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Book Note: Siegel, The Human Right to Language

July 8, 2009

Lawrence Siegel has been a legal consultant in Deaf and special education issues for over 30 years. He is an adjunct professor at U Cal Hastings College of Law and runs the National Deaf Education Workshop. His latest book is “The Human Right to Language: Communication Access for Deaf Children” (Gallaudet, 2008) 164 pp. I picked up a copy from the parents’ book shelf at the De Sales Center / Holley Ear Institute, Family Village in Michigan where my family often attends Deaf activities, and perused it this week. It’s a fascinating read.

Siegel makes the case that legal arguments for greater communications access for Deaf children need to start incorporating constitutional claims from the First and Fourteenth Amendments, and that continued heavy reliance on the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (1975/1997/2004) with its “least restrictive environment” (LRE) test, can actually hurt the educational prospects of Deaf children more than help them. He argues that constitutional language, especially Bill of Rights jurisprudence, contains much that can correct the still controlling law set out in Rowley (1982).

While it helps to be a lawyer when reading this work, it is by no means a requirement. Siegel provides good fact outlines and concise summaries of various arguments. The notes and index seem pretty good, but a single bibliography would have been nice. The book should be highly recommended for legislative aides and law clerks dealing with proposals or litigation in deaf education matters, but school administrators and even parents (folks already with many things on their to-do list!) would benefit as well.

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