Who: Child First was developed and is being driven by national organizations that advocate for the educational rights of deaf and hard of hearing children.
Why: At the time IDEA (then the Education for All Handicapped Children Act) was passed in 1975, many children with disabilities were precluded from going to school, either by law or because schools were not equipped to teach them. IDEA changed that by requiring states, local school districts, and schools to provide them with an individualized education.
The main principles include:
- Individualized Education Program (IEP): A program tailored to the child that supports the child's progress in the general education curriculum. For deaf and hard of hearing children this includes consideration of language and communication.
- Evaluation: A child's IEP is based on information gathered through an appropriate evaluation. The evaluation must be performed by qualified personnel.
- Least Restrictive Environment (LRE): To the maximum extent appropriate students with disabilities are educated with students who are not disabled.
- Procedural Safeguards: The student and his parents have certain rights that are protected by law, such as the right to be involved in developing the IEP and the right to be part of the team that decides placement.
In order to meet deaf and hard of hearing students' educational needs, programs must first address their language and communication needs. However, today implementation of IDEA pays little attention to this issue. Instead, IDEA implementation often focuses on the location where the child is being educated, rather than the supports and services available at that location to meet the needs of the child. Child First is attempting to shift the focus of IDEA back to the individual needs of the child. It is attempting to ensure that deaf and hard of hearing children's IEPs and educational placement facilitate full language and communication development, which will lead to greater educational success.
It is time to ensure that deaf and hard of hearing students across the United States experience the same kind of access to language development, social interaction, and academic opportunities experienced by their hearing peers.