Deaf protesters want new standards in classrooms
TORONTO - 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 NDP 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.''
Education Minister Kathleen Wynne bristled at Malkowski's comments and said the government is not trying to wipe out ASL.
"I just have to say how far from the truth that is,'' Wynne said in an interview.
"Even for students who are deaf or hard of hearing who have a cochlear implant, I believe that it's a good thing for them to be able to sign as well. I believe in bilingualism and I believe ASL is a language.''
Wynne said the government would be implementing the regulations the deaf protesters were demanding very soon.
"We're working with George Brown College and the Canadian Hearing Society in the development of some standards for sign interpreters,'' she said.
"The regulations that would reinforce the position of boards to offer ASL and LSQ as language of instructions; those regulations are imminent.''
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.