Inclusive Education Policy should not be merely restricted to constructing ramps and access to physical infrastructure, but it should include teaching methodologies that address the communication needs of deaf students, says Dr. Madan M. Vasishta, an expert on deaf education, in conversation with Parvinder Singh.
1. Please tell us about your background and work, especially in the field of deaf education?
I was born in India and came to Gallaudet in 1967. I was the first student to earn three degrees from Gallaudet and also the first foreign-born person, and first deaf of Indian-origin, to get a Ph.D. degree from that university.
After serving as a teacher, principal, assistant superintendent and superintendent in schools for the deaf in Texas, Illinois and North Carolina, I retired as the superintendent of the New Mexico School for the Deaf. Currently, I am working on several projects, including Indian Sign Language, interpreting, and educational research projects in India. I have written four books and several articles on deaf education, linguistics, sign language and administration.
2. What is the single most important difference between the principles in U.S. and India when it comes to deaf education?
The difference is between choice that is offered and freedom that is allowed to deaf person in choosing the most comfortable and effective medium of education.
Every deaf child and their parents are given a choice between several teaching methods, like sign method, total communication and oral communication. In India a choice is not given and a selected option is imposed on the student. This stems from sheer lack of recognition of this particular disability, as it is not apparently visible.
3. Inclusive Education has received a major impetus in India. What are your views on this vis-à-vis need of deaf students?
As I said earlier, the invisibility of deafness as a disability places this group at a major disadvantage. When there is a talk about Inclusive Education, it gets limited to ramps, and access to the physical infrastructure. I do not know the exact content of the policy, but I feel that the sheer lack of professional training in sign language or even awareness of teaching methods for such students clearly indicates what the drift or focus of the policy would be. In my view, people who are sitting in ivory towers, and have no linkage with the day-to-day needs of deaf people, frame these policies. The ideal should be to achieve true inclusion, for instance basic sign language should be made a mandatory part of all teachers training programmes. How can one move towards Inclusive Education even without preparing ground for creating a professional human resource to implement it? What I mean is that inclusion should be planned by taking into account the needs of all. It cannot be for namesake.
4. What should the deaf people do to end the peril of invisibility that has led to their needs not being addressed?
I was invited here to attend the very first initiative by the newly founded National Association of the Deaf that has organised a national consultation on deaf education. I personally feel a strong coming together of deaf people, and associations representing them, is the need of the hour. At the same time it is important for the disability sector to become more representative while voicing demands of people with various disabilities.