To Include Or Not To Include That Is The Question

One of the most pressing issues in the deaf community, and indeed in the general education community as well, is whether or not to include deaf/hearing impaired students into a classroom full of hearing students. On one side of the debate you have people saying deaf/hearing impaired students should be integrated because they need to learn to interact and communicate with the hearing world. These same proponents might also say that deaf/hearing impaired students will face isolation and depression by not being included in the hearing world. On the other side of the debate people argue that deaf/hearing impaired students are not receiving quality education in a majority-hearing classroom because the services provided are of low quality. Additionally, many deaf/hearing impaired students will argue themselves that deaf culture is a very distinct and different culture from the hearing world and they feel most comfortable surrounded by other deaf/hearing impaired students who share that culture. While there are countless arguments both for and against full inclusion of deaf/hearing impaired students, this article brings up one very important policy/legal issue that must be addressed.

King Jordan I, former president of Gallaudet University, the nation's premier deaf university reminds us that the laws surrounding students with disabilities require students be placed in the "least restrictive environment". However, the "least restrictive environment" does not equate a regular education classroom. Indeed King Jordan points out in the included article that "least restrictive environment can be, "placement in a regular classroom; placement in regular school with support services; in a special classroom within a regular school; in a residential school; and, for some children, in an institution or hospital." As teachers, it is extremely important to our special education students that we know the laws and language of the special education world. We cannot be one-track minded and be led to believe that the best way for every child to learn is in a classroom of peers in a regular public school. We have to dig deep to truly understand what it is like to be a deaf person and listen to their desires for education. Perhaps the best way for a deaf/hearing impaired student to have a "least restrictive environment" is to be with peers like her or himself.

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Submitted by Jeffrey Tomlinson