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Hearing People Should Sign For Themselves

VIDEO: Deaf News: A psychologist is calling for signing to be available as a ‘foreign language’ option for hearing children.

LONDON -- Dr Jim Cromwell said that learning British Sign Language (BSL) would benefit all students’ education and make life easier for Deaf people, bringing ‘extraordinary’ benefits for those without hearing.

In an ‘ideal world’ BSL would form part of the National Curriculum and be a compulsory element in mainstream schools, he added.

Bilingualism gives a huge advantage in terms of thinking skills,” said Dr Cromwell, a clinical psychologist at Exeter Deaf Academy.

Having a wider population of people with BSL would make life easier those without hearing, he said. More than 900,000 people in the UK are severely or profoundly Deaf, according to the charity, Action on Hearing Loss.

Dr Cromwell also believes that those of the country’s 45,000 Deaf children who are taught in mainstream schools are not receiving the education they deserve.

“There is not the right support for them,” he said.

“They are being helped by teaching assistants with Level 2 BSL – that’s less than an O Level.

“Schools are getting away with that. There is the attitude of ‘they (Deaf children) are not doing well, but they are disabled, aren’t they?’

“Relying on education through spoken (rather than signed) lessons is like trying to learn maths A Level in Russian. Lip reading is 40 per cent guess work.”

Dr Cromwell, who has BSL at Level 4 – equivalent to degree standard – is believed to be the only clinical psychologist on the staff of a UK specialist school.

While a Deaf child ‘can do everything except hear’ many came to the Exeter school with attachment disorder, language delay, and behavioural problems because of a lack of access to BSL.

“They fall behind in primary school and are regarded as ‘problem students’,” he said. “Not all of our students are like that by any means, but we get those.”

Linguistic deprivation was one of the consequences of deafness that often began in the home as 90 per cent of children who were born Deaf had Hearing parents.

“Some (parents) will have never met a Deaf person, have no BSL and struggle to know what to do,” he said.

Their children were then learning BSL from a parent who was also learning the signing language. That might lead to learning deals that could give rise to behavioural problems, said Dr Cromwell.

Further problems might arise at schools without teachers qualified in BSL at a high level.

Part of the problem was that BSL was seen by many as a ‘pidgin’ form of English, instead of a language that was ‘heir to a rich cultural landscape’.

Widespread learning and use of BSL would help address many of those problems leading to an extraordinary increase in the well-being of Deaf children, said Dr Cromwell. Source
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