:: ottawasun.com – Advocates for deaf sound off at protest ::

Advocates for deaf sound off at protest

Students’ needs ignored, groups say

Fri, May 11, 2007
By AEDAN HELMER, SUN MEDIA

Advocates for the deaf are hoping their message will be heard loud and clear on Parliament Hill today.

Rallies planned in Ottawa, Halifax, Montreal, Toronto and Saskatoon are expected to draw thousands of supporters demanding improvements to the education system for deaf children.

According to organizers, 93% of Canadian deaf children are enrolled in oral education programs, but more than half will drop out by the time they reach high school.

Less than 2% of deaf people earn a university degree. In the last two years, the number of students enrolling in post-secondary institutions has been cut in half.

Canadian Association of the Deaf president Sheila Carlin released a statement saying, “over the past decade the situation has been backsliding, with horrifying results.

FUNDING CUTS

“We are seeing the impact of years of funding cuts, downsizing, elimination of support services, biased and short-sighted policy decisions, and the marginalization of deaf educators, administrators and advisors.”

The Ontario Association of the Deaf recently hosted a community forum in Nepean to discuss an eight-point policy overhaul recommendation to the province.

The OAD is calling on the government to implement a standardized American sign language and French sign language curriculum, as well as raising the level of sign language competency among Ontario teachers. Currently, the province hires teachers who are limited to “finger spelling,” which puts deaf children behind the curve, rally organizers say.

“Basically, the ministry of education is denying education to the deaf children in Ontario,” said OAD president Wayne Nicholson. “The eight-point policy is what needs to be implemented. The challenge in the system is that there seems to be a systematic belief that in order to have a good life, one must hear and speak.”

Policy reform is essential, said Nicholson, to stop the “academic, social and mental suffering” of deaf children in Ontario.

‘THEY CAN SUCCEED’

“The deaf are not deaf and dumb themselves but it is the system that is ‘dumbing’ the deaf children,” said Nicholson. “The deaf children deserve to believe that no matter what language they use, they can succeed just like anyone in society.”

Nicholson praised the Ontario College of Teachers for recently recommending that teachers who enter the field of deaf education have at least a basic proficiency in sign language, but he is now calling on the government to act on the recommendation.

Ottawa Deaf Centre president Denise DeShaw expects about 200 supporters to join today’s rally and march from City Hall to Parliament Hill at noon.

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