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Editorial TO THINK THE UNTHINKABLE The two major pieces of legislation affecting deaf people today are PL 94-142 and the Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Sections 501, 502, 503, and 504). Both of these laws reflect a fundamental philosophical change from past legislation in deafness. The change, though subtle, is of tremendous importance. It will alter the lives of thousands of deaf school-age children and deaf adults who are under 65. First let's consider PL 94-142. It was derived primarily from the needs of severely and profoundly mentally retarded children, but it guarantees for all handicapped youth the best (least restrictive) education possible regardless of cost. The rationale is that such education is the constitutional right of all handicapped children simply because they are citizens of the United States. This highly idealistic legislation means that our country is making by far its highest per capita investment in those students least able to return a dividend to society. Is this a rational policy? To illustrate the point, take the example of a small county in an eastern state. In this county there is a profoundly autistic child whose prognosis is that he will need life-long hospital care. However, the county under PL 94-142 has to send him to an out-of-state school program costing over $50,000 a year. In this case and countless others similar to it, the direct per capita tuition is only part of the cost. Even larger amounts of money are being spent on related lawyers' fees and the salaries of highly placed school administrators involved in the litigation provided for by PL 94-142. In fact some people refer to PL 94-142 as "the welfare assistance law for attorneys" because so many of them are being supported by legal cases resulting from the legislation. Of course, these funds are taken from those intended for educating handicapped children. From the point of view of the education of deaf children, PL 94-142 represents a dramatic philosophical change from the past. Previously , deaf children were provided education because it was felt that such training represented an investment for society, not an expense . This has been proven true in that deaf people as a group have turned out to be productive taxpaying citizens instead of dependent liabilities. Obviously, this is a basically different premise than that which underlies PL 94-142. The issue is, are deaf children really benefitting from being lumped together with far more severely handicapped youth under highly idealistic legislation which may be severely curtailed, revised, and even revoked under the Reagan Administration and the climate of backlash its election victory represents? Philosophically, the Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973 also symbolizes a dramatic change from past rehabilitation legislation. Prior to 1973 deaf people were provided vocational rehabilitation, if it could reasonably be expected that they could be made employable in competitive industry. Just as the education of deaf children has returned healthy dividends to society, so did vocational rehabilitation up to 1973. Deaf people as a group were working in the private sector. In stark contrast, under the Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973 the basic rationale is that if you are deaf and cannot use oral communication , you are unable to work and are entitled to a monthly check (SSI or SSDI). In sum, past educational and vocational legislation has had as a basic rationale, that deaf people could succeed if given reasonable school and rehabilitation services. Furthermore , the theory was that the cost of such services would be returned to society by the productivity and taxes of the deaf individuals receiving the services. Current educational legislation (PL 94-142) places no limits on the cost of education and no assumption that the child master enough education ever to be productive . Today's vocational legislation implies that deaf people cannot work competitively because it guarantees them money if they do not wish to (SSI and SSDI), solely by virtue of their being deaf and unable to talk. There is at least one alternative rationale to that underlying PL 94-142. For the many severely handicapped persons who will never be able to master or apply the opportunity for...


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