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One of Deaf Education’s Dirty Secrets…

Posted Aug 26 2010 12:00am

One early summer day, a couple of decades ago, my parents and a couple of other parents went door to door campaigning for one of the school board candidates. During their door-to-door campaign, they stopped by one of the deaf education teachers’ house. They rang the doorbell, and *Susan’s spouse answered the door.

In the background, somewhere in the house, distraught sobbing could be heard.  The spouse, familiar with these present, said, “I’m sorry, Susan’s not able to come down here right now.”  An uncomfortable pause ensued, punctuated by the sobbing. The spouse finally said,  “She’s always like this at the end of the school year. Susan’s upset, you know, about being unable to see her students during the summer.”

Interestingly enough, several years later when Susan was transferred to General Ed, by all accounts, she didn’t repeat this behavior with the General Ed students.

Different Rules – Different Game?

Some might shrug their shoulders and argue that the rules for Deaf Ed’s different than it is for General Ed, so it’s only natural that the Deaf Ed personnel will behave differently in each setting. Therefore, what Susan did isn’t cause for concern, much less alarm. And after all, the setting of Deaf Ed is structured in a way that it’s a natural consequence for the teachers and interpreters to have a closer relationship with the average Deaf student than General Ed students do with their faculty/staff.

However, if one looks at the actual rules for Deaf Ed, the rules for the most part, focus on ensuring the Deaf students obtain equal access to education, especially functional equivalency. So what’s this really about? If one examines a relationship that a Deaf Ed teacher or an educational interpreter has with the Deaf student, far too often, one will find that the personnel infantilizes the Deaf student. This is not to say all do this. There are many wonderful professionals out there who do have an appropriate relationship with their students and have ethical standards and boundaries.

But there are also many out there who do not, and it’s all too common for people to turn a blind eye to this behavior. The majority of the Deaf Community can share more than one personal story about several Deaf Ed teachers and/or interpreters over-sharing, becoming overly involved with their students’ lives (and even sometimes the student’s families), crossing emotional boundaries, and/or reacting terribly when the student dares to become more independent than they’re comfortable with.

One Deaf Ed advocate shared a story with me about how it’s not quite common but not too rare either, for the school personnel during IEPT meetings to call her clients “Mom”, instead of the clients’ actual name. If that isn’t infantilization, then I don’t know what is.

Sadly enough, the general public supports the infantilization of the Deaf. They, like many in the Deaf Ed field, consider us to be disabled, not as a cultural and linguistic minority. Therefore, we need to be taken care of, in their eyes, and it’s perfectly acceptable for Deaf Ed personnel to treat us differently than how they would with others. How many of us are familiar with this sentiment, “You work with these kids? How precious!” or “Oh, my! You’re Deaf and you were able to accomplish this? How wonderful!” Hence, the sweeping under the rug about this problem.

Some might pooh-pooh this and say this was probably common twenty years ago, but isn’t nowadays. I certainly hope it’s not as prevalent today, but I still get horror stories from Deaf Ed advocates and the Deaf Community about teachers and especially interpreters. And just the other day, I stumbled across a Facebook page of a Deaf Ed teacher who possibly seems to have a close emotional bond with one of her former students, to the point where it raised my and another Deaf adult’s eyebrows. However, apparently her hearing friends generally found it adorable.

It certainly says something about society and its perception of us, don’t you think?

* Name changed to protect privacy
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