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Parents of deaf win hearing

From: The Australian - Australia - Apr 5, 2004

From AAP
April 05, 2004

THE families of two deaf Queensland children are suing the state Government for failing to provide them with an adequate education.

The action comes as experts warn that the literacy levels of deaf children are dropping dramatically.

The parents of a 10-year-old boy attending state school on the Sunshine Coast want $500,000 in compensation because their son has the reading ability of a five-year-old.

Kim and Jon Devlin are taking the legal action, along with Gail Smith and Jeff Hurst, whose six-year-old daughter, Tiahna, needs a full-time interpreter at primary school at Coolum.

The families faced the federal court in Brisbane last week for the start of a seven-day hearing of the case after fighting for the services for more than 2 1/2 years.

Ms Devlin said her son Ben, who is severely deaf, was in grade six at Noosaville Primary School, but able to read only at grade one level.

She said her son's maths skills were equivalent to a grade three child despite attending the school's special education unit.

"It's been hard on the family . . . having to see how he copes, his anxiety problem he has at the moment," she said outside court.

Ms Smith, who is seeking compensation for future learning needs for her daughter, who is in grade one, has urged the Government to teach the nationally recognised Auslan sign language system.

"I just want Tiahna and Ben to get the education they are entitled to," she said.

"She comes home upset because she doesn't understand the rules of the game or she doesn't know what was talked about in the classroom. I think it is absolutely heartless and cruel to deaf children. She loses her self-confidence as a person and it breaks your heart as a mother.

"I just want to get her the same information as the hearing kids in the classroom."

The legal action has the backing of Queensland Deaf Society, which has called current services inadequate.

"The education outcomes for deaf and hearing impaired children are less than they should be," the society's regional services manager Keri Gilbert said outside court.

"We would like the Government to listen to parents."

A leading expert in deaf literacy Linda Komasaroff told the inquiry the literacy of Australia's deaf children was falling by half a grade a year, with teaching accuracy reaching atrocious levels.

She described the system of signed English taught in Australian schools as "impoverished" during evidence in the federal court case in Brisbane.

She said teaching accuracy had fallen to eight per cent in primary schools across the nation.

Dr Komasaroff wants Auslan – which is used by the federal court – taught as a first language ahead of English to deaf Australian children.

She told the court the "visual" and "expressive" language system was supported by the nation's deaf community and was as easy to teach as a foreign language.

However, she said teachers were resisting the system – which had no written form – and schools were blocking parents eager to change.

"Most of the world is bilingual or multilingual . . . we seem to be in the minority in Australia," Dr Komasaroff told the court under cross-examination.

She said Auslan had improved literacy levels in Sweden and Canada, where deaf and hearing teachers fronted the same classroom.


© The Australian



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