Policy – Education rights for Deaf children



According to the World Federation of the Deaf, many Deaf education programs do not respect the linguistic human rights of Deaf children due in large part to language deprivation resulting from the exclusion of sign language. Research indicates that Deaf children learn best through a visual modality, and early language exposure and acquisition  impact a child’s ability to learn and develop socially, emotionally, and cognitively.  Without  a linguistic foundation, developmental opportunities to reach optimum potential are greatly reduced.

In order to ensure that Deaf children do not needlessly suffer the impacts of language deprivation, WFD seeks to influence law and works toward policy changes world-wide.

The World Federation of the Deaf calls upon governments world wide to:

  • To sign and ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and modify their education legislation to follow this Convention.
  • Put into practice policies or guidelines regarding early identification of and intervention for Deaf children that maximise their visual capabilities and sign language.
  • Legalize sign language and quality education for Deaf people of all ages.
  • Provide the resources necessary for the development of effective programmes for teaching sign language and Deaf Studies (history, culture, etc.) to involved people, such as:
    • Families of Deaf children
    • Teachers of Deaf children, administrators and other professionals
    • Professionals, including doctors and therapists, for preschool Deaf children
    • Interested parties such as but not limited to community service providers, interpreters, and other students
  • Provide support for programmes for Deaf people to receive training and become employed as teachers, educational professionals and members of educational teams.
  • Establish high standards for quality education programmes and outcomes, from early childhood to professional education, for all Deaf people equal to that for all people; implement assessment and monitoring programmes to ensure that each learner makes appropriate progress.
  • Ensure that Deaf learners who may be placed in mainstream educational settings have access to the services of educated, trained and qualified sign language interpreters, other needed support services, Deaf peers and role models, and full participation in both the educative and co-curricular processes.

World Federation of the Deaf. (n.d.).Policy – Education rights for Deaf children. Retrieved March 12, 2014, from http://wfdeaf.org/databank/policies/education-rights-for-deaf-children


News Brief CD 469


Heather Cooke



Language acquisition for deaf children: Reducing the harms of zero tolerance to the use of alternative approaches

   Written by a group of academic professionals from the Deaf community and posted to the Harm Reduction Journal on April 2, 2012, Language acquisition for deaf children: Reducing the harms of zero tolerance to the use of alternative approaches reviews the medical harm that is imposed upon children who receive cochlear implants and are not provided with an opportunity to learn sign language. The authors also suggest that the implantation itself is not necessary, that the gain in hearing abilities are not more than the hearing which is gained through the use of hearing aids, and implantation results in irreversible damage to the cochlea ( Humphries, Kushalnagar, Mathur, Napoli, Padden, Rathmann and Smith 2012).

   Linguistic abilities are strongest when children are young, and providing opportunity to acquire language is a basic human right.  The authors suggest that most of the children who receive a cochlear implant, “experience harm not only because they do not experience success with the cochlear implant but because they are also not provided with exposure to sign language” ( Humphries et al., 2012). Not doing so deprives Deaf children typical brain development which impacts their ability to function and to live optimally.

 The abilities to produce intelligible speech and to utilize hearing as provided by the cochlear implant are frequently insufficient.  There is no harm in providing multiple modalities for language reception and expression; whereas medical harm can occur from undergoing an invasive medical procedure with decidedly less than moderately successful results.  Humphries and his colleagues conclude with the recommendation that Deaf children be bimodal, using sign language and written and/or spoken language.  Speech skills are encouraged, as are the use of hearing aids (2012).

 I feel that it is exceedingly important for those providing  direct services to families with Deaf infants to know more about the options available to families, and to understand the importance of incorporating sign language into the earliest interventions.  Doctors, audiologists, D/HH teachers, and other professionals should be educated and aware of all of the options and potential outcomes available and be able to provide concise and unbiased information. The medical community  frequently has first contact with  families when they learn that their child is Deaf, and they need to know more about the culture of the Deaf community and the linguistic, cognitive, and cultural importance of including sign language in any Deaf child’s early intervention plan.


Humphries, T., Kushalnagar, P., Mathur, G., Napoli, D. J., Padden, C., Rathmann, C., et al. (2012). Language acquisition for deaf children: Reducing the harms of zero tolerance to the use of alternative approaches . Harm Reduction Journal, 9(16), 1-9.

Passions and Anxieties


I am passionate about providing opportunities for all children to be successful, and after working with Deaf children for many years, I am convinced that all Deaf children should be given the opportunity to learn American Sign Language. While many options exist for facilitating speech and encouraging assimilation into the dominant culture, I believe that ASL should always be a part of Deaf children’s lives. As an educator working with families who have children who are Deaf, I hope to encourage ASL and support families in their choices.