Although the world is so modern, lack of access to quality education is still prevalent. It’s almost disheartening to see how developed this species is, yet, you still see communities suffering because of the educational barriers. The Deaf community has always faced adversities, especially with education. Now, let’s look at the state of deaf education in Canada.

Two Sign Languages in Canada

Photo by DEZALB (pixabay)

Canada has an interesting split with sign language since it was formally a French colony. There are two official sign languages: English and Quebec Sign Language

The first is American Sign Language (ASL). It is mainly used in English-speaking communities in Canada, like Ontario, Newfoundland, and Vancouver. American Sign Language is the first language of Deaf people in Canada. There are slight variations in vocabulary due to regional evolvement.

The second is Langue Des Signes Quebecoise. (LSQ). This type of sign language is present in the French-speaking communities of Quebec, but Deaf people in Montreal also use it in addition to English. Quebec Sign Language began in 1850 to help Deaf children communicate. It is closely related to French Sign Language but has developed its regional dialect and vocabulary. As with other sign languages, Quebec’s sign language experienced some decline because of societal pressures and forced oralism. However, in the present day, it is widely used in Eastern Canada. 

Extinct Indigenous Sign Language

There is also another one called Maritime Sign Language (MSL). It isn’t an official language because it’s an indigenous language. These languages are becoming extinct as time progresses because people don’t see much use for them. Maritime Sign Language was present in the Atlantic provinces like New Brunswick and Labrador. This sign language originates from British Sign Language by its descendants and through the mingling of other Deaf communities. The last reports of its use were reported in 2009 by 90 speakers, so the number has declined. 

Older generations have struggled to preserve Maritime Sign Language. The younger generation learns American Sign Language. MSL wasn’t passed down, which ultimately means a total loss of culture.

Attitude Towards the Deaf in Canada

The Deaf community is no stranger to prejudice. They are often treated with pity and made out to be helpless. Deaf people often experience “audism,” a form of discrimination because of the inability to hear. 

Audism in Action

It is a real issue for Deaf people in Canada. Some situations stem from actual bigotry and hearing people forcing assimilation with the majority of society. Other times, It’s ignorance or the lack of knowledge of the Deaf community. According to the Canadian Deaf Association, Deaf Canadians have little control over basic things in a society of hearing people. For example, CRTC, a radio and television broadcasting station in Canada, decides whether programming will have closed captions for Deaf people. That is something normal that most entertainment networks should provide. 

Assimilation of Lip Reading

Another trend that seems to be going on is forced language assimilation. Deaf Canadians still experience this in the present day. There is this forced belief that they must be able to use English or French to contribute to society as hearing people do. 

Education for the Deaf 

Every person has the right to an education, including Deaf children. But it seems that Deaf communities always experience the same old story. In Canada, Deaf schools were not a thing until the mid-1800s. Many Deaf children who could afford education abroad went to Deaf schools in the United States or Europe. 

The First Deaf Institutions in Canada

Finally, in 1850, the first Deaf school opened in Quebec, called The Catholic Institution for boys and another for girls. And then, an Englishman opened the Protestant Institution for Deaf Mutes. This school is still open today and known as the Mackay Centre for Deaf Children. Schools opened in places like Toronto, Manitoba, and other cities but only lasted a decade before closing. 

There are still well-known institutions in Canada. Among the most popular higher education facilities is George Brown College, which has courses in American Sign Language. Today, the college is the only university in Canada that offers a program specifically for Deaf people. 

Modern Day Initiatives

One of the problems that Deaf people face is forced assimilation into the world of spoken language. It is the reason the early Deaf schools in Canada closed their doors. However, some ignorance towards the Deaf community is subsiding in Canada. But a stigma can’t change overnight.

On the flip side, the Canadian Associate of the Deaf states that the Canadian government and some school boards are not doing enough to facilitate a learning environment for Deaf children. The school system believes that it is more beneficial to integrate Deaf kids into mainstream schooling. Lipreading and only being around spoken language creates issues for Deaf children. 

Deaf Students in Mainstream Schools

Learning sign language is just as much a process as any spoken language. Deaf children need a lot of exposure to learning it. The other issue that surfaces are the communication barrier between student and teacher. If Deaf student doesn’t understand the lesson, they will fall behind their hearing peers. 

There is not always a translator at public schools for Deaf students. Again, this causes communication issues and misunderstandings. From the standpoint of the teacher aid for Deaf students, they do many things like a translator, tutor, teachers aid, and more. That leads to low morale from employees because they are overworked, underpaid, and can’t perform their job to the best of their ability. In return, this affects the student’s experience.

The Affordability of Special Programs

So, the thing is, in Canada, every school district in all provinces is required to have an IEP program for students with disabilities. Some Deaf kids get enrolled in these programs if they attend public school. The problem is that there might be a lack of funding in that province to keep the program running efficiently.

Therefore, parents of Deaf children might face financial constraints. Some families cannot afford an outside school program for their children. Fortunately, insurance programs and services in Canada can make a separate program affordable for parents. 

Lack of Cultural Understanding

Hearing students have lessons on the history and culture of the country they live. They also learn about the origins of their language. This is something that lacks for Deaf students because they are being pushed through this school system of spoken language if they are not attending a deaf school. It creates an unfair disconnect in their community because they don’t quite understand how deaf culture came to be. 

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