Thursday, October 22, 2009

Parents say deaf and hard of hearing kids need more health, education supports

Source Link - Parents say deaf and hard of hearing kids need more health, education supports

There were no firm commitments, but the Ontario government promised Monday to consider a series of requests from a coalition of 150 parents, students and professionals lobbying for more health and educational supports for deaf children.

The group was pushing for provincewide standards in services for the estimated 5,000 Ontario children who are deaf or hard of hearing, and spent the day meeting with cabinet ministers and opposition politicians.

The province should pay for cochlear implants that help the deaf detect sound for both ears, instead of just one, said Nora-Lynn McIntyre of VOICE for Hearing Impaired Children.

"There's clear evidence to suggest that children who have bilateral implantation prior to 12 months of age are able to enter school and perform at par with their hearing peers," said McIntyre.

"Young adults and those children who had implants earlier on cannot get a second implant, and we still need the government to step up to the plate and provide them with the second implant."

One key problem of having only one cochlear implant is a power or battery failure leaves the person completely deaf, said McIntyre.

The group Project Kids HEAR estimated the extra cost for the tiny cochlear implants would be about $1 million a year.

The government will consider the request on the cochlear implants, said new Health Minister Deb Matthews, who insisted such decisions were made locally, not by the province.

"This is something that I understand is a hospital by hospital decision, but I am committed to taking another look at it and really understanding what we can do," Matthews told reporters.

"These are little kids who are getting off to a really good start and we need to be there for them."

The parents, students and others lobbying on behalf of the deaf and hard of hearing also called for adequate funding to make sure services are provided equally at all schools across Ontario instead of having a patchwork of different service levels.

"Now there's a basket of special education funding that is given to each school board to determine on their own how they deliver the service, and there's no standard," said McIntyre.

Schools are not hiring teachers for the deaf, classrooms are not acoustically treated and hearing tests are no longer happening on a regular basis, she complained.

"All of these services have been flushed down the toilet and don't exist any longer," said McIntyre.

Like Matthews, Education Minister Kathleen Wynne promised to look into the request for provincewide standards so all hearing impaired students have access to the same level of support in school.

"We've been working on this for a number of years, to increase capacity both in terms of the development of kids with cochlear implants and kids who are learning ASL (American Sign Language), or LSQ, the French version," said Wynne.

"I believe families should have access to the options that they need for their families, and that means within a reasonable geographic reach."

The parents said it was unacceptable that deaf and hard of hearing children in Ontario do not have equal opportunities to reach their full potential.