In the United States, the vast majority of secondary students with disabilities are mainstreamed in inclusive high schools per the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). First passed in 1975, the IDEA is a powerful landmark civil rights law that guarantees access to a free, appropriate, public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE) appropriate to every child with a disability.
For most students with disabilities, the least restrictive environment (LRE) is alongside their non-disabled peers in a mainstream school setting. But for Deaf students for whom sign language is their first and primary language, the LRE may in fact be in a School for the Deaf.
Benefits of Schools for the Deaf
There is a School for the Deaf in nearly every state in the United States and many of those schools have day and residential programs.
Placement in a School for the Deaf not only provides Deaf exchange students with access to specialized services and support, but provides immersion in American Sign Language (ASL) and increased opportunities to develop social relationships with American high school students, teachers, and others in the school community.
We know that immersion in English helps hearing students master English; the same is true for Deaf students in an ASL immersion environment.
Deaf international students participate in youth exchange programs each year and those placed with U.S. Deaf families and/or in Schools for the Deaf tend to thrive both socially and academically, even if they have only a beginning level knowledge of ASL when they arrive in the United States.
Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DHH) Programs
With appropriate and timely accommodations, and support with ASL and English language learning, most Deaf exchange students can also be successful in a mainstream high school that has a Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DHH) program on site. Students in DHH programs receive specialized services from professionals, such as Teachers of the Deaf (TODs), educational audiologists, speech language pathologists, and ASL interpreters.
Like Schools for the Deaf, DHH programs provide Deaf students with access to assistive technology, Deaf and Hard of Hearing role models, and opportunities to socialize with peers using sign language.
In many cases, enrollment in a U.S. School for the Deaf or DHH program may require a referral from a mainstream school or school district. Advance planning and communication are key to gathering the documentation required to process a referral.