Educational Decision-making of Parents of Deaf Children in NSW: 1970 to the present day.

Year: 2017

Author: Payne, Aaron

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Deaf education in Australia has been the subject of limited research despite the growth in academic literature relating to education and minorities. The 1970s was a time of growing social awareness around deafness and coincided with (in the case of NSW), a range of education options for deaf children from preschools, non-government and Catholic schools as well Opportunity-Deaf (OD) classes in mainstream government schools. In addition to the specific education settings for deaf children, parents also had to consider the question of integration and 'mainstreaming' their child. This paper will report the findings of an oral history project involving parents of deaf children from the 1970s to the present day. The oral histories have explored how the relationships between family, community and schools have influenced parental decision-making in deaf education. These decisions are often made from an early stage in a deaf child's life and have long-lasting consequences. Decision-making and choices often need to be made much earlier in the deaf child's life compared to children lacking a disability.

Through the interviews, it was evident that there were three key phases to this decision-making process. The first was the diagnosis where parents first learnt of or had confirmation of their child's hearing loss. The next stage was to determine what early intervention strategies would be appropriate and this included deciding on whether speech, sign language or a combination of both would be the most beneficial means of communication for their child. These two phases ultimately led to making decisions about their child's schooling career. In many cases these choices were influenced or even limited by the decisions made in the early stages. Deaf education has historically been the setting of at-times contentious debate surrounding deaf identity and culture, speech versus sign language and the impact of technological intervention such as hearing aids and cochlear implants. How and to what extent these issues amongst others have influenced parents of deaf children and consequently deaf education in NSW is what this presentation seeks to explore.