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The Human Right to Language

Communication Access for Deaf Children

Lawrence M. Siegel

Publication Year: 2008

In 1982, the United States Supreme Court ruled that Amy Rowley, a deaf six-year-old, was not entitled to have a sign language interpreter in her public school classroom. Lawrence M. Siegel wholeheartedly disagrees with this decision in his new book The Human Right to Language: Communication Access for Deaf Children. Instead, he contends that the United States Constitution should protect every deaf and hard of hearing child’s right to communication and language as part of an individual’s right to liberty. Siegel argues that when a deaf or hard of hearing child sits alone in a crowded classroom and is unable to access the rich and varied communication around her, the child is denied any chance of success in life. In The Human Right to Language, Siegel proposes that the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution be enforced so that Amy Rowley and her peers can possess that which virtually every other American child takes for granted – the right to receive and express thought in school. He asserts that the common notion of a right to “speech” is too infrequently interpreted in the narrowest sense as the right to “speak” rather than the broader right to receive and transmit information in all ways. Siegel reveals that there are no judicial decisions or laws that recognize this missing right, and offers here a legal and constitutional strategy for change. His well-reasoned hypothesis and many examples of deaf children with inadequate communication access in school combine to make a compelling case for changing the status quo.

Published by: Gallaudet University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix

I would like to thank Deirdre Mullervy and Karen Schoen for their steadfastness and professional skill in editing my writing, and Ivey Pittle Wallace for her support from the beginning, her patience with my impatience, and all-around ability, creativity, and insight. ...

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pp. xi-xv

From afar, certain moments in American history appear much starker than they may have been at the time. And yet in hindsight, we look back and are surprised by the previous lay of the land. We wonder how that could have been. As I consider the ways in which deaf and hard of hearing children have been denied that which ...


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1: Introduction

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pp. 3-13

It is perplexing that the Supreme Court focused on whether the law required that Amy’s potential be maximized rather than on the quite different and more fundamental issues of Amy’s right to the free flow of information in her classroom (under the First Amendment) and her right to be treated the same as any other student, ...

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2: The Importance of Communication and Language

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pp. 14-24

Communication and language are central to the human experience, and the ability and need to convey thoughts, feeling, hopes, and information defines the human species. It is as profound and simple as that. From Aristotle to Benedict de (Baruch) Spinoza to Dylan Thomas to Andy Warhol, philosophers and artists have understood ...


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3: Communication, Language, and Education

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pp. 27-43

School is perhaps, more than anything else, a language laboratory. It is where linguistic skills mature and a child’s sense of self and knowledge grow. Emotional, intellectual, and educational growth is unthinkable without the ability to communicate, to exchange ideas and information. Language is the linchpin of everything we learn. ...

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4: The First Amendment: The Broad Right to Express and Receive Information and Ideas

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pp. 44-62

Parents lose as often as they win when they are forced to battle for communication access. In Board of Education v. Rowley, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unequivocally that a child had no right under the IDEA to a particular program or “methodology.” Vital communication and language is reduced to something routine, secondary. ...

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5: The First Amendment and Freedom of Association

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pp. 63-76

The right to associate with others, to have contact with those of one’s choosing, is a central component of the First Amendment. Although most First Amendment cases focus on controversial rather than standard matters, the associational right under the First Amendment has particular resonance for deaf and hard of ...

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6: The Importance of the First Amendment: Protecting the Extremes of Speech

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pp. 77-92

Even though Brian and Amy Rowley had no clear right to classroom information, the First Amendment ensures our right to express and receive callous, hurtful, shameful, libelous, licentious, and even dangerous information, or as Woodrow Wilson said, to “advertise” one’s foolishness. It protects that which is low in content ...

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7: Introduction to the Fourteenth Amendment

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pp. 93-105

At the heart of our constitutional system is the principle that all Americans should be treated the same under our laws. This right to the “equal protection” of the law has a clear logic—the law is blind, and the rules should be the same for all. If white children are allowed to attend a public school, nonwhite children ...

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8: Equal Protection and the Place of Education in American Society

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pp. 106-115

There is a moment in the classroom, one that is repeated a dozen times there, a hundred times in the school, a hundred thousand times in the district, a million times during that day throughout the country. A moment in which a thought or belief or a bit of nonsense is exchanged. A moment when one student laughs at another, ...

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9: Equal Protection and the Right to Communication and Language

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pp. 116-124

If the courts have applied the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause to a child’s right to an education, what of an individual’s more specific right to his or her language? In order to discuss bilingual rights (chapter 10), I must note the significant difference between “new” Americans learning English ...

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10: The Application of Bilingual-Education Law and Programs to Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students

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pp. 125-144

What is American law regarding the right of students in public schools to have equal access to their native language or communication system, and why doesn’t it apply to deaf and hard of hearing children? Although there have been challenges to our bilingual educational system, there are effective bilingual programs ...


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11: A Proposal

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pp. 147-158

So what is to be done here? If in fact our school systems or Congress will not address these matters, then deaf and hard of hearing children, like others before them, should seek remedies in our court system. It is my contention that the time has come to litigate cases for deaf and hard of hearing children based on their ...


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pp. 159-164

E-ISBN-13: 9781563684210
E-ISBN-10: 1563684217
Print-ISBN-13: 9781563683664
Print-ISBN-10: 1563683660

Page Count: 180
Publication Year: 2008