With the constant growth of the Hispanic community, I thought it important to raise the subject of Hispanics with hearing impairments. Though deaf students may not attend our schools, those who have other degrees of hearing disabilities may. This article by Maureen A. Smith gives many great suggestions for working with deaf students (and their families) that can be applied to students with less severe hearing impairments.
HISPANICS WHO ARE DEAF
The Changing Population
Another example of the heterogeneous nature of the population of hearing impaired individuals is their diverse cultural background. For example, Luetke-Stahlman and Weiner, (1982) reported that Hispanics accounted for 9.4% of the total hearing impaired population. More recently, the 1988-89 Annual Survey of Hearing Impaired Children and Youth reported that 12.9% of the hearing impaired school population between the ages of 7 and 19 years is Hispanic (Center for Assessment and Demographic Studies, 1988-89). The increase in number of deaf individuals who are Hispanic reflects general population trends. In 1982, Bouvier and Davis reported that 7% of the population was Hispanic and projected that this number will increase to 24% by 2080. Fradd, Figueroa, and Correa (1989) recognized that Hispanics are not the only or most needy group; however, they pointed out that the needs of Hispanics may require immediate attention because they represent the largest and most rapidly increasing language minority group. Experts in deaf education have also recognized that deaf students who are Hispanic have unique needs that require special considerations.
The data currently available to document the performance of Hispanic students who are deaf, although limited, paint a dismal picture. Allen (1986) reported that these students have reading comprehension and mathematics computation levels below those levels attained by their Anglo counterparts. Their speech is more likely to be classified as less intelligible (Wolk & Schildroth, 1989). Currently, no information is available regarding vocational success; however, Rodriguez and Santiviago (1991) pointed out that most Hispanics experience difficulties in the labor force. It is very likely that deafness will impose additional hardships in the search for suitable employment. Johns (1989) suggested that Hispanic individuals who are deaf are almost certain to earn less money over the course of their careers than Anglo individuals with similar abilities.
Assisting Hispanic Students Who are Deaf
It is expected that Hispanic children who are deaf will in fact the trilingual and tricultural (Christensen, 1986; MacNeil, 1990). Students from Hispanic backgrounds who also have a heritage as deaf individuals pose unique challenges to professionals in deaf education. Consideration must be given to several factors if Hispanic students who are deaf will mainstream successfully into an Anglo, hearing society.
*'Reduce the Risk of Hearing Impairments'
Rodriguez and Santiviago (1991) reported that 27% of Hispanic individuals were below the poverty level in 1989. The proportion of Hispanic individuals under the age of 18 years who were under the poverty level was even higher - at 38%. Lower socioeconomic status is associated with poor health and limited access to medical services. Inadequate medical care and poor nutrition during pregnancy place children at risk for hearing impairments from factors such as exposure to the rubella virus, prematurity, low birth rate, and infections. Steps must be taken to ensure that Hispanic families have access to services that promote and maintain healthy lifestyles.
*'Provide Early Intervention'
Early intervention is critical in the event that a Hispanic child is diagnosed as hearing impaired (Christensen, 1986; MacNeil, 1990). Early intervention can include the selection of appropriate amplification, parent training, and speech and language therapy.
*'Be Aware of the Diversity Within This Population'
As emphasized earlier, individuals who are hearing are from an extremely heterogeneous population. At a very minimum, they can vary by the degree of loss, the age at which the loss occurred, the range of speech and language skills, and whether or not any family members are deaf. Similarly, individuals who are Hispanic represent diverse groups including Puerto Ricans, Mexican Americans, Dominicans, Colombians, Cubans, and Central Americans. Professionals in deaf education should be aware of these many factors and how they can influence the school performance of Hispanic individuals who are deaf.
*'Identify the Primary Instructional Language'
Proponents of bilingual education advocate that bilingual children should be educated in their first language and then transitioned into English. This is a fairly straightforward approach when teaching normally hearing children, but much more complicated when dealing with Hispanic children who are deaf because of the need to determine a first language upon which to build English skills. Spanish may not be the first language for a deaf child of normally hearing Hispanic parents (Luetke-Stahlman & Weiner, 1982). In fact, Hispanic children who are deaf may have limited exposure to several languages. Immediate family members are probably using Spanish and may have developed their own "informal language" of communication for the home (MacNeil, 1990). A child who received special services in his or her native country prior to emigration may have some knowledge of Spanish sign language. School officials in the United States are using English and perhaps any one of several forms of sign language, including ASL. Luetke-Stahlman and Weiner (1982) were among the first to question which of these options is in fact the first language, or the language of instruction, for Hispanic children who are deaf. The primary instructional language is a key factor for the education of the Hispanic child who is deaf and it must be determined jointly by the parents, school officials, and community (Erickson, 1984). Luetke-Stahlman and Weiner (1982) recommended that Hispanic children who are deaf be given the opportunity to demonstrate which language is most beneficial to them in acquiring school-related skills. They used four different formats to present nouns, verbs, and adjectives to three Hispanic students who were deaf. The formats included English alone, English and sign language, Spanish alone, and Spanish and sign language. The results varied for each child, suggesting that neither cultural heritage nor etiological classification were prime factors in the identification of a primary instructional language. They urged consideration of the following four variables:
1. the language of the caretaker;
2. the amount of exposure to spoken and signed language;
3. the amount of usable residual hearing, and
4. the language empirically documented as most effective for the child.
The benefits of an educational program are maximized when family members are actively involved; however, the quality and quantity of involvement may be undermined when the parents' language is different from the language used for instruction purposes. Professionals working with Hispanic students who are deaf must develop programs that increase parental knowledge and participation. Christensen (1986) described a trilingual (Spanish, English, and Sign Language) approach to teach sign language to monolingual Spanish-speaking parents of deaf children. A series of videotapes were prepared for broadcast across a local cable channnel. Information included in the tapes was presented first in Spanish and second in English , with signing accompanying all spoken information. She reported that regular viewing of the program helped Spanish-speaking parents acquire and use basic signs that their children were learning in the classrooms. At the end of the two-year project, 95.5% of the families reported that they felt the quality of communication with their deaf child had improved greatly. They also reported more positive attitudes toward their child's deafness and educational program, perhaps because frustration was reduced during communication. Incidental exposure to English also increased their ability to understand spoken English. Christensen (1986) reported that the age of the respondents, years of education, and years of residence in the United States did not predict the level of success in signing; however, parents of young children did better than parents whose children were in high school.
In addition to parent training, Hispanic parents of children who are deaf can be encouraged to form a support group to advocate for their children, practice newly acquired skills, and disseminate information (Christensen, 1986). School officials should be made aware of these groups and should encourage and welcome parent involvement (MacNeil, 1990).
Footnotes: Smith, M. (Summer 1994). Enhancing Educational Opportunities For Hispanic Students Who Are Deaf. In New York Associaltion for Bilingual Education. Retrieved July 29, 2007, from http://www.ncela.gwu.edu/pubs/nysabe/vol9/deaf.htm.
Contributed by Shakima Bates