Language Education Policy Studies
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Deaf Education in the United States 

In the United States, American Sign Language is the predominantly used sign language of deaf and hard-of-hearing communities. (See Sign Languages). Deaf education is governed by the 2004 Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA), which outlines the educational rights of disabled students. The Regulations of the Offices of the Department of Education, accordingly in Tide 34 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), provides an interpretation of how IDEA is administered at the federal level and clarifies the methods in how it is applied at state, district, and school levels (Hult & Compton, 2012). These two texts in conjunction shape the legislative framework for how deaf students are educated.


Under IDEA, there are two primary provisions that need to be satisfied in regards to educating a deaf student: the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) and the Individualized Education Plan (IEP). In regards to the LRE deaf children, to an appropriate extent, are educated in general education classrooms with other students who are not disabled. Special or separate instruction and removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only in cases where the “nature or severity of the disability of a child is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily” (Hult & Compton, 2012). An IEP must also be created for each student annually in where educators and parents together establish learning and academic goals for the child. The IEP team determines the educational setting in which the student will be placed, which may include regular education settings, self-contained classrooms, regional programs, and even schools primarily for the deaf or hard of hearing (Hult & Compton, 2012).


Even though there are a variety of placement options available through IDEA, inclusion into the general education classroom has been the strongly preferred option although this has been a cause of debate. Those in favor of this model claim that deaf students are offered a more comprehensive general education curriculum, non-disabled peers can serve as positive language models, and under certain circumstances deaf students can succeed both academically and socially in an inclusion classroom (Compton, 2013). Opposing viewpoints claim that students with auditory hearing loss are unable to effectively process linguistic code within a general education classroom. Without an interpreter, they are denied access to proper communication and socialization, some reporting feelings of exclusion and isolation (Compton, 2013).


Prior to IDEA, deaf students were primarily educated in special schools for the deaf. This practice changed with the passage of IDEA as the majority of deaf students are now educated along with hearing students who communicate in spoken English rather than with other deaf children (Hult & Compton, 2012). Implementation of the two provisions, the LRE and IEP, influences and determines access to multilingual and multimodal classrooms that aim to meet the needs of a deaf or hard of hearing student (Compton, 2013).



Ethnologue: American Sign Language


World Federation of the Deaf- Education Rights for Deaf Children

CAL Resources


The Origin of ASL- A brief history


Compton, S. (2013). Implementing Language Policy for Deaf Students

in a Texas School District. International Multilingual Research Journal, (7), 138–154.

DOI: 10.1080/19313152.2012.665203


Hult, F.M & Compton, S.E. (2012). Deaf Education Policy as

Language Policy: A Comparative Analysis of Sweden and the United States. Sign Language Studies (12)4. 602-620.



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This information was originally published on the website of the International Network for Language Education Policy Studies ( as

Butsic, Mayriza. (2015). Deaf Education in the U.S.. In F. V. Tochon (Ed.), Language Education Policy Studies (online). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin—Madison. Retrieved from: (access date). 

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