Public Law 94-142 led to a significant increase in the number of deaf and hard-of-hearing students enrolled in public schools. Since the implementation of this law, researchers, deaf educators, and members of the deaf community have debated the academic and social success of deaf and hard-of-hearing students in mainstream settings.
An underlying goal of mainstreaming is to inform and improve the attitude of hearing students toward deaf students, however, researchers who have studied mainstreaming are concerned that students in mainstream settings may be gaining academic advantages while experiencing little access to the social activities in the public school. Antia (1982) suggests that the mainstreaming of deaf and hard-of hearing students into the classrooms with their normally hearing peers is based on the assumption that social benefits will accrue to the deaf and hard-of-hearing students by observing and interacting with normally hearing peers. However, Mertens and Kluwin (1986) conducted a study of the interactions of deaf-hearing students in the classroom. Observers recorded no interaction between deaf and hearing students in the 51 mainstreamed class periods observed and the researchers concluded that "the espoused goal of mainstreaming to encourage interaction between hearing impaired and normally hearing students was not achieved in the observed classroom". (p. 5) Similarly, Charlson, Strong, and Gold
(1994) examined isolation among deaf high school students from both residential and mainstream settings. The mainstreamed students reported feelings of loneliness and social isolation within the school environment. An oral student reported loneliness because he frequently misunderstood the conversations, and therefore did not feel comfortable communicating with his hearing peers. He also added that his hearing peers had no knowledge of deafness and did not understand him. Another respondent discussed his feelings of isolation in terms of communication difficulties. This student said his peers viewed him as hearing because of his speech skills. He became frustrated and avoided conversation because his hearing peers did not understand the basic principles of communicating with a hard-of-hearing person (i.e., speaking clearer, louder and directly to him.). Yet another student described her loneliness as "feeling separated...like a loner. I would walk around with various groups but they would whisper and I couldn't understand...I was very naive. I still am." (p. 265) Still another reported frustrations and loneliness because his hearing peers could not understand his speech.
In summary, the lack of deaf awareness among hearing peers was stated by these students as one cause of isolation. However, most of the students reported communication problems as a frequent cause of social isolation and feelings of loneliness. The communication difficulties as reported by the students varied greatly. These included, incomprehensible speech, speech-reading difficulties, misunderstanding conversation content, being unable to keep up with the person speaking (or whispering) in group settings and hearing peers not knowing conversation techniques to use when speaking to a student who is deaf or hard-of-hearing.
In another study of social isolation, Coyner (1993) examined deaf- hearing peer relations while identifying factors that affect social competence. Data were collected using five assessments: (a.) Teacher surveys; (b.) Classroom Behavior Scales; (c.) Children's Self -Concept Scales; (d.) Peer Rating Scales; and (e.) Student Questionnaires. The sample consisted of 25 hearing, 5 hard-of-hearing and 5 deaf students. Students ranged in age from 13 to 17 years old.
The results showed that hard-of-hearing and deaf students received high social acceptance ratings from those peers with a hearing loss. However, the same students received significantly lower scores from their hearing peers. This suggests that deaf and hard-of-hearing students may not be included in hearing students' social groups. This finding also may indicate that hearing students preferred to develop friendships with other students.
In still another study, Stainback, Stainback, East, and Shevin (1994) stated that integrated classrooms often have fewer incidents of students with certain disabilities getting to know and to interact with other students with similar characteristics. From the previous research and the latter comment, it may be inferred that deaf and/or hard-of-hearing students may not have the opportunities to interact within the classroom and to form friendships, that their hearing peers enjoy. This may result in some form of social isolation.
In a contrasting study, Foster (1988) examined mainstreaming from the perspective of the deaf mainstreamed person. This study resulted in different findings. Foster conducted interviews with 15 first-year college students at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at Rochester Institute of Technology, all of whom had attended mainstream high schools.
Foster found that the quality of social interaction experienced by these mainstreamed deaf students varied greatly. Only five students reported feelings of loneliness and isolation, experiencing frustration with communication barriers. Four people told of positive experiences, although, they admitted to minor communication difficulties with their peers. Six of the students said that they had a good social life in the mainstream setting. One respondent said that she had friends among her hearing peers and that they would study and/or do homework together, as well as "harass" the teachers. Another student in the study emphasized the importance of communication. Her high school years were enjoyable because her friends learned sign language in order to talk with her. Other reasons for positive experiences included, hearing peers who learned about deafness and the appropriate conversation techniques to use with deaf persons.
Thus, those students who reported positive social experiences had minimal communicative difficulties with their hearing peers and participated in extra-curricular activities. Further, respondents said field trips, sports activities, classroom activities and extracurricular clubs served as "ice-breakers" for deaf and hearing students.
In another study of social isolation, Mertens (1986) examined the effects of school placement on the social development of deaf and hard-of-hearing high school students. This study found no evidence to support that mainstreamed deaf and hard-of-hearing students social skills are enhanced because of the mainstream placement.
In another study, Mertens (1986) examined the experiences of 14 undergraduate deaf and hard-of-hearing students enrolled at Gallaudet University. The subjects completed a questionnaire with 18 open-ended questions. After completing the questionnaire, the students participated in a discussion of the subject matter. The purpose of the study was to find the reasons that deaf and hard-of-hearing students describe their experiences as positive or negative.
Of the students in the Mertens' study who expressed negative attitudes toward the mainstream setting, three said that they were the only hearing impaired students in the high schools, they were without support services, and they didn't participate in after school activities or sports. Two of the previously mainstreamed students weren't permitted to play sports because they were deaf.
By contrast, the few mainstreamed students who reported positive social experiences credited hearing peers who could sign, their own good lip-reading skills and use of voice, involvement in sports and the use of an interpreter as enhancing their social environment. One student described her learning environment as one where hearing students could express their curiosity about the deaf experience, thereby, promoting deaf awareness.
In the Mertens study, the most positive responses came from those who attended residential schools. These students stated that communication ease among students and teachers, access to after school activities and sports, and socializing with friends contributed to the social environment.
In this review of literature, the reasons deaf and hard-of-hearing students report their mainstream experience as either positive or negative were identified. Positive experiences in the mainstream placement were characterized by several factors, better reading skills, participation in sports, the use of interpreters, the use of voice and lip-reading, the teachers' encouragement of social interaction and deaf awareness, studying and completing homework with hearing peers, and classroom activities.
Negative social experiences included communication difficulties, incomprehensible speech, being unable to follow conversations, misunderstanding conversation content, the inability to participate in sports, the lack of other deaf and/or hard-of-hearing students, and the lack of deaf awareness.
Across the studies researched, a consistent theme emerged. Students
described their experiences in the mainstream after graduation. Few of
the previous studies have obtained the perspective of the deaf student
while he/she is still involved in a mainstream program. The lack of this
perspective prompted the focus of my study, that is to examine how two
deaf students discuss their current social experiences in a mainstream