The most recent article about deaf kids in schools re-awakened the frustration that I’m sure many of us share when thinking about deaf education. It was very interesting to read about the difference between “coping “and doing the best that you can. Without getting too technical, this was the subject of an appeal in a deaf education case Hurst v Education Queensland. We initially lost this case in the Federal Court, because the judge found that the deaf girl, Tiahna, was discriminated against because she was not provided with Auslan, but she could “comply” which is a legal word. He also used the word “cope”. We appealed this case to the Full Federal Court who found that the judge had made a mistake. To “cope” is not good enough, they found. Thank heavens.
Imagine a man with cerebral palsy who uses crutches to walk, and to get into a building must have a ramp. If there were only steps, I guess what he could do is throw himself on the ground, drag himself up the steps, get up again at the top and enter. So maybe he could “cope”, but does he have the same access as an able-bodied person who can simply walk up the steps? No.
Deaf education continues to be a shambles. Each school can decide what sign language should be used (as if there was anything other than Auslan). The Department of Education has no policy about this. A client of mine recently wanting to move to Victoria from another state rang a number of schools with deaf units. She was told by most of them that her daughter would not get a full-time interpreter, because there was not enough money. Many “interpreters” in schools are not qualified. Teachers of the Deaf do not have to be fluent in Auslan.
The million-dollar question – what is the deaf community doing about these things???