The Use of Filipino Sign Language in Providing Academic Support Services to Deaf Students

by

Maria Veronica Templo Perez

(Presented at the 1st Philippine Conference-Workshop on Mother Tongue-based Multilingual Education held at the Capitol University, Cagayan de Oro City, Philippines, on Feb. 18-20, 2010.)

M V T Perez

ABSTRACT:  Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in the Philippines are now strongly encouraged to provide quality tertiary education to learners with special needs, deaf students included.  Providing quality education and ensuring academic success for students are not confined to classroom instruction.  Additionally, providing effective academic support services also plays a great role, and for deaf students the use of Filipino Sign Language (FSL) in the delivery of these services is very effective.  This paper describes the processes being followed by the community of De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde as it works towards providing deaf students with equal access and opportunities to services which are now available primarily through the use of FSL.  Also discussed are the services provided by the School of Deaf Education and Applied Studies (SDEAS),  the mainstream experience of students in other institutional scenarios and events, and the moves being made by the College to mainstream qualified deaf students into other programs under the School of Hotel, Restaurant and Institution Management (SRIM), the School of Design and Arts (SDA), and the School of Management and Information Technology (SMIT).  Looking into the journey taken by DLS-CSB may provide guidelines for other HEIs looking into opening their doors to qualified deaf learners.

Keywords:  Filipino Sign Language, Deaf education, Academic Support Services

1.  INTRODUCTION

In 1993 the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities.  Under this document’s section on the preconditions for equal participation in the area of education it is expressed that states should recognize the principle of equal primary, secondary, and tertiary educational opportunities for children, youth and adults with disabilities in integrated settings.  In 2000, the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), in accordance with the provision of Republic Act (RA) No. 7722 (the “Higher Education Act of 1994”), and RA No. 7277 (“Magna Carta for Disabled Persons and its Implementing Rules and Regulations”), issued CHED Memorandum Order (CMO) No. 23 with the subject “Quality Education for Learners with Special Needs.”  Contained within this CMO was a mandate to public higher education institutions (HEIs) to admit all learners with special needs, deaf persons included, in academic, vocational or technical courses and other training programs.  Private HEIs were also encouraged to do the same as part of their educational service to qualified tertiary level students with special needs.  This CMO also lists hearing aids, speech trainers, tape recorders and speech or language kits containing auditory and language training materials as the modified facilities and equipment that HEIs should give importance to in ensuring accessibility to quality education of persons with hearing impairment.  There is no mention of the necessity of sign language interpreters in providing information access and accommodations to deaf learners.  Currently, we find that few public and private HEIs are able to cater to deaf individuals who seek admission into their institutions, the main concern being how to manage communication between the deaf learner and the non-deaf community of the educational institution.

In a study conducted with post-secondary institutions in Texas, USA, on accommodations and services for students who are deaf or hard of hearing (Cawthon, Nichols, & Collier, 2008/2009), resources listed assistive listening devices but other services available to deaf students in this institution include note taking, extended time for test taking, and sign language interpreters.

On the issue of quality education to deaf persons we cannot just focus on providing materials and equipment based on speech and hearing, we must take into consideration the issue of a unique deaf language that is a visual language.  As Bustos and Martinez (2008) point out, “linguistic accessibility is critical in ensuring successful academic performance and social integration of deaf persons…”  It is through language that the deaf student is able to access information, both inside the classroom and in other areas of college life such as student activities and academic support services.  And when we speak of language among deaf learners, it is Filipino Sign Language that we refer to as the visual language that leaders of the Filipino Deaf Community recognize and advocate (PDRC and PFD, 2004).

At De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde (DLS-CSB), the importance of using FSL in communicating with deaf students is seen not only inside the classrooms but also in student activities and day-to-day transactions with other offices providing academic support services.  DLS-CSB is an educational institution composed of more than 8,000 students, less than 200 of which are deaf and are enrolled with the College’s School of Deaf Education and Applied Studies (SDEAS).  Currently the deaf students of the College attend self-contained classes under SDEAS and undergo major formation activities with the Center for Deaf Esteem and Formation of the school but otherwise they experience the same processes their non-hearing-impaired counterparts go through.  They enter the same gate and go through the same security check like the rest of the college population.  They claim their enrollment forms at the institutional Registrar’s Office and they make their payments at the College’s Accounting Office.  They avail of the services of the same Learning Resource Center as the rest of the student population and are served by a number of institutional service units and offices just like their peers whose hearing is not impaired.  In the 18 years that hearing-impaired persons have been enrolled at DLS-CSB the college has experienced numerous challenges in providing them with access to information and accommodation services to ensure that they have equal access to quality education.  In recent years, interaction and communication between the deaf and the hearing communities of the college have improved because of an increased awareness of the larger community of FSL as the mother language of the deaf students. The increased awareness of the deaf student community on the part of the students whose hearing is not impaired  has fostered a willingness to learn FSL in order to more effectively interact with the deaf community of the college.

This paper discusses the journey of DLS-CSB from providing the bare minimum services to its deaf student population to embracing the advocacy of the use of FSL as the best means of delivering services and providing quality education to the Deaf.  A review of several institutional and School documents is made in tracing the progress made by the college. Suggestions have been submitted for the possible replication of DLS-CSB’s growth process by other higher education institutions.

2.  METHOD

For this paper a review of documentation was made focusing on the history of the SDEAS and the Filipino Sign Language Learning Program (FSSLP), the accommodations made by the greater DLS-CSB hearing community for the deaf community, and the access services set in place at the college.

Documents reviewed include (a) the SDEAS history and the school primer, (b) enrollment statistics of the FSLLP classes offered by the SDEAS, (c) the strategic intents and capability-building measures of the 2008 Philippine Lasallian Family Convocation, (d) the DLS-CSB Student Handbook, (e) some issues of Perspective, the College newsletter, (f) reports made to academic linkages, and (g) the SDEAS report on accomplishments and directions from 2000-2009.  Also, policies that are approved and implemented within DLS-CSB are also looked at.

These documents provide information on the process that the college underwent as it took on the challenge of providing quality services for the deaf by focusing on information access and accommodation through sign language interpreting.

3.  RESULTS

Upon review of the DLS-CSB and SDEAS documents we find that the original program offered for deaf students was a Certificate Program in Bookkeeping/Accounting for the Hearing-Impaired which opened in 1991.  The faculty core of this program, placed under the Educational Development Department (EDD) of DLS-CSB, underwent sign language training and intensive teacher training to prepare them for the education they will be providing hearing impaired students admitted into the program.  The program was not only academic in nature, it also included a formation component that focused on the deaf students’ emotional development.  These deaf students were mostly scholars and in return, they rendered service to the institution through office assignments which exposed them to the college’s hearing environment and challenged them to interact with the hearing members of the institution.

A report made by the SDEAS to one of their academic linkages, the Post-Secondary Education Network-International (PEN-International) makes mention that in 1993, the Sign Language Learning Module (SLLM) was developed with the primary purpose of building the self-esteem of the deaf students as they managed the sign language classes of the hearing students of DLS-CSB.

In 1994, realizing that a certificate program was not enough training to get the deaf students employed, and recognizing the impact of having deaf teachers teaching Deaf students, the school offered the Bachelor in Applied Deaf Studies (BAPDST) program.  The core of this program was in education but there were also special training courses in various fields.

In 1996 DLS-CSB went through a restructuring and the some of the changes made paved the way for the School of Special Studies (SSS).  It was also in this year that DLS-CSB was granted accreditation by CHED to offer the BAPDST Program.  Also, during this time, the college’s administration, and later on CHED, were convinced by then SSS Director Dr. Liza Martinez to change the name of the certificate course being offered from Certificate Program in Bookkeeping/Accounting for the Hearing-Impaired to Certificate Course in Bookkeeping/Accounting for the Deaf.  This change in name drove home the point that SSS did not view the deaf person from the medical perspective, where they were labeled as “hearing-impaired” thus anchoring their identity on their inability to hear, but from the cultural perspective where a deaf person is recognized to be a member of a deaf Community that has a unique identity, culture, and language (which is Filipino Sign Language).  At about the same time the SLLM also needed to change directions.  Although it was initially intended as a tool for the self-esteem development of the college’s deaf students it was now transformed into a program with the potential to produce hearing students with sign language skills that may eventually become service providers for the deaf community (i.e., teachers for the deaf, sign language interpreters).  The SLLM was changed into the Sign Language Learning Program or SLLP.

Since student development not only happens inside the classroom but also takes place in student activities such as sports, performing arts, leadership training and student organizations, it was understandable that the deaf students of the college had limited opportunities in these areas. The college had a unit in charge of providing such activities to the students of the institution but admittedly this unit did not understand the needs of the deaf student population and did not have any sign language skills.  These opportunities to participate in student activities were provided to the SSS students through coordination with external agencies.  Thus, in 1998, the proposal for the creation of the Counseling and Resource Unit for the Deaf (CRU-DEAF) was submitted.  This unit was envisioned not only to serve the deaf students of the college but also to reach out to other members of the deaf community through outreach activities in the field of guidance and counseling.

In the year 2000, DLS-CSB went through an evaluation and assessment of its programs and services. At the same time SSS also went through a similar process.  Consultation meetings were held with the deaf students and the members of the faculty to gather and understand their opinion on the curriculum, student needs, and program direction.  Based on the results of these consultations recommendations were made to the greater institution and these were linked to the directions of the college to transform into a learner-centered institution.

Beginning the school year of 2001 the School of Special Studies was renamed the School of Deaf Education and Applied Studies (SDEAS) and was given a new structure.  This time, aside from the academic program for the deaf, the SDEAS also housed its own student services unit in order to remain responsive to deaf students’ needs, although a number of programs still opened its doors to the deaf and mainstreamed them in some activities (e.g. BESTMade Leadership Training and the planning sessions of Student Council and other student organizations).  The integration of the deaf students with the hearing students during these events was done with the aid of sign language interpreters.  Also the BAPDST Program whittled down its offering of seven areas of specialization to two: Multimedia Arts and Entrepreneurship.  To meet the need for skilled teachers in these areas, DLS-CSB’s School of Design and Arts and School of Management and Information Technology assigned some of their faculty practitioners to be teachers at the SDEAS.  In order to ensure effective communication between the teachers and their deaf students, sign language interpreters were assigned to assist in these classes.  In 2003, the academic and formation units were formally recognized in the organizational chart as the Office for Academics (O-AP) and the Office for Deaf Esteem and Formation (O-DEAF).

In 2006, the Office for Partnership and Development (O-PD) was added to the structure of the SDEAS functioning as the employment and advocacy arm of the school to the larger Benildean Community as well as to the external agencies that were looking into providing deaf graduates of the college with employment.  At about the same time the SLLP was renamed the Filipino Sign Language Learning Program (FSLLP) in line with its commitment to be an innovator in the Filipino Sign Language education for the Deaf, Hard-of-Hearing, and Hearing.  It was at this time that personnel from the different offices providing students with academic support services were becoming aware of the importance of knowing sign language in order to effectively deliver their services to the members of the college’s deaf community, thus the rise in enrollment of DLS-CSB personnel into the FSLLP.  This was supported by the college through their subsidy of the enrollment fee of personnel who enrolled into the program.

During this time the college was starting to become truly aware of the presence of the deaf community of the SDEAS and deaf students were being invited to attend various activities like seminars and workshops, leadership trainings, and other institutional programs.  The process for providing access and accommodation services at this point was still very unclear with sign language interpreters rendering free service during events when the organizers could not afford to pay the interpreting honorarium and perennial last minute requests for interpreting services when they would realize that deaf students were participants of an event.  In 2007, in a move to professionalize the provision of interpreting services within the college, a policy was approved by the institution’s Academic Council putting structure into the request of interpreting services for activities and events within the college and providing an interpreting honorarium scheme that was fair given the service rendered by sign language interpreters.

Recently, as the result of the partnership between DLS-CSB and PEN-International, the Center for Education Access and Development (CEAD) was created with the primary purpose of setting up support structures for the mainstream set-up that qualified deaf students can get into with the School of Hotel, Restaurant and Institution Management (SHRIM) and the School of Design and Arts (SDA).  A team comprised of the Deans and Chairpersons of SDEAS, SHRIM, and SDA with DLS-CSB’s Vice Chancellor for Academics visited the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) in early 2009 for a series of discussions on the mainstream environment that NTID and Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) has and to conduct observations on how classes are conducted when there are a number of deaf persons in a largely hearing class.  Once the group returned to their institution, steps were taken to prepare these schools for the eventual mainstreaming of deaf learners into their programs and the initial step was to organize core faculty members and academic support services personnel and enroll them in Filipino Sign Language classes.  Apart from learning the basic conversational signs, these groups will also work with their FSLLP teachers and with members from SDEAS in developing technical signs for the vocabulary that one often uses in the areas of culinary arts, tourism, hospitality management, and design.

At the start of school year 2009-2010, upon the recommendation of the human resource study that the college was undergoing, the offices under the SDEAS were renamed Centers and are now called the Center for Academics, Center for Deaf Esteem and Formation (C-DEAF) and the Center for Partnership and Development (C-PD).

4. DISCUSSION

From the very start the deaf program of De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde has placed a premium on sign language skills when working with the deaf students of the college.  During its earlier years faculty members from the college’s other schools who were tapped to teach in the deaf program were required to learn Filipino Sign Language and be of a certain level of competency in the expressive and receptive aspects of signing.  The creation of a sign language learning program to educate others in the use of Filipino Sign Language, and its transformation into a program that could possibly train individuals in becoming service providers for the deaf is also an indication of how the use of sign language is seen as important and a necessity in providing quality education to deaf students.

Over the years a number of changes happened within the deaf program and the greater college.  From a change in name, to adapting the learner-centered educational philosophy, to the changes in the organizational structure and the curriculum, and setting new directions, the importance of using FSL as the medium for communication within SDEAS remains.

DLS-CSB has also been very supportive in the advocacy of the use of FSL in the college environment by subsidizing the fees of personnel interested in enrolling in FSLLP classes.  With the approval of the policy on the request for sign language interpreting services and honorarium scheme for sign language interpreters, the need to provide access to information to deaf students through the use of their first language is institutionalized and the services rendered by sign language interpreters have become professionalized.

With the plans of the college to mainstream qualified deaf students, the initial step which is deemed to be the most important is developing the signing skills of key persons involved in this program.  Aside from the signing skills, orientations on the deaf culture and the learning styles of deaf persons are also discussed with faculty members.  With all these preparations being put in place for the mainstreaming program it is evident that DLS-CSB is serious in ensuring the academic success of deaf students primarily by focusing on their mode of communication and access to information which is through the use of Filipino Sign Language.

Ana Kristina Arce, the first deaf magna cum laude graduate of DLS-CSB and the recipient of the Benildean Community Service Award in the October 2009 graduation ceremonies, acknowledged during her interview last January 2010 for an article in the newsletter of the Philippine Lasallian Family how the signing environment of the College had been a great help to her during her years as a student.  Her encounters with college security personnel, the Registrar’s Office staff, librarians, accounting office personnel, and staff with the student affairs division who know some FSL at first amazed her because she did not experience this kind of openness and acceptance in the other schools that she went to.  As a deaf person she is appreciative of DLS-CSB and its efforts to ensure that their deaf students have access to quality education, including academic support services, through the use of their mother language, Filipino Sign Language.

5. ACKNOWLEDGEMENT []

6.  REFERENCES

[1] Bustos, M.T.; & Martinez, L. (2008, December). Is UP education linguistically accessible to its Deaf students? Paper presented at the 10th Philippine Linguistics Congress, Quezon City, Philippines.

[2] Cawthon, S.W.; Nichols, S. K.; & Collier, M. (2008/2009).  Facilitating access: What information do Texas post-secondary institutions provide on accommodations and services for students who are deaf or hard of hearing.  American Annals of the Deaf, 153(5), 450-460.

[3]   Commission on Higher Education.  (2002). CHED Memorandum Order No. 23. Retrieved December 15, 2009, from http://www.ched.gov.ph/policies/Digitized% 20CMOs/CMO%202000/CMO%2024%20S.%202000.pdf

[4] Lang, H. G.  (2002). Higher education for deaf students: Research priorities in the new millennium.  The Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 7, 267-280.

[5] Philippine Deaf Resource Center and Philippine Federation of the Deaf, 2004.  An Introduction to Filipino Sign Language. Part III. Current Issues. Quezon City: Philippine Deaf Resource Center.

[6] School of Deaf Education and Applied Studies. (2004, October). School of Deaf Education and Applied Studies and PEN-International Philippines. Manila, Philippines.

[7] Stinson, M. S. (1999).  Considerations in educating deaf and hard-of-hearing students in inclusive settings. The Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 4, 163-175.

[8] United Nations.  (2006). Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities. Retrieved December 15, 2009, from http://www.un.org/disabilities/convention/ conventionfull.shtml

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