Deaf children 'damaged by system'

18th October 1996 at 01:00
Daniel Rosenthal reports on a call for radical reform of the services for the UK's 65,000 hearing-impaired young people. Many deaf pupils are falling foul of an "inadequate" education system which fails either to understand or to satisfy their needs, according to a major UK organisation for deaf people.

The British Deaf Association wants the Government, local authorities, mainstream and special schools to instigate "radical and lasting" changes to the services available to the UK's 65,000 hearing-impaired children.

"All too often a deaf person's educational failure has been attributed to their deafness rather than to inappropriate services or educational environments. Many deaf people have been damaged by the inadequacies of the system," the BDA says in "The right to be equal", a 12-page policy document published this week. No less should be expected of deaf children in terms of educational attainment, social responsibility and employment than is expected of hearing pupils, the BDA says.

The cornerstone of the BDA policy is that bilingualism, combining British Sign Language with English, is essential to the development of deaf children. The deaf educational community remains deeply divided between those who favour sign language as the principal means of developing deaf children's skills, and those who favour the oral approach, which encourages them to use their residual hearing to develop spoken English.

The BDA wants: * free BSL classes for all families of deaf children;

* the Government to recognise BSL as a language in its own right like English;

* BSL to be available to deaf and hearing children as part of the national curriculum;

* education authorities to provide parents with independent professional advice on the placement of their child;

* authorities to collaborate in providing playgroups and nurseries where BSL is used.

Ninety per cent of deaf children are taught in mainstream schools, but BDA education strategist Sue Unger said the association fears that many pupils are being denied access to BSL and are being taught by staff who "have no real understanding of deaf culture".

She added: "Many local authorities are far too restrictive in the sort of deaf education provision they are prepared to pay for, which means parents cannot make an informed choice on how and where their child should be educated. "

However, David Whitbread, education officer of the Association of County Councils, defended the authorities. He said: "Councils do the best that they can for all special needs pupils within the legal and financial constraints imposed by the Government. The BDA's lobbying might be better directed towards the wider debate about the amount of money the Government makes available. "

Emma Kelly, spokeswoman for the National Association for Deaf Children, welcomed the BDA statement. She said: "There are areas on which our views differ from the BDA's, but we wholly support anything that raises awareness of deaf education."

"The right to be equal" is being sent to local authorities, and all schools for the deaf and mainstream schools with deaf pupils.

"The Right To Be Equal", British Deaf Association, 1-3 Worship Street, London EC2A 2AB, (0171) 588 3520 (voice) 588 3527 (text).

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