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Equal Education Needed for Deaf

Posted November 13, 2011

A lack of public understanding is causing a lack of education among deaf people, a provincial authority says.

“All children need an education … an equal education,” Dean Walker, executive director of the Ontario Association of the Deaf

(OAD), said Saturday at Belleville’s Sir James Whitney School.

Members of the OAD and its affiliated Belleville association celebrated their 125th and 25th anniversaries respectively with

a joint conference at the school.

The OAD was founded in 1886 by Samuel Thomas Greene and William Nurse, both teachers at the school.

Members have since worked to improve the lives of deaf people and Walker said that’s still needed today “so that deaf people

can lead comfortable lives.

“We want to see people in equitable roles,” he said, noting those roles include deaf doctors, lawyers, judges and more.

A lack of supports for the deaf is causing problems on several fronts, officials at the conference said.

Ken Roberts, president of the Belleville association, said the need for more provincially-funded interpreters “is the biggest

barrier” for deaf Belleville residents.

But barriers for some people begin at birth, said Walker.

He said children who can hear receive verbal input from birth. Deaf babies, though, may not receive any real input from

adults until late in their toddler years.

It means they’re starting life with underdeveloped communication skills, he said, and that can persist throughout their


They also miss much of their childhood while taking part in speech pathology sessions, etc., he said.

Dwindling numbers at Sir James Whitney School is the OAD’s prime concern locally, Walker said.

“Often parents don’t ant to be separated from their children, and as this is a residential school, that is an issue.”

Not all Ontario families have convenient access to deaf schools, he explained, so deaf children go to mainstream schools.

That saves the province money, but it can lead to underdeveloped English skills. In some cases, said Walker, communication

problems cause students to register in deaf schools in Grades 9 or 10 — only to discover that their sign language skills

aren’t up to par, either.

“We can’t blame parents,” said Walker. “It’s simply a lack of education about deafness, about deaf people.”

He said Ministry of Education statistics show 350 students are enrolled in provincial schools for the deaf in Belleville,

Milton, London and Ottawa. A further 4,000 deaf or hard-of-hearing students attend other schools.

That does not, however, reflect the size of Ontario’s deaf population, which in 1992 was pegged at 80,000 people, said Gary

Malkowski, a special advisor for the Canadian Hearing Society.

“Generally one per cent (of a given population) are deaf,” he said.

Malkowski said the percentage of people who have hearing loss — not necessarily deafness — is roughly equal to their age.

About half of those in their 50s, for example, have hearing loss; that jumps to 80 per cent of those age 80 and older.

“The assumption from hearing people is often that deaf people can lip-read — and if they can lip-read it means they’re

intelligent and have good English skills — but that’s not necessarily true,” Walker said.

“Their intelligence is not limited to their literacy.”

He said those who can hear should “never assume” that someone who’s deaf can read lips.

Roberts of the Belleville association said the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, enacted in 2005, “is a


“It looks at both public and private sectors and the barriers that are in place — and having those removed by 2025,” said

Roberts. An information session about the act was part of Saturday’s proceedings.

He also noted Belleville city council has an accessibility advisory committee.

“I find it’s a very deaf-friendly city,” he said. “There are lots of friendly deaf people in it!”

“We are working with the OAD in terms of improving education,” he added.

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