Imagine yourself living in a foreign country, miles away from home. A country where you neither speak nor understand their language. Therefore, each time you try to communicate you get lost. This is exactly what the deaf experience being around hearing people who do not sign. Deaf people should be given their equal rights as hearing people because it is not fair for them to live in a world where they are not granted full access to public services, education and employment just because they live with a disability. However, the twenty-first century reveals the discrimination of people with disabilities. Edward Berkowitz, the George Washington University historian, said that there is no disability policy in the US, “It maintains a set of disparate programs, many of them emanating from policies designed for other groups, that work at cross-purposes” (Switzer, 2003, p. 3).
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Despite the creation of a “presidential commission on the employment of the disabled,” American policy “toward persons with disabilities (PWDs) remains fragmented” (Switzer, 2003, p. 4). A lot of money were spent on social programs including the ones concerning disabled people, including deaf ones. However, such measures have done not much to improve their lives. The activist Justin W. Dart, Jr. said that society still assumes that “people with disabilities are less than fully human and therefore are not entitled to the respect, the opportunities, and the services and support systems” (Switzer, 2003, p. 4).
There are no particular laws, which imply only people with hearing disabilities. However, there are several laws that concern disability related to deafness. The key laws related to employment, accommodation and education of persons with hearing disability are the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), the Television Decoder Circuitry Act and the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504 and Section 508). Still, hearing impaired people often becomes involved in court cases, for example those considering employment and imprisonment.
The History of Deaf rights began with Americans With Disabilities Act. The Ada story itself began long before 1990. Disabled people and the deaf ones in particular were fighting against the injustice and exclusion for a long time, but they felt the result of their struggle only with the introduction the first ADA in Congress in 1988. Eventually, the signing ceremony took place at the White House. On July 26, 1990, the Americans With Disabilities Act was approved by the government (Stalcup, 1997). The ADA owes its birthright to the Disabled in Action (DIA), the disability rights group. The first significant change in disability policy happened in 1973 with the admittance of Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act. According to it, the discrimination on the disability basis was prohibited. Still, deaf people often denied getting a job.
Despite the deaf people abilities are limited, they however have a chance to obtain a certain education. According to Johnson (2013), “The Effective initial preparation and ongoing support of teachers of students who are deaf and hard of hearing has always been a difficult and controversial task” (p. 439). Gallaudet University is a special university for hearing impaired students. It was the first school that was providing specialized education and “supplementary aids to assist with academic goals” (Winzer & Mazurek, 1940, p.187). According to Winzer & Mazurek (1940), the university also grants related services, including “any required modifications in curriculum content, instructional techniques, process and product development, evaluation strategies,” etc. (p. 152). It is a leader and the world’s expert on American Sign Language. It was named after Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, an American pioneer in the education of the students with hearing disabilities.
However, there were people who considered deaf as a threat to a race purity. Alexander Graham Bell’s interests were deaf education and psychology of speech. He was teaching deaf the Visible Speech. His father, Melville Bell, who in 1872 opened a school in Boston to prepare specialized teachers, originally invented this kind of alphabet (Mathur & Napoli, 2011). In 1884, Alexander Bell published a paper Upon the Formation of a Deaf Variety of the Human Race. He warned nation about the treat of creation of a ‘deaf race’. To prevent them from socializing and marrying between each other, he proposed to remove the sign language. Eventually, the National Association of the Deaf rose against such extremism and succeeded. However, they had to rise $5,000 for eighteen films to protect their beloved language.
During the 1960s and early 1970s, disabled people were trying to advocate their rights through the special local groups. They wanted equality and justice for themselves and for their disabled children. However, “the majority of disabled students were placed in “special” education programs rather than being included in the regular curriculum” (Switzer, 2003, p. 62). Despite the disabled children have no opportunity to study in ordinary schools; they can successfully graduate specialized Gallaudet University. It has its own employment opportunities. In addition, in January 1999 an initiative was announced. The program included “full funding of the Work Incentives Improvement Act” referred to people with disabilities (Switzer, 2003, p. 179). The Ticket to Work program offers “vocational services and employment to disabled people” who receive “cash disability payments under Social Security” (Switzer, 2003, p. 179). However, except special programs, it is hard for hearing impaired people to find an appropriate job.
The accessibility for deaf people has improved relatively. Many organizations nowadays recognize them and provide performances and tours using sign language. However, there are not many qualified sign interpreters. There are also such accessories as electronic note-takers, theatre captioning, which is similar to subtitling, a textphones or Minicoms, which allow deaf people to communicate with each other or with users of standard telephones. Despite the fact that deaf should have ability to communicate, it is true that they gather in deaf groups and create deaf communities. However, these fact should not frighten the others. With modern accessories deaf people have an opportunity to communicate with normal people. They do not have to separate from the other so there is no any threat of creating a ‘deaf race’.
The ADA and similar laws made possible for hearing impaired people to find a job and a place in society. However, their life is still full of difficulties and barriers. The Gallaudet University makes a significant contribution to their assimilation and simplify the occupation search. Still, government need to consider development and expansion of social programs for deaf people. For a long time, there was a discrimination of disability people in the US. They could not find a job and there was no proper policy that could guarantee them equal rights and treatment. It should change. The sign language should be widespread and accessible and deaf should be treated well, they should have equal rights.
Johnson, H. A. (2013). Initial and Ongoing Teacher Preparation and Support: Current Problems and Possible Solutions. American Annals of the Deaf, 157(5), 439-449.
Mathur, G., & Napoli, D. J. (2011). Deaf around the world: the impact of language. New York, United States: Oxford University Press.
Stalcup, B. (1997). The disabled. Michigan, United States: Greenhaven Press.
Switzer, J. V. (2003). Disabled rights: American disability policy and the fight for equality. Washington, United States: Georgetown University Press.
Winzer, M. A., & Mazurek, K. (1940). Special education in the twenty-first century. Washington, United States: Gallaudet University Press.