"What? What did he say?": Voices, contexts and social interaction between students with difference in the ability to hear

Nicola Ruth Temko, University of Pennsylvania


It is twenty-three years since the passage of P.L. 94-142, now termed the 'Individuals with Disabilities Education Act,' which mandated the integration of students with disabilities into regular education. As a social and educational experience, inclusion continues to be a matter for concern and debate among teachers, parents and policymakers. In this study, I explored the everyday social lives of five students with hearing impairments who were included in regular secondary schools. The focus of this research was on the social interaction, social sites and voices of students with a hearing impairment and their non-hearing impaired peers. Drawing on theories of difference and of interaction, I investigated beliefs expressed, roles assumed, and strategies employed by my key informants. I chose ethnographic methods in order to embrace the complexity and fluidity of social relationships and to incorporate the many voices in this study. The research was conducted in a middle school and a high school which acted as hosts to a program for including students with hearing impairments. The focal subjects consisted of five hearing impaired students, one girl and four boys. Their peers, parents and teachers also served as key informants. Evidence was collected over a school year and primarily comprised observation, interviews, and videotape. Using inductive analysis, I show complex variation in the experiences and perspectives of being included in regular classes. I present conditions, strategies and beliefs which support the process of being included in the social action of regular classes as well as those which hinder it. I also find the resource room for the students with hearing impairments to be a safe social site and a vital part of their everyday life. Given these findings, I suggest the need to establish safe social sites for all students, but particularly those at risk of being stigmatized by their differences. I also suggest additional professional development for regular teachers to facilitate social relationships between students with different abilities, and that opportunities for informal interaction between peers, such as extra-curricular activities, be made available to every student. In addition, I call for more explicit discussion between students in class to reduce barriers which continue to divide.

Subject Area

Special education|Secondary education|Educational sociology

Recommended Citation

Temko, Nicola Ruth, ""What? What did he say?": Voices, contexts and social interaction between students with difference in the ability to hear" (1998). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9840246.