DCBR Revisited:

The Deaf Child Bill of Rights Six Years Later

by Janet DesGeorges

In May of 1996, Colorado State Law 96-1041 was enacted which requires IEP teams to consider the communication needs of the student who is deaf or hard of hearing through the use of the "Communication Plan", the legal document  which is the outcome of this law.

Six years after the implementation of the Deaf Child Bill of Rights, educators and parents are still grappling with how to create an effective communication driven education for students who are deaf and hard of hearing.  It has often been said that the driving force of the Communication Plan is to have meaningful conversations within the IEP team which will result in effective strategies and services for students.  Getting beyond just "talking about it" into effective implementation is the goal for this very important law.

Understanding the Communication Plan

The "Communication Plan" is a relatively simple document.*  While there has been a suggested form from the state level, each school district is able to create their own form as long as the five basic components of the "Communication Plan" are in place.   These Five components are the following:

1. Child's primary communication mode:   The plan must include a statement identifying the child's primary communication mode as one or more of the following:  Aural, Oral, Speech-based, English Based Manual or Sign System, American Sign Language.  The IEP team cannot deny instructional opportunity based on the amount of the child's residual hearing, the ability of the parents(s) to communicate, not the child's experience with other communication modes [ECEA section 4.02(4)(k)(i)].

2.  Peers and Role Models:   The Plan must include a statement documenting that the IEP team, in addressing the child's needs, considered the availability of Deaf and Hard of Hearing role models and a Deaf/Hard of Hearing peer group of the child's communication mode or language [ECEA 4.01(4)(k)(iii).

3.  All Educational Options:   The Plan must include a statement documenting that an explanation was given of all educational options provided by the school district and available to the child [ECEA Section 4.02(4)(k)(ii)].

4.  Teacher/Professional Proficiency:   The Plan must include a statement that the teachers, interpreters, and other specialists delivering the Communication Plan to the student must have demonstrated proficiency in, and be able to accommodate for, the child's primary communication mode or language [ECEA 4.02(4)(k)(iv)].

5. Identifying School Services & Extra-Curricular Activities:  The Plan must include a statement of the communication-accessible academic instruction, school services, and extracurricular activities that the student will receive [ECEA 4.02(4)(k)(v)].

Guidelines for use have been developed in order to assist teams in the development of effective communication Plans.  For more information, see the following web pages on the H&V site:

Communication Plan Rehabilitation

What has become apparent through discussions with families and educators throughout the state is that the effective implementation of a "Communication Plan" for many students has been a very challenging and sometimes frustrating experience.  Some of the roadblocks have been a result of the following:

  • Draft Communication Plans filled out before the IEP meeting, without parent participation (often with a 'generic' template)
  • IEP teams using forms from a school district that have illegally taken out sections of the state law components.
  • Attitude - "Just another form to fill out"
  • Political undertones during development (i.e. "How much is this going to cost us?")
  • No correlation between communication plan and IEP goals

Steps to a Great Communication Plan:
How to Create One That Changes your Kid's Life!

Meaningful Communication Plans that have been appropriately developed and  implemented can be a useful tool in ensuring communication access for the deaf and hard of hearing child.  There are some basic components that are included in the development of an effective Communication Plan.

  • The development of an appropriate Communication Plan takes time.
  • The development of an appropriate Communication Plan needs thoughtful insight and discussion by all members of the IEP team
  • The development of an appropriate Communication Plan requires a foundation of understanding of the five main components of the Plan.
  • The development of an appropriate Communication Plan needs to focus on the individual student's unique communication needs.
  • The development of an appropriate Communication Plan is connected to general curriculum and content standards.
  • The Communication is implemented effectively and each member of the IEP team understands their responsibilities and carries out action plans consistently.

Because of the number of issues and discussions that need to occur, don't assume that the Communication Plan can be addressed in a few short minutes.  Make sure you think about the five components before the actual IEP meeting.  School personnel often create a 'draft Communication Plan' before any discussion takes place with the parent.  Make sure you request any drafts of the IEP  or Communication Plan prior to the meeting so you can look it over.  Better yet, take the initiative to contact different members of your IEP team to begin to collaboratively develop your own 'draft' and then disseminate it to your IEP team prior to the meeting.

In today's world of "filling out more forms", the Communication Plan can often be overlooked, and just filled out in a cursory manner.  Make sure that you have read the guidelines so that you are clearly thinking about all the components.  The following is a list of issues and action plans you may need to consider for your child's communication plan.  Remember that each child is unique, and some issues/action plans may not apply to your child.

1. Child's Primary Communication Mode

Issues may include:

  • Requires sign language to communicate
  • Uses multicommunication modes (ie speech reading, sign language, listening, speaking, facial expressions, body language)
  • Use of cochlear implant
  • Depending on WHERE the student is, their mode of communication may be different.
  • Importance of assessing skill level of the student in their primary mode/modes.
  • Progress of child in the current communication mode he/she is using.
  • How student will gain access to inferential learning.
  • Even with hearing aids, student may have difficulties understanding speech.
  • Even with hearing aids, student is unable to understand conversational speech through audition alone.
  • Without amplification, student is unable to hear conversational speech.
  • Difficult listening situations such as background noise, poor classroom acoustics and increased distance from the person speaking may cause the student to miss portions of instruction or conversation.
  • Increased difficulties communicating in large noisy environments such as gymnasiums, cafeterias, auditoriums, and playgrounds.
  • Difficulty locating where sound is coming from, affecting his/her ability to follow group discussions.
  • May miss portions of fast-paced conversations.

Action Plans may include:

  • Educational sign language interpreter or teacher fluent with signing during instruction
  • Use of FM system, personal or soundfield and other amplification and assistive devices
  • Acoustical adaptations to classroom environment
  • Adding sign language acquisition goals to the IEP
  • Additional assessments:  Pre-Cipp, CIPP, Functional Listening Evaluation
  • Use of classroom captioning
  • Sign language instruction for parents
  • Buddy system/ peer notetakers
  • Qualified professional notetaker
  • Sign language instruction for classmates
  • Gain student's attention prior to speaking
  • Face student when speaking and clearly enunciate speech.  Avoid standing in front of light sources such as windows.
  • Repeat information in not heard or understood
  • Frequently check for understanding.
  • Allow extra time to process auditory information.

Remember that the discussion for #1 should include not only the mode of communication, but lists different environments in which the child is in throughout the day, and the effects these environments have on the child's mode of communication.  It should also list what assessments and evaluations have been done or are needed to determine mode of communication of the child and present level of functioning.  Discussions may also include parent-training needs around communication mode of the child.

2.  Peers and Role Models

Issues may include:

  • "Peers" may be defined as hearing children, deaf/hh oral children, deaf/hh signing children.
  • Educational placement may be determining factor of current peer/role model opportunity:  mainstream, center-based, rural, urban
  • Limited or no availability of deaf/hh adult role models and deaf/hh peer groups at current educational placement.
  • No 'critical mass' of deaf/hh students in current school district.
  • Peers available are at different age/grade levels
  • Type of role model is identified; possibly linked to interests of the student (i.e. deaf basketball coach coming to PE class)

Action Plan may include:

  • Identifies opportunities that exist within school district, region, state.
  • Opportunity for student to participate in Host Day, Western Slope Social, Track & Field Day, Southeast annual picnic etc.
  • Use of deaf/hh Adult Role Model Program through CSDB. (deaf and hard of hearing, mild to profound, oral and signing role models available)
  • Peer opportunities within district or neighboring district
  • Mainstream students attending field trips with center based students
  • Sign language classes for hearing peers
  • Aspen Camp School for the Deaf and other summer programs
  • School Library creates section on contributions of deaf/hh individuals
  • On-line pen pal with other deaf/hh students through the internet
  • Create "Deaf" Club within school/district/region
  • Rural regions collaborating for social activities for students
  • Internet exploration of deaf/hh websites, chat rooms, information.

3.  All Educational Options

Issues may include:

  • Philosophy of center-based program and compatibility to student's need.
  • "Least Restrictive Environment" not defined in context to the communication needs of the child.
  • Only one type of placement is offered (i.e. mainstream, center-based etc.)
  • There may be biases within the team about communication methods
  • Preconceived ideas on placement based on degree of hearing loss.
  • Itinerant services and their availability
  • Need for services outside of district:  State School for the Deaf, Rocky Mtn. Deaf School etc.
  • Regardless of present services and communication mode, different models of instruction/placement options are discussed
  • Pros and cons of different options are discussed

Action plan may include:

  • Mainstream setting with supports/services
  • Student placement outside of school district
  • Revising/creating new program within school district
  • Family moving
  • Open enrollment
  • Itinerant services by teacher of the deaf/hh
  • Site-based/center based programs for deaf/hh

Remember!  Placement issues must be addressed in context to the student's needs and communication access.

4.  Proficiency of Staff

Issues may include:

  • Proficiency and expertise in deafness/hearing loss issues
  • General Educators experience/opportunity to learn about deaf/hh issues
  • Interpreter qualifications/ expertise in mode of sign system student uses
  • Experience of staff with student's age/grade level
  • Cochlear Implant Experience
  • Technology expertise
  • IEP team members have been chosen based on 'scheduling', not individual need of student

Action plan may include:

  • Unique qualifications of IEP team members are linked with needs of student
  • Mentorship opportunities are discussed and implemented (including general educators)Resources are shared among IEP team members, including parents (articles, workshop/conference opportunities etc)
  • Support and training for mainstream teacher.
  • "Peripheral" staff is considered and action plan is implemented (bus drivers, lunch staff, librarian etc.)

5.  Communication Accessible Services & Extracurricular Activities

Issues may include:

  • Art, music, P.E. (specials)
  • Hallways, playground, cafeteria, school office, telephone
  • School Assemblies, field trips, school clubs
  • Videos, films, movies
  • Social opportunities among students
  • Transportation
  • Middle School/High School moving from class to class
  • Sports Teams
  • A sense of "no issue is too small" for consideration of communication access

Action Plan may include:

  • Use of visual supplements
  • Words of music written down for choir
  • Interpreters for field trips
  • Bus drivers who sign
  • TV captioning
  • Assistive Technology (TTY, flashing alarms etc.)
  • Carpeting in hallways
  • FM system hooked up to sound systems for assemblies
  • Pager systems
  • Nametags for all students in class for the first few weeks or so.

What the Future Holds

Meaningful Communication Plans can drive a student's services and educational experience.  As parents and educators, we must utilize this exceptional tool to develop and implement meaningful communication access for student's who are deaf and hard of hearing.  Let us do all we can in the coming years to overcome the barriers we have faced so far in implementing the Deaf Child's Bill of Rights.  By having the right attitude, taking the time for thoughtful and deliberate discussions about communication access, and then implementing the Communication plan as a day-to-day experience, we will begin to change the status quo of the experience of student's who are deaf and hard of hearing, having done all we can to bridge the gap and create a communication rich education for our children.


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