Children Who are Deaf or Hearing-impaired - IDEA and Section 504
Author: Wendy Taormina-Weiss
Synopsis and Key Points:
Education of students who are deaf from birth through post-secondary education and training.
Main DigestThe past twenty-five years found two national panels reaching the conclusion that the education of students who are deaf or hearing-impaired needs to be improved to meet their communication and other needs.
Deaf - Partially or wholly lacking or deprived of the sense of hearing; unable to hear. Distinction between deaf and Deaf with the capitalized form used specifically in referring to deaf persons belonging to the community also known as Deaf culture, formed around the use of Sign Language as the preferred means of communication. With the deaf the capitalized and uncapitalized forms differ in meaning as well as style. Only persons who are self-identified as belonging to Deaf culture are appropriately referred to as Deaf.
The most recent of the two panels - the Commission on Educational of the Deaf (COED), recommended various changes in the way the Federal government supports the education of students who are deaf from the time they are born all the way through postsecondary education and training. The report by COED reflects a fundamental concern within a large portion of the deaf community. The concern is that students who are deaf experience significant obstacles in relation to accessing free and appropriate public education that meets their educational needs - especially their communication and associated needs.
Major barriers students who are deaf experience in relation to learning involve both communication and language; something which in turn affects the majority of aspects of their educational process. Learning language skills can be difficult for students who are deaf, and effective methods of instruction that can be implemented in a number of educational settings are still unavailable. Reading skills are another challenge for students who are deaf and finds educational systems struggling to effectively teach children who are deaf. Students who are hearing-impaired often, 'level off,' in relation to reading comprehension achievement at around the third grade level.
One of the potential educational manifestations of a communication disability is isolation - something that can have a considerable effect on a student's ability to interact with their teachers and peers, as well as to inhibit their overall educational process. Direct communication is required for the transmitting of knowledge and development of the student's self-esteem and identity. Despite the availability of interpreter services in an educational setting, a student who is deaf or hearing-impaired may still not find their communication needs met.
Deafness is considered to be a, 'low-incidence,' form of disability and there is not a widespread understanding of its implications in relation to education. The lack of knowledge and skills in America's educational system associated with students who are deaf or hearing-impaired contributes to substantial obstacles they face in receiving appropriate educational services. Due to these factors, it is highly important to provide more guidance to both state and local educational agencies with the goal of ensuring the needs of students who are deaf or hearing-impaired are appropriately identified, and have placement decisions that meet the standards of applicable statutes and their implementation regulations.
Free Appropriate Public Education, LRE's, and IEP's
Providing a free and appropriate public education based upon the needs of a child is at the very core of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Section 504 contains requirements related to free appropriate public education requirements - ones that are also applicable to local educational agencies that serve children who are deaf. Children receive appropriate education when every requirement in the stature and the regulations are met. Children who are eligible under Part B of IDEA or Section 504 may achieve an appropriate education through the individualized education program (IEP) process.
As a part of the process of developing an IEP for a child with disabilities, both state and local education agencies have to comply with evaluation and placement regulations. To meet the educational needs of children who are deaf, compliance with evaluation and placement requirements of Section 504 must be met - ones similar to those under IDEA. Still, there is belief that the communication and other needs of many children who are deaf or hearing-impaired are not adequately being considered during the development of their IEP's.
It is vital for state and local educational agencies to consider the following factors as they work with parents to develop an IEP for children who are deaf or hearing-impaired:
- Linguistic needs
- Academic level
- Communication needs
- The child's and family's preferred mode of communication
- Social, cultural, and emotional needs - to include opportunities for peer interaction and communication
The specific need of a child may also require consideration of additional factors. For example; the nature and severity of a child's needs might require consideration of curriculum content and methods of delivery that take into consideration ways the child's needs can be met. Inclusion of evaluators who are knowledgeable about the specific factors involved as a part of a child's multidisciplinary team to evaluate the child helps to ensure a child who is deaf or hearing-impaired has their need correctly identified.
Under the, 'least restrictive environment (LRE),' provision of IDEA - public agencies must establish procedures to ensure that, 'to the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities, including children in public or private institutions or other care facilities, are educated with children who are not disabled, and that special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from regular educational environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.' It is important to note that Section 504 contains a similar provision.
Concern exists that the least restrictive environment provisions of IDEA and Section 504 are at times being interpreted incorrectly, finding children who are deaf or hearing-impaired being placed in programs that do not meet their needs. Meeting the communication and other needs of children who are deaf or hearing-impaired is a fundamental part of providing them with a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). Any setting, to include a regular classroom, that prevents a child who is deaf or hearing-impaired from receiving an appropriate education and fails to meet their communication needs is one that is not the LRE for that child.
Placement decisions have to be based on the child's IEP; therefore, consideration of the least restrictive environment (LRE), as a part of the child's placement always has to be in context with the LRE and which appropriate services to provide. A setting that does not meet the communication and other related needs of a child who is deaf or hearing-impaired and does not allow for the provision of FAPE is one that cannot be considered the LRE for the child. Provision of FAPE is essential - an individual placement determination in relation to the child's LRE must be considered within the context of FAPE.
Another concern is that some public agencies have misapplied the LRE provision through the presumption that placements in or closer to regular classrooms are a requirement for children who are deaf or hearing-impaired - without taking into consideration the variety of communication and other related needs that have to be addressed in order to provide services that are appropriate. Placement in regular classrooms is appropriate for some children who are deaf or hearing-impaired, yet for others it is not.
A decision as to what placement will provide FAPE for a particular child who is deaf or hearing-impaired, including a determination regarding their LRE and appropriate services for the child, can only be made after a full and complete IEP has been developed that addresses the full range of the child's needs. Consideration of these factors will help placement teams to identify the needs of children who are deaf or hearing-impaired and enable them to place children in the least restrictive environment that is most appropriate to meet the child's needs.
The main rule in regards to placement is that decisions involving placements have to be made on an individual basis. Placement decisions cannot be based upon:
- Availability of space
- Category of disability
- Administrative convenience
- The configuration of the delivery system
- The availability of educational or related services
States and school districts also need to be aware of any potential harmful effects of placement on children who are deaf or hearing-impaired, or the quality of services the child needs, and take into consideration these effects when determining the child's LRE.
Regular educational settings are appropriate, adaptable, and able to meet the needs of some children who are deaf or hearing-impaired. Other children who are deaf or hearing-impaired may find their least restrictive environment (LRE) in another center or school where their individual needs can be met. A wide range of alternative placements as described in IDEA regulations have to be available to the extent necessary to implement every child's IEP.
In some instances, the nature of a child's disability and needs dictate a setting that provides structured curriculum, or methods of teaching. In the same way that placement in regular educational settings are required when appropriate for the needs of a child who is deaf or hearing-impaired, so is removal from regular educational settings when the child's needs cannot be met through the use of supplementary aids and services.
Safeguards for Parents and Children
Section 504 regulations state that public agencies have to establish a system of procedural safeguards which include notification of parents in regards to placement decisions. Public agencies are required to ensure that parents are knowledgeable about their rights, as well as the decisions public agencies make. Before a child is initially placed in special education, the child's parents have to be given written notice and have to consent to the placement.
'Consent,' means that parents have been fully-informed of all of the information that is relevant to their child's placement decision. A public agency's obligation to fully-inform parents includes its obligation to inform parents that the public agency is required to have full placement options available to meet the needs of their child with disabilities - to include instruction in:
- Special classes
- Special schools
- Regular classes
- Home instruction
- Instruction in hospitals and institutions
Parents also have to be given written notice a reasonable amount of time before a public agency proposes to either initiate or change the identification, evaluation, educational placement, or provision of a free public education to their child. The notice to parents has to include a description of the action the public agency is proposing or refusing, an explanation of why the agency is proposing or refusing the action, as well as a description of any options the agency has considered and the reasons why the options were rejected.
The requirement to provide a description of any options the public agency considered includes a description of the types of placements that were actually considered such as regular class or special school, as well as any particular schools it actually considered and the reasons why the placement options were rejected. Provision of this kind of information to parents gives them more knowledge and enables them to participate in the education of their children from a more informed position.
NCLB, IDEA, and Deaf Children
"Two pieces of federal legislation have had a significant impact on the education of deaf and hard of hearing children: the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA)."
"If the student is an ASL communicator, then the educational interpreter will need to be proficient in American Sign Language. If the student uses Signed Exact English (SEE), then the interpreter must be qualified in SEE."
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