we can make you more like hearing people, we can make you more normal.

"Proponents of inclusion should ask themselves why it looks so appealing. Is it the policy that will best serve deaf people? Or is it simply a way to further that great American myth, the one we seem to need oxygen, that says that we're all created equal?"

NAD's Position Statement on Full Inclusion

The following statement was distributed to participants at a Inclusion? Conference.

"Full inclusion," the placement of all children with disabilities in their neighborhood schools irrespective of their unique abilities and needs, is a popular movement and NOT a federal mandate. "Full inclusion" calls for the elimination of special schools and programs (1) for all students with disabilities, including students who are deaf and hard of hearing. The movement towards "full inclusion" is being conducted with complete disregard for the provision of essential services, based upon a comprehensive assessment of each child, and is in direct violation of the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). In the case of many deaf and hard of hearing children, "full inclusion" creates language and communication barriers that are potentially harmful, and consequently deny many of these children an education in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE).

"The National Association of the Deaf (NAD), DOES NOT SUPPORT "full inclusion" and is opposed to elimination of, or restrictions on the use of, placement mandated by the "Full Continuum of Alternative Placements" regulation of the IDEA. While the regular classroom in the neighborhood school may be the appropriate placement for some deaf and hard of hearing students, for many it is not. The NAD is committed to preserving and expanding the use of the "Full Continuum of Alternative Placements" to ensure that each deaf or hard of hearing child receives a quality education in an appropriated environment.

"The NAD believes that an appropriate placement for a deaf or hard of hearing child is that:

  • enhances the child's intellectual, social, and emotional development;
  • is based on the language abilities of the child;
  • offers direct communication access and opportunities for direct instruction (2)
  • has a critical mass of age-appropriate and level-appropriate deaf and hard of hearing peers;
  • is staffed by certified and qualified personnel (3) who are trained to work with deaf and hard of hearing children;
  • provides full access to all curricular and extracurricular offerings customarily found in educational settings;
  • has an adequate number of deaf and hard of hearing role models;
  • provides full access to support services;
  • has the support of informed (4) parents; and
  • is equipped with appropriate technology (5).

In essence, the NAD believes that ALL deaf and hard of hearing children are entitled to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE), in an environment that enhances their intellectual, social, and emotional development. The NAD also believes that direct and uninhibited communication access to all facets of a school's programming (6) is essential if a deaf or hard of hearing child is to realize his or her full human potential. As stated in a U.S. Department of Education Policy Guidance (October, 1992) (7):

"Meeting the unique communication needs of a student who is deaf is a fundamental part of providing a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to the child. Any setting, including a regular classroom that prevents a child who is deaf from receiving an appropriate education that meets his or her needs including communication needs, is not the LRE for that individual child."

The policy guidance further states that the development of an Individual Education Plan (IEP) and determination of a FAPE in the LRE for a deaf or hard of hearing child must take into consideration several factors including:

  • Communication needs and the child's preferred mode of communication;
  • linguistic needs;
  • severity of hearing loss and potential for using residual hearing;
  • academic level; and
  • social, emotional, and cultural needs, including opportunity for peer interactions and communication.

The NAD believes that Department of Education Policy Guidance must be followed and that placement decisions must be based on a determination of what is appropriate for the individual child. Placement of all deaf and hard of hearing children in regular education classrooms, in accordance with a "full inclusion" doctrine, is a blatant violation of IDEA with serious consequences for many deaf and hard of hearing children. The NAD is therefore compelled to call upon the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, U.S. Department of Education, to significantly increase scrutiny of educational restructuring at the state and local levels and to insure compliance with the law. The NAD also calls upon state departments of education and local school districts to adhere to the law, and to ensure that deaf and hard of hearing children do not become victims of a movement rooted in ideology rather than empiricism.

(1) Residential schools, day schools, center schools within districts, special classes, etc.
(2) Opportunities to communicate directly with teachers without intervention by or over-reliance on interpreters and transliterators.
(3) Teachers, counselors, psychologists, interpreters, transliterators, etc.
(4) An informed parent is one who is fully aware of the range of available educational options, and the pros and cons of each option, with respect to his or her child'sunique abilities and needs.
(5) Visual devices (e.g., graphic calculators, computers, amplification equipment, etc.)
(6) All curricular and extra-curricular offerings.
(7) Department of education Policy guidance on educating deaf students (October 30, 1992). Federal Register, 57 (221), 49274-49276.

Bad teaching is easier to hide in Full Inclusion

(Contributed by Richard A. Peters at 12 Dec 1993.)

The issue is not only the classroom environments, its the administrative part with its checks and balances which provide the tools to address teacher performance problems. As I envision the full inclusion model being implemented knowing what I do about the workings of school systems, I think it will be much more difficult to resolve environment problems which only significantly affect challenged students.

First, it is much harder to identify conclusively a teaching problem since there will not be enough challenged students in any given classroom to provide a pattern of achievement failure. Second, since any given challenging condition may only pass through the classroom every few years, the problem will be initially explained away as a teacher re-training issue which will be addressed by some additional training. By the time the issue reaches a formal documented complaint stage in which there is indisputable evidence of a problem not related to training, the situation will be rendered moot since the the student will have been passed into the next grade and a new teacher. And then the pattern potentially repeats.

It is hard enough with today's special education structure to resolve teacher performance problems in which all of the students are similarly challenged, but at least there is some commonality so parents can compare notes and build a consensus case about a specific special education teaching environment. Under the full inclusion model, resolution except in extreme cases would be almost impossible, and that really scares me.

Some school districts try to mainstream inappropriately

(Contributed by Robert Rourke at 23 Feb 1995.)

Oliver Arnd Markwirth wrote:

Mainstreaming and isolation are the best friends. I grew up in the mainstreamed environment, and I never knew how much I had missed in speaking of social and emotional aspects until I visited Texas School for the Deaf during the homecoming celebration. Now, I knew what I had
<stuff deleted>

Thank you for sharing your experience. There are more horrifying stories from mainstreamed students. A few local school district ignored a Deaf mother's wishes to allow her son or daughter to attend the residential school for the Deaf. They may refuse to sign the proposed IEP. Even worse, the school districts unilaterally change the son or daughter's IEP to include mainstreaming in three classes with "interpreters" who just had one basic sign language class ten years ago. Some school districts made one argument over and over: mainstreaming IS the least restrictive environment, the least restrictive environment IS mainstreaming(despite what the law actually means). No matter what. Many students had claimed that mainstreaming is the harmful effects of isolation from effective communication, linguistic peers, cultural identity, and incidental learning. It may even be detrimental to those who are very curious about life and love schools. They may now hate school, and communicate with no one. Sometimes, these cases may end up in courts but they may be overturned due to inconsistencies, biases, and ignorance of the law. Often, it is too late to challenge the system. For those who still have the similar problem, I urge you to challenge the system and use whatever strengths you have to demand what's right for your children.

Mainstreaming leads to isolation - a testimonial

(Contributed by Joe Murray at 27 Feb 1995.)

I usually tend to read the comments by some members of this list with a shake of my head and a chuckle at their youthful ignorance...but Bill's message about inclusion has prompted a reply in me.

Bill, I was in a mainstream program from kindergarten up to 12th grade, graduated and went to a hearing university and now have my bachelor of science degree from it. On the way I was a exchange student in Europe and in a fine liberal arts college in Washington, D.C. ...yes- Gallaudet! I'm not going to spend this post discussing Gallaudet's academic merits (which are considerable, contrary to popular opinion on this list) but to reply to Bill's comment that FULL INCLUSION is good.

You say that only people who have experienced full inclusion can really understand how wonderful it was...well I was FULLY INCLUSIONED (no interpreter, no notetaker, no 'deaf program', no other deaf students on a regular basis, etc etc etc) and I can tell you right now that I would never want another Deaf child to go through what I went through. I was not a wallflower in high school...quite the contrary...I ran for SBG president, co-founded and edited the school newspaper, was on the track team etc etc etc....I was the epitome of a mainstream success story...and yet I was fulfilling very little of my actual potential! Once I graduated and become more involved with Deaf peers (my parents are Deaf so I was involved in the Deaf community all my life) I began to realize how much I really limited myself in the mainstream environment I lived in...and how much OUT of the REAL WORLD a mainstream school is for a Deaf child.

In a mainstream school, you always have to make the effort to get involved to be included etc etc etc but with Deaf peers (and not just in Gallaudet, but also in the Deaf community) you'd be surprised how effortlessly you can get involved in a number of activities and yes, LEARN from them.

The real world was not accessible to me in my mainstream school. All I got were little trickles of information from my group of friends about personal relationships, about school events, gossip, etc etc...and THAT Is what the real world is made up of...human beings interacting on a regular, uninhibited basis.

Bill, you sound like a guy who could have a fantastic time in the Deaf community, but you're not giving yourself this chance to really get involved with Deaf peers...There is a treasure trove of people, events, information and FUN out there for you to be a part of but instead you insist on trying to fit into a hearing society in which you will never be a complete member of...I'm not saying REJECT don't think that. I value my hearing (both ASL-using and non ASL-using) friends and my time with them but I'm smart enough and open enough to realize that I am at my best...and am most myself...with Deaf people. And frankly, from your many, many ;) posts I think you would be also.