Supports for deaf children in spotlight at conference for educational equality for deaf children

Two deaf women, one who works as a lawyer for the Obama administration and another who heads up the West Wing reception, will attend a conference this weekend on deaf education organised by an Irish parent fighting for educational equality for deaf children.

Disability expert and lawyer Claudia Gordon has a cochlear implant and is a senior figure in the US Department of Labor, while Leah Katz-Hernandez works as President Barack Obama’s head receptionist. She has even taught Mr Obama some sign language.

The conference was set up by Andrew Geary, from Ballyhooley, Co Cork, whose son Calum, aged 7, is deaf.

Andrew spent nearly a year fighting to get a sign language interpreter for Calum in his classroom at St Columba’s school, Douglas. Calum is a twin and Andrew became increasingly worried on realising Calum was falling behind his brother, despite being equally as clever.

“I fought to get the interpreter so Calum has a deaf SNA as well as the interpreter. It means the interpreter can explain to Calum and his SNA what the teacher is saying. It’s made a huge difference and I just want other children to have similar opportunities, hence the conference,” he said.

“A deaf student is seven times less likely to attend third level than their hearing peers, according to recent figures. The system must understand every deaf and hard-of-hearing child needs access to language and literacy to access education, and access to education to get equality,” he said.

As part of Andrew’s efforts to fight for his son, he discovered Mark Marschark’s work on deaf children in education and realised the yawning gap between education for deaf children in Ireland and what is happening internationally.

Marschark will attend this weekend’s conference at the Heritage Hotel in Portlaoise.

More than 2,300 deaf and hard-of-hearing children attend mainstream and special schools.

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