In the year 2000, the European Federation of Parents of Hearing Impaired Children (FEPEDA) carried out research to investigate the needs of families of children with hearing disabilities across Europe.
This research showed that education is the main common concern for families all across Europe. In this context, the word “education” is understood as instruction or training formally given at pre-school, school and/or further educational/academic stages of life.
Early diagnosis and early intervention (from 0 to 3 years) are essential for children with hearing disability, as the earliest educational intervention is required for children with deafness in order to establish a language base which will enable them to learn age-appropriately.
FEPEDA is aware of the diversity existing among people with hearing disability: people with hearing disability whose communication is in sign language or in oral language, or more or less both.
Children with hearing disability have the right to equal access to education as any other child, regardless of the degree of hearing loss or the method of their communication abiding by the principles of non-discrimination, equal opportunities and universal access. This means both quantity and quality of education at all stages of education.
As stated in the FEPEDA Charter of Parents’ Rights, parents have the right to choose the first language, the education model and the schooling system (including language of learning/teaching) for their children with hearing disability.
According to the Charter, parents must receive adequate, sufficient and independent information, in a language they understand, for fulfilling their responsibilities on the education of their children, in order to make their own informed choices and decisions and in order to participate in the whole process of education.
Parents need training which empowers them to become full partners in their child’s education. In particular, they need support:
- to understand their rights and responsibilities
- to improve their communication skills and
- to increase their deaf awareness.
Children with a hearing disability should be encouraged to learn about the communication diversity of people with a hearing disability. This will promote knowledge and mutual understanding.
In the family sector, children with hearing disability and their parents should be encouraged to meet other children, young people and adults with hearing disability, as well as other parents.
It is important that the child is involved in decisions about his/her education as early as possible. Older children should be strongly encouraged to take part in decision making process together with his/her parents.
Children with hearing disability must be offered enhanced provision of all appropriate, sufficient resources (for example, personal, technical, audiological, educational, social,…) to reach their full potential and to reach the same objectives and goals of the curriculum as any other pupil. Resources must be tailored to the individual needs of each child.
Each child with a hearing disability should have an individual education plan, ensuring that all areas of the curriculum are available. This plan must be regularly re-evaluated.
All professionals dealing with children with a hearing disability must have specialised qualification and continuous training.
All who work with children with a hearing disability, other pupils and parents should have deaf awareness.
Access to communication, reading/writing skills and appropriate learning skills must be guaranteed, whether the child is communicating in oral language and/or in sign language, whether the child is educated in mainstreaming or school for the deaf.
Mainstream schools should have policies or practices to ensure that children with a hearing disability are not isolated in any respect.
Countries represented in FEPEDA have very different educational models and systems, depending on their national legislations and their own history on education.
Without the intention of making deep analysis, or of setting up definitions of each system, we may summarise the main educational differences as follows:
- Language of teaching may be oral language and/or sign language. It will depend on the child circumstances and the option of his/her parents
- Kind of school. It may be a mainstream school where the child with hearing disability shares the classroom with non-disabled pupils and a school for the deaf where all the pupils in the classroom are children with hearing disability or, indeed, other types of schools.
Regardless of the choice of the language or the choice of the school, access to the normal curriculum must be guaranteed.
- A child with a hearing disability whose first language is oral language should have the opportunity to attend a school where oral language is the language of teaching. The children must have access to the most appropriate oral communication support measures for each child. In particular, speech and language therapist, support/resources teachers and specialised technical aids are essential. Their fellow pupils must be given information on deafness and methods of communication with a deaf person.
- A child with a hearing disability whose first language is sign language must have an opportunity to attend either a school where education is given in sign language or a mainstream school with a sign language interpreter. The choice must always be made by the parents.
When sign language is the language of teaching, the teachers must have a complete knowledge of sign language. The quality of teaching must be as high as in groups where education is given in oral language. Also special attention should be given to the need to have sufficient language necessary to ensure good reading and writing skills. If the child attends a mainstream school the child is entitled to a sign language interpreter.
The child must have access to all the information given in the classroom. Interpreters should be duly trained and qualified for the field of educational interpretation. Fellow pupils must be given information on deafness, sign language and methods of communication with a deaf person.
These are common minimum standards for children with a hearing disability, both oral and signing, either in mainstream schools or in schools for the deaf. Specific arrangements must be in place to facilitate the transfer to or from a school for the deaf to mainstream. This, of course, will only arise where the circumstances of the child make it recommendable and the parents are in agreement with the transition.