What’s Changing in Deaf Ed in WA?

By Rick Huan, Director, Washington State Center for Childhood Deafness and Hearing Loss

In a year when our state was facing significant decreasing revenues and dramatic budget shortfalls, the Washington State Legislature unanimously passed House Bill 1879. This new law continues support for Washington School for the Deaf (WSD) by establishing a new agency (Washington State Center for Childhood Deafness and Hearing Loss – CDHL). This agency will continue to oversee WSD and implement a process for gathering information from stakeholders to examine service availability and gaps.  Additionally, the CDHL is charged with making recommendations to establish two demonstration sites where we can provide direct service in two underserved areas of the state, one of which must be in the more rural eastern part of the state.

This is a year of information gathering as we start down this new road. To accomplish this, there are many tasks ahead. We have hired Cheryl DeConde Johnson, Ed. D. from The ADVantage- Audiology, Deaf Education Vantage Consulting, to develop tools to gather information from stakeholders in every region. We will use information gathered to identify service gaps and areas of strength across the state. We will develop a resource guide and make recommendations to the legislature on ways to help parents know what services are offered throughout the state. An important note:  We are not looking to replicate or manage existing programs -- just collaborate with them. We are expanding our relationships with schools and governmental and non-governmental agencies. Stakeholder meetings will begin in January.

We are very proud of our program at WSD. This location will remain an ASL campus with an emphasis on teaching and using ASL – we are not deviating from that in the least. We have on-going partnerships that allow us to provide services in other areas in ways we are not equipped to offer. One such partnership is with an oral/aural program (Listen and Talk) in Seattle. We work with their staff to provide consultation services for schools needing assistance in providing technical support for students whose families have chosen an oral/aural communication method. We have developed a great deal of mutual respect and trust with the oral/aural community, while maintaining our emphasis on ASL on campus at WSD. 

The education system in our state is going through substantial change. Support for deaf education has been and remains strong. We are working to foster mutual trust with agencies and families. At CDHL we honor families’ and children’s communication choices by supporting each deaf/hard of hearing child using the communication modality they and their families select.

While many families choose to send their children to WSD, we also have many children in other programs (or no program at all receiving minimal service) near their homes when we look at the data available. In support of all children, we continue to work with staff to constantly search for best and promising practices in deaf education. Our goal is to expand services for deaf/hard of hearing children regardless of where they live, or the communication mode their family chooses. Our belief is that by honoring all modalities, we can foster stronger programs across the board. We are proud of the children we serve at WSD and in other areas in the state and the staff who serve them. Washington has an exciting future!

What we are talking about in Washington is CHANGE. Mahatma Gandhi said “We must be the change we want to see in the world.” What is happening here is not the result of a bureaucracy at work. It is the hard work of many individuals who have recognized that we must honor children and families and create a better life for children as they learn and grow. We are talking about a diverse statewide community where all children can thrive.   ~

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