By Krystal Rios, Client Service Specialist
Deaf and Hard of Hearing Service Center staff often provides advocacy services for the families with Deaf and Hard of Hearing children. This is just one of our many services, but an important one. We educate parents on their rights for their Deaf and Hard of Hearing children, including those with multiple disabilities. We find ourselves needing to inform families about DHHSC even though we have been a presence in the area for many years.
DHHSC staff are not always aware of the presence of local Deaf and Hard of Hearing children with special needs because they are placed in a conventional Special Education classroom rather than in a Deaf and Hard of Hearing class. At the same time, parents of Deaf children with other disabilities, who are in these classes, are not always aware of sign language as a visual option for communication. While DHHSC supports many communication methods as long as it is effective for the deaf child, we do encourage the use of ASL due to its proven accessibility. Because of this, we will educate parents about the benefits of ASL in early meetings.
There are many benefits of using ASL with Deaf and Hard of Hearing children with multiple disabilities, due to speech impairments. Once parents learn about ASL, they might want the school to use ASL with these children. In the meantime, we will ensure that parents learn about their educational rights under IDEA, because all parents deserve to understand their options for their child’s education. During our early meetings with parents, we can explain about DHHSC’s advocacy services.
When a child is in Special Education, the school will have IEP meetings that include the teachers, parents, and other involved professionals. Parents are not trained on their rights before these meetings, and may show up feeling like they have limited choices. They may go ahead with whatever the school plans, and just sign the papers. We believe, from experience, that parents deserve to be aware that they can change what kind of education their child receives.
Key questions that the service provider will ask is: What do the parents know about services available for Deaf/Hard of Hearing students with multiple disabilities? Have the parents researched educational options, including placing their child in a school that has more accessible education already established? Are they aware of the term FAPE, which means Free Appropriate Public Education, which is a key aspect of the IDEA law that ensures that these children get a free education that is fully accessible to them.
Becoming familiar with IDEA law and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is essential to parents with Deaf and hard of hearing children, regardless of whether their children have other disabilities.
Section 504, for example, has this notable paragraph: “An appropriate education may comprise education in regular classes, education in regular classes with the use of related aids and services, or special education and related services in separate classrooms for all or portions of the school day. Special education may include specially designed instruction in classrooms, at home, or in private or public institutions, and may be accompanied by related services such as speech therapy, occupational and physical therapy, psychological counseling, and medical diagnostic services necessary to the child’s education.”
As an example of how we can use information about a parents’ educational rights under these laws, let me share a brief anecdote. I recently served a family with a Deaf middle-schooler whose parents were not aware of their educational rights. When I had a meeting with the parents, i included information about these rights. The mother did not realize her son truly needed an ASL interpreter at school, since ASL is the only language that is currently fully accessible to him, and she wanted this addressed in the IEP meeting. With the strength of her new knowledge regarding her rights regarding her child’s education, the mother asked for an interpreter on behalf of her son during the IEP meeting, and the staff arranged for ASL to be provided as effective communication for her son.
In addition to the at-home services we provide, we also offer public ASL classes at a cost. For Deaf children, we offer home visits to teach ASL and observation at schools upon requests by parents and approval by schools. Observation at schools can be very beneficial for these students.
ASL is also beneficial to hearing children. As an example, I provided services to a student who is not verbal and uses ASL as his primary language, even though he is hearing. His mother was an ASL student of mine through the ASL class we offer. Before she took my classes last year, her son demonstrated a lot of problematic behavior, including tantrums thirty times a day, because there was a barrier in communication. The school was experiencing difficulty in dealing with these issues, not being able to communicate with him effectively. After the mother took my classes and learned about IDEA and ADA, she developed ASL skills and used it to communicate with her son. Over a year, his tantrums lessened and his overall behavior improved. He became a happier boy. The mother fought to get school to provide an ASL interpreter for the teacher to communicate with him. According to her, she and her husband shared information within the ADA regarding effective communication, which explained “multiple modality” for language. In this case, this included sign language and alternative communication assistance, such as a computer that produces speech for him. This was successful self-advocacy that came after our educating the mother on her rights.
Clearly, our work is never done. That’s why we will continue to educate parents on their rights, and work closely with them to achieve their educational goals for their children. With the teamwork between parents, DHHSC staff, and the schools, this is definitely doable.