Health Minister Deb Matthews’ recent announcement that an additional $5.9 million
is being provided for cochlear implants should lead to increased scrutiny of Ontario
government policy regarding deaf children’s access to sign language.
The Ontario Infant Hearing Program will not fund American Sign Language (ASL) services
to deaf children who receive cochlear implants and auditory-verbal therapy, and children’s
hospitals in Ontario explicitly forbid cochlear implant recipients from learning
There is no research basis for not allowing deaf children access to ASL. In fact,
a strong case can be made for the overall cognitive, affective, and educational benefits
of bilingualism in a signed and a spoken/written language and of deaf children’s
access to the ASL community. This is particularly true in light of the fact that
results of cochlear implant surgery in congenitally deaf children remain uneven and
Furthermore, Dr. Blake Papsin’s comment that a cochlear implant “increases the ability
of its recipients to become educated and employed” is offensive to educated, employed
deaf members of the ASL community such as myself. The deaf ASL community of Ontario
includes medical doctors, lawyers, university professors, CEOs and various other
professionals who contribute to our economy.
The fact that parents of deaf children are not routinely informed of the ASL community’s
accomplishments speaks not only to the unbalanced information provided by medical
professionals but also to our society’s failure to celebrate diversity and promote
true inclusion for deaf people.
Kristin Snoddon, PhD, SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow, School of Early Childhood Education,