Bilingual Education For The Deaf

Efforts towards bilingual education of the Deaf received a boost over the past week with the visit of Dr. Laurene Gallimore, a Professor/ Director of the Deaf Education Programme at Gallaudet University , Washington D.C. During her one-week visit to Jamaica, Professor Gallimore conducted a four-day workshop at the UWI Mona - July 7-10. She shared a wealth of information on literacy development for the Deaf child in a bilingual environment with parents, the Deaf community, teachers and other professionals in the field of Deaf Education.

She ended the week with a Public Lecture at the Alhambra Inn on Thursday evening, July 10. Both the workshop and Public Lecture were centered on:

  1. Promoting the concept of bilingualism and the benefits of Natural Sign Language within literacy instruction.

  2. Building excitement about improving communication with Deaf learners in the classroom.

  3. Sharing current trends and research on the education of deaf and Hard of Hearing students

Approximately 80 persons attended the workshops while over 100 persons attended the Public Lecture with representation from a number of agencies for and of persons with disabilities, the Deaf community, parents with Deaf children and other professionals.

Her presentations carried the hallmark of a dynamic speaker and passionate professional, sharing from the heart the struggles confronting Deaf children. Being herself deaf, Professor Gallimore’s presentations were all presented in Sign Language. For many this was a first, and an experience never to be forgotten. Her expressiveness and clarity of communication had her audience spell bound. Ably supported by technology and professional interpreters, no one was placed at a disadvantage. The sharing of her personal story, growing up as a black, deaf child in the United States and later as a parent of Deaf and hearing children, allowed her to gain entry into the hearts of many, and they in turn found answers to their challenges through the vicarious sharing in her experiences.

In 1999 the Jamaica Association for the Deaf (JAD) embraced a policy position for bilingual education of Deaf students in its Schools and has been working towards full implementation of the concept. This was motivated by the desire to improve the literacy of Deaf and Hard of Hearing students in Jamaica and their overall achievement and integration in society. Towards this end a pilot project was undertaken with support from the USAID funded Uplifting Adolescents Project. The bilingual approach gives recognition to the Natural Sign Language of the Deaf and English as a second language – thus the term bilingual. The approach is relatively new to Jamaica; therefore there is a need to strengthen the understanding of the concept among teachers, parents and the wider public in order to gain support for implementation.

Bilingual education of the Deaf essentially represents a paradigm shift in approach, one that demands a change in attitude, modification of practices and development of new skills. Over the past three years the JAD has benefited from a rich sharing of expertise from individuals in the field of Education both locally and overseas to gradually bring about the desired change. Access to overseas professionals has been made possible through the Florida Association of Voluntary Agencies for Caribbean Action(FAVACA). The visit of Professor Gallimore and Interpreters Dawn Raymond and Julie Balassa is the most recent initiative sponsored by FAVACA in support of the work being done by the Jamaica Association for the Deaf to improve literacy among Deaf and Hard of Hearing Persons. In order to deliver a presentation of Dr. Gallimore’s calibre, significant technological support was needed. This was provided by the Interfaculty Lecture Theatre at The University of the West Indies Mona, which is equipped with a state of the art multimedia system.

For more pictures of the literacy workshop visit the image gallery.