As a professional teaching in the field of deaf education I don’t particularly agree with some of the comments made by Julie Judd – President of CODA Australia in response to the awarding of Dimity Dorman’s Queenslander of the Year Award. At the risk of being branded a traitor I would like to offer the following views:
1. Julie Judd claims that only one third of deaf children are suitable for an implant. Through my experiences as an educator working with many children with cochlear implants, being an implantee and having a daughter who has a cochlear implant that is not as successful as the majority of children with implants, the one third figure is grossly untrue. Deaf children with normally shaped cochlea and perfectly formed auditory nerve branches are perfectly suitable for a cochlear implant and provided they are implanted prior to the age of two do achieve appropriate linguistic outcomes as any average hearing child due to the plasticity of the brain during the language acquisition process during the infant and toddler years.
2. While I agree with Julie Judd in saying that historically, the deaf community has endured oppression and faced adversities, her comment about ‘normalising a deaf child to the detriment of their cognitive development is tantamount to criminal activity’ is taking things to an extreme to the point of farce. Yes in the past when the technology was not around, natural sign language was a very valuable tool in the cognitive development of any deaf child. Now that the technology is available to provide great listening and linguistic outcomes during the toddler years, achievable cognitive development via listening and speech is realistically possible.
3. Recently the Queensland Government has contributed 30 million dollars over a period of 5 years to retrain teachers of the deaf to add Auslan as a communication skill. For the Queensland Government to also award the Hear and Say Centre 4 million dollars to provide achievable listening outcomes for deaf children (whom the majority have cochlear implants and are under the age of entry to school age) is a fantastic opportunity for children who have the potential and chance to enjoy the same privileges as their hearing peers. We are not normalising children as Julie Judd claims, but more of giving deaf children the chance to enjoy the same privileges as their hearing counterparts. The point here is about providing options for children to choose which communication medium they would like to pursue in their language and linguistic opportunities be it signing or speech and audition.
However in saying the abovementioned points, I would like to add that I find that teaching institutions such as teacher training universities and colleges fail to address the outcomes provided by the Australian Association of Teachers of the Deaf (AATD) mainly in the areas of communication in natural sign languages. I am proud to say I have acquired the skills of all communication mediums (Auslan, Total Communication and Auditory Verbal [A/V]) where the latter was quite challenging to acquire in terms of my handicap. Even though, it was challenging, it is rewarding to be able to help children to achieve auditory development in leaps and bounds. I find it extremely disturbing that while I put in the hard yards to maintain professional development in the A/V field, most of my colleagues do not share the same sort of commitment when raising the issue of professional development in the field of signing communication. I am my daughter’s Itinerant Support Teacher Hearing (the politically correct term for the Visiting Teacher of the Deaf) simply because of the fact that there is no teacher of the Deaf in my region who is fluent in Auslan. I rather be my daughter’s dad than to be her teacher.
I am a proud and culturally enriched deaf individual who love interacting with deaf people through natural sign language, but at the same time, I allow my deaf students the opportunity to communicate in whatever communication medium they feel comfortable in. Don’t get me wrong, I have a deaf daughter who is a very fluent natural signer and I have many fears for her future. Will the deaf community still be around when she reaches adulthood? Will she have as many deaf friends in her adulthood as we did when we left school? Will she be required to live in the expensive metropolitan areas in order to maintain contact and interaction with other culturally deaf people? Believe me, these questions serve to encourage and fire me to get on the propaganda wagon of the deaf community, but to deprive the 95% of deaf children the chance to enjoy the same privileges of their hearing peers would be as Julie Judd says… “a criminal activity”.
Michael J Clarkson B.Ed, M.Spec.Ed
Teacher of the Deaf