In today's local Wilmington NC paper, Star News, there is an interesting article that speaks to the long-standing issue of oral communication versus American Sign Language (ASL) for the deaf and hearing-impaired. I couldn't find a link to the story in our paper, but here is the link from another region's newspaper.
As parents of hearing impaired children who are now grown and in middle age (WOW! That makes me OLD!!!), we had to make a decision many years ago as to whether or not we wanted them to sign or learn as much oral language as possible. We decided they would live in the hearing world. For us, it never was a huge decision, but I realize now how radically different their lives would be - and ours as well - had we made the decision to education them in a school for the deaf. We knew next to nothing about deafness and hearing loss; we had no idea of the world of differences between deaf culture and hearing or of the cultural clashes that exist. It was years later, when I was in a Masters program in Speech Pathology (never finished!) while researching and writing extensively on the psychology of deafness, that I gained insight into this intense rift in the hearing-impaired community. And that research convinced me that we had indeed made the right decision.
It obviously turned out to be a correct decision for OUR children - who were not deaf at birth, but rather mild to moderately hearing-impaired at the time of their diagnoses. We later learned of the progressive nature of their hearing loss, and then much later of the syndromic effect of Usher. I believe that some children need the services of a school for the deaf, need to learn to sign and use multi-modal means to communicate - but not just with the deaf world. I believe that all deaf and hearing-impaired persons must learn to exist in society, be fulfilled by their educations, careers, family life, and social interactions. My children today thank us and would tell you that the decision we made so many years ago has worked for them.
That is not to say that our decision is the right one for everyone. It is not my intention to fuel the fire here. I would be intensely opposed to the abolishment of schools for the deaf. Mainstream education is not for all handicapped individuals; there is much to be gained from deaf education. But I do believe that such schools, where ASL is taught exclusively - to the exception of oral communication training - do little to bring deaf individuals into the society at large.
Do I wish my children had learned to sign in addition to their oral skills? Now I do! Because now I know that they might need it as they struggle more and more with their vision AND hearing. Roberta studied it in college (actually met her former professor at the Usher Syndrome Family Conference earlier this month!), but she has never used it either personally or professionally. As a former foreign language teacher, I know that disuse leads to no use! Can they learn it now? Of course, if motivated to do so. We shall see.....!