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April 2017 | Volume 74 | Number 7
Differences, Not Disabilities
Christina Yuknis, Joseph Santini and Thangi Appanah
These strategies can help students thrive by recognizing and valuing the differences they bring to the classroom.
When a student who uses hearing aids or sign language shows up in your classroom, what is your first reaction? Is it anxiety because you don't know how to communicate with the new student? Is it panic over managing interactions between the deaf or hard-of-hearing student (hereafter, deaf) and your other students? Is it uneasiness at having an adult interpreter in the classroom? Is it anger at the addition of yet another student with special needs to your class load? In our work in schools, we've seen all of these responses. In this article, we want to show you some strategies that can turn such negative feelings into positive anticipation.
Two of us (Christina and Thangi) are faculty members and one (Joseph) is a PhD student at Gallaudet University, the world's only university for deaf individuals. From its earliest days, the university has navigated the concepts of disability and difference, dealing with some of the same questions that teachers in K–12 schools may face today. Should deaf students receive an oral education so that they can be "normalized" into hearing society—a society that views people who cannot speak or hear as less-than? Or should American Sign Language (ASL) be offered so that deaf students can learn through a language that's natural and accessible, and allows them to grow into their own identities? Can teaching be restructured so that deaf and hearing students learn as equal partners?
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