Educating the Deaf in America is an expensive proposition — especially in a modern mainstream setting with Hearing students and interpreters are required. Educating the college-capable Deaf is an even more daunting project because of the massive amount of money it takes to educate just a single Deaf student.
The Americans with Disabilities Act is now 22 years old, but that Act still doesn’t begin to really protect the rights of the disabled. All the Act does is try to level the playing field of fair play by mandating equal access and opportunity but, in many cases, if you want full and verified ADA protection, you have to hire a lawyer and sue. That’s an expensive proposition for any disabled person to conjure.
Let’s do the math. To educate a Deaf student in a mainstream college, you’d expect to spend at least $75,000.00USD per semester only on interpreters. That’s $150,000.00USD a year. Multiply that by a four-year undergraduate degree, and you’re paying $600,000.USD in interpreter fees.
That price doesn’t include books or tuition or room and board. We also have to consider that, because of communication issues, many Deaf students do not finish their degree and graduate in four years. Add two years of additional schooling, and your price only for interpreters for an undergraduate degree totals in at a confounding $900,000.00USD.
Astonishing, isn’t it?
Don’t forget to factor in dropout rates and other indices of failure. It isn’t unreasonable that $500,000.00USD can be spent on interpreter fees and then the student flunks out or decides to quit school. All that money is unrecoverable. You can’t bill the Deaf student, or any disabled person seeking services, for not following through.
The ADA assures the Deaf student doesn’t foot that million dollar bill for interpreters — just like the wheelchair handicapped don’t pay for creating designated parking or for ramp access for local businesses, and just as the Blind do not pay for talking crosswalk signals — so who pays that incredible sum of money?
And the schools — if you take Federal money, you’re on the hook for paying for Federal ADA compliance.
And sometimes, State and Federal rehabilitation agencies will step in and cover some of the costs.
The schools do not want to pay a million dollars per Deaf student for interpreters, but under the ADA, they must help share the cost and are often the vendor of last resort if no other monies are forthcoming. That’s why you often see a concerted effort by schools to force Deaf students into using Open Captioning, or grouping Deaf students together in the same class, and sometimes just flat-out refusing to pay for interpreters and inviting a lawsuit to “make them” pay.
I understand it is economically untenable to pay a million dollars in interpreting fees for one Deaf student’s undergraduate education. If you have a few Deaf students in different degree programs, you could easily bankrupt the disability services office of any school.
What’s the solution?
Do we begin to deny higher schooling services to the Deaf because they cost too much to educate?
Will there be requirements in place in a generation or two that no manual sign language Deaf will be educated at the university level unless they are Cochlear Implanted and do not require expensive American Sign Language interpreters?
The Deaf Ghetto of the past is precisely what the ADA is trying to fight to avoid today. In antiquity, the Deaf were regionalized and confined to a non-interactive world. They were forced to seek pity to survive and to live in poverty. Nobody would hire them. No one wanted to pay to educate them.
Schools like Gallaudet University eventually were founded to give the Deaf one pathway for success in higher education where all the instructors used ASL, but the stigma of the disability is still a strong and expensive force in the mainstream marketplace and we, as taxpayers, ultimately have no choice but to continuing paying for these “expensive Deaf people” because it is our duty as citizens to help provide equal access to everyone so not one single person is left behind.
If we do not help, if the schools and taxpayers do not pay — then the ADA means nothing — and that means there has been no real equal access civil rights gains for anyone, let alone the Deaf and other disabled in America, the past 22 years… and counting.