Stronger Together: Finding Community and Common-Unity in Deaf Education

The issue

Since the 1880 Milan Conference, the field of deaf education has divided itself into camps (e.g., sign language versus spoken language, school for the deaf versus general education setting), creating an “us versus them” construct. As a result, we have created a field where some professionals often appear more loyal to their philosophy than to the needs of deaf and hard-of-hearing (DHH) children. Research is revealing that many linguistic and educational decisions are being driven on philosophical stance rather than the needs of children, and parents are reporting that the advice given to them by professionals is biased towards particular communication methods.

In order to move forward as a field (and to truly do right by DHH children), we must recognize and address the biases that exist within deaf education, particularly when it comes to linguistic and educational decision making.

What we know

It takes a village, and in deaf education, members of our village often disagree. It is difficult to collaborate and build a community of practice with people with whom we disagree. It is often easier to reject or dismiss viewpoints that are not in alignment with our own philosophies and educational approaches, and it takes a conscious effort to understand and accept viewpoints that are not in alignment with our own. Further, it is critically important that we work to collaborate beyond our own philosophical silos.  We must be willing to have open and honest dialogue and collaboration with those who think or approach things differently than we do.

Most importantly, we must be conscious of the fact that it is easier to give advice or input on what is best for a DHH child that is in alignment with our own personal philosophies (also known as “confirmation bias”) than it is to give advice or input that goes against our personal philosophies. When making critical decisions about language and education that will directly influence a DHH child’s future, we must move outside our own philosophical comfort zone and remember:

  • Not all DHH children are the same or need the same things.
  • Confirmation bias drives a lot of decisions made in deaf education.
  • As professionals, our words and actions  matter.
  • Regardless of our philosophical leanings, we are pieces of the same puzzle.
  • We are too small to be divided.

What we don’t know

Currently, research makes clear that there is no single approach to deaf education that works for all DHH children. Instead of focusing on who or what is right or wrong, we should focus on establishing a community of practice around common-unity, focusing on problems that are bigger than ourselves, (for example, improving the literacy outcomes for DHH children). By working as separate entities (Deaf community, deaf educators, parents, professors, researchers, doctors, etc.) we limit possible solutions.


When we come together for the sake of common-unity, we engage in a cycle of professional growth and development by building a broader knowledge base as we learn to see the bigger picture of what it means to be deaf. Within a diverse community of practice, we are able to build a stronger knowledge base by observing and collaborating with others who view and experience the field differently. These actions help stakeholders in deaf education to reflect on practice, change practice, and gain and share valuable experience that will drive the field and that will support the needs of all DHH children.

This is easier said than done, but the journey to radical change can begin by starting with a few simple steps:

  1. Assume Positive Intent– We all have a bias and experiences that shape the way we approach things. Take a leap of faith that there is no “hidden agenda”.
  2. Set out to Open Minds, Not Change Them– You do not have to compromise your knowledge base or belief system to build a diverse community of practice.  Look for the common threads and remember that if you take a stand for something, it does not mean you are against something else.
  3. Have Empathy– Challenge yourself to have an honest, judgement-free dialogue with someone who is your perceived counterpart in an environment in which you can come together as human beings, not adversaries.
  4. Stay the Course– Attack issues, not people. We are stronger together, and in order to be strong, we need to find ways of building each other up instead of creating barriers to learning and growing which limits opportunity and solutions.
  5. Most importantly, do it for the kids.

Posted on Jan. 31, 2019 by
Michella Maiorana-Basas
Flagler College
I am the Radical Middle: Unity, Not Uniformity in Deaf Education
Mmaioranabasas {at}


Further reading