Children who are deaf or who have hearing impairment are not a homogenous group either in terms of their hearing loss or of a wide range of other key factors. Therefore, no single response is appropriate or adequate when addressing the communication needs of this particular category of children. Educational provision is made for the individual child, in consultation with their parents, on the basis of the assessed needs of each child.
In this context, and in relation to the choice of communication system, the fundamental decision is whether the most appropriate first language for the child is Irish sign language or spoken English. If the option is for spoken English, which it will be in a significant number of cases, then a predominantly oral method of teaching is employed. In this oral approach, signed English is sometimes also used as a teaching device.
If the option is for Irish signed language, then the child is taught in a linguistic environment that is predominantly or exclusively based on the use of Irish sign language. There is a growing request for this approach by some parents on behalf of their children. The policy of my Department is to facilitate access to this approach so that the assessed needs of pupils and parental wishes are taken into account.
In this regard, I have allocated additional resources to the two special schools in Dublin to allow them to establish a number of classes in which sign language is the medium of communication and teaching. Special needs assistants, who are proficient in sign language, have also been provided for these schools in order to facilitate the development and use of Irish sign language as required. My Department has also provided support for a number of families with deaf children to allow them to employ tutors of Irish sign language in their homes.
With regard to further developments in this area, my Department will continue its consultations with representatives of the deaf community and with other relevant bodies and individuals, including individual parents of deaf children. The increased use of Irish sign language in the education of deaf children has also been acknowledged in the Education Act, 1998.
Arrangements are also being made to establish a representative advisory committee which will offer guidance on key future developments in the education of the deaf, including the issues raised by the Deputy in relation to Irish sign language and communication with non-deaf children.