IS IT FAIR?
New technology is available to partially restore hearing to children once profoundly deaf. Optimally, the implants are done by age two. Rosa Hernandez is now five and the only school to help her adjust is three hours away. A language barrier seems the largest obstacle but the sacrifice may be too large.
Helen Mayer had been a teacher at Piedmont, a school for hearing impaired children, for the past three years. It was an oral school that emphasized speech and auditory training rather than sign language. In operation for 10 years, it was the only oral school in the state. The other schools in the state for hearing impaired children were total communication schools (emphasizing speech and sign language) or schools that taught only signing.
Many of the children at Piedmont had cochlear implants. This was a relatively new technology using an implant that stimulates the sensors within the ear, resulting in the child being able to hear sounds. For children who did not benefit from hearing aids, this was a wonderful advance in technology. Many of the doctors in the state who were performing cochlear implants referred the families to Piedmont. The doctors felt so strongly about proper educational follow up that they would not perform the implant unless the family agreed to enroll the child in the oral school. After children have cochlear implants, they require an extensive amount of auditory training and work on speech production, as well as frequent computer adjustments to the electrodes in the implant. Piedmont was the only school in the state that offered these services.
Helen had seen many children make remarkable progress. She was not only happy to be a part of the process, but very satisfied with her job at Piedmont. One morning when she arrived at school, Mr. Stipes, the school principal, approached her.
"Helen, we have a new referral. There is a meeting this afternoon with the family. I would like you to be there. If the family decides to enroll her, she will be in your classroom." Helen was accustomed to meeting prospective parents and felt comfortable discussing the school's policies and practices with them. Most of the parents were so grateful for the opportunity to get their children into a school with such a distinguished reputation that they were usually more than willing to comply with the conditions of admission. She had no way of knowing at this moment how this meeting would bring into question the ethical consequences of Piedmonts policies and practices regarding diversity and children with cochlear implants and their families.
That afternoon when Helen entered the schools conference room, she saw Mr. and Mrs. Hernandez and their two daughters seated around the large conference table. Rosa, age five, was severely hearing impaired. Lily, age three, was not hearing impaired. Mr. and Mrs. Hernandez could not speak English and requested that an interpreter be present at the meeting. Mr. Stipes, the principal, and Ms. Elerby, the schools curriculum specialist, were also present.
Mr. and Mrs. Hernandez had taken Rosa to see Dr. Fuentes, the only doctor in their area who performed the implant. When he discussed the procedure with Mr. and Mrs. Hernandez, he informed them that he would not perform the implants unless they agreed to enroll Rosa in Piedmont school. He also told them that the school was three hours away so they would have to move closer to the school. Mr. and Mrs. Hernandez were reluctant but agreed to make the sacrifice for Rosa. Mr. Hernandez was an independent truck driver and felt that he would be able to find work in the area because it was a large community.
After the initial greeting, Mr. Stipes began the meeting. He and Ms. Elerby slowly explained the philosophy of the school as the interpreter translated for the Hernandez family. Ms. Elerby went on to explain the format of the program and Helen was asked to describe the typical activities within her classroom. Mr. and Mrs. Hernandez listened politely throughout the presentation and quietly shook their heads when Mr. Stipes asked if they had any questions. Ms. Elerby continued.
"We do have some concerns about Rosa. She is five years old. Most children are implanted when they are two years old. Rosa has a significant speech and language delay to overcome. This can be done only if the family and the school work together. You will have to speak only English at home. This is the only way Rosa has a chance of overcoming the delay."
Mr. Stipes added, "I know this will be difficult, but we can refer you to the local community center where they offer evening classes in English."
Mr. Hernandez spoke up as the interpreter translated, "Dr. Fuentes said that if we dont enroll Rosa in this school, he wont do the implant. But we dont want to have to speak English in our home. It is our home!"
"We understand how you feel, Mr. Hernandez. However, Rosa will need to hear a lot of language spoken around her so that she can begin to produce speech. If the language that she hears at home is different than what she hears at school, she wont be able to progress," stated Ms. Elerby.
"Well, maybe we can find another doctor that wont insist on Rosa coming to this school!"
With that, Mr. Hernandez stood up and picked Rosa up. Mrs. Hernandez picked up Lily, and together they walked out the door.
"Well, I guess that is that," Ms. Elerby said after the Hernandez family left.
"Do you think they will change their minds and come back?" asked Helen.
"I dont know. Its got to be rough on them, moving to a new community and learning to speak another language, but it is the only way," replied Mr. Stipes.
Mr. Stipes and Ms. Elerby gathered their papers and walked toward the door. Helen thought, "Is it right to expect a family to move to a new community and learn another language? But if the Hernandez family finds another doctor to do the implant who does not insist on educational follow up, Rosa will probably never be able to produce speech effectively. She also wont receive the auditory training that will make the most of the implant."
Helen shook her head as she stood up and followed Mr. Stipes and Ms. Elerby out the door.
CEC Competency/Knowledge Areas Addressed in the Case
Characteristics and effects of the cultural and environmental milieu of the child and the family (e.g., cultural diversity, socioeconomic level, abuse/neglect, substance abuse, etc.).
Effects an exceptional condition may have on an individual's life.
Differential characteristics of children and youth with exceptionalities.
Educational implications of characteristics of various exceptionalities.
Assurances and due process rights related to assessment, eligibility, and placement for students who are culturally and/or linguistically diverse.
Influence of diversity on assessment, eligibility, programming, and placement of exceptional learners.
Importance and benefits of communication and collaboration which promotes interaction with students, parents, and school and community personnel.
Ways in which technology can assist with planning and managing the teaching and learning environment.
For more information about Cochlear Implants
For more information about Cochlear Implants
For more information about Oral Communication
To the Index of Cases
To the CEC Competency Index
Back to the topic index