IM this article to a friend!

May 11, 2007

Protesters demand Ontario support American Sign Language in schools for deaf

From: CBC News - Canada - May 11, 2007

Canadian Press: KEITH LESLIE

TORONTO (CP) - Dozens of deaf protesters rallied outside the Ontario legislature Friday to demand the use of American Sign Language and its francophone counterpart, Langue des signes Quebecoise, in schools for the deaf.

The Ontario Association of the Deaf said it won the right to have ASL and LSQ used in classrooms back in 1989, but the province still hasn't enacted the necessary regulations.

The protesters complained there are no minimum standards for teachers or interpreters for deaf students, and no curriculum using sign language to parallel the regular curriculum.

"At this point there are absolutely no minimum proficiency levels for teachers, (or) for interpreters that are working within mainstream classrooms," said OAD president Wayne Nicholson.

"So children are in a system that is not accommodating them. We need to have ASL and LSQ curriculum."

The protesters said deaf children should have exactly the same access to education as hearing children have, and complained they have been fighting for nearly two decades to get the Ministry of Education to impose standards for teachers and interpreters.

Gary Malkowski, a former member of the legislature whose daughter is hard of hearing, accused the Liberal government of trying to eliminate the use of ASL.

"I'll be very honest that this government did and continues to practice basically language cleansing. That's what we're calling it: ASL genocide," said Malkowski.

"There's no other word for it, they're trying to downsize the use of ASL, wipe it out perhaps completely. They don't want to set up regulations and enforcement that will make the schools boards set up minimum qualifications for the teachers."

The government is not trying to wipe out ASL and is working with the Ontario College of Teachers on finding ways to set new minimum standards for instructors, said a spokeswoman for Education Minister Kathleen Wynne.

"There are way fewer kids who need ASL than there were previously," said Michelle Despault.

"The problem here is really capacity in the system. There's not a lot of people who want to teach ASL, so it's about building the capacity and training people."

Laureen Baskerville has three hearing children in addition her deaf son Braden, 4, and said she's very frustrated that he isn't able to have the same quality of life as her other kids.

"It's had a tremendous impact on me as a Mom," said Baskerville.

"I want to be a good mother, and I know I've been a good mother to my older (hearing) children and now Braden comes along ... society is not letting me be the good Mom for him that I was for my hearing children."

Parents of deaf children also complained there are no day care or preschool programs for their kids in Ontario.

"The province's oppressive deaf education system discriminates against deaf children, teachers and administrators and must be changed," said Chris Kenopic of ALS Services for Deaf Children in Ontario.

"We are concerned that deaf children with cochlear implants are not allowed to learn ASL or have exposure to an ASL environment. Deaf children are suffering linguistically and academically."

Malkowski said the government is putting the mental health of deaf children at risk by not providing proper ASL-learning environments.

"We're seeing an increase in mental health problems among these children," he said.

"It's tragic. We could prevent thousands of deaf children from suffering from mental health issues if we had changes within the education system."

The protesters marched through downtown Toronto after leaving the legislature Friday, ending at Mayfest, a deaf festival celebration at the city's St. Lawrence Market.

© The Canadian Press, 2007