Define the Individual
Whether you work in mental health, education or anywhere else that disabilities might be an issue, one of the first things you learn is not to define someone by their disabilities. With that being said, keep in mind that the self image for deaf student classrooms can be greatly improved if students are not referred to as "deaf students". Using that term on a regular basis will reinforce the idea that students who are deaf are in a group of their own, one that is defined by a disability. It's really no different than saying "the fat kids" or the "special needs kids".
Help your students to define themselves so that they can understand that their disability is not their only trait that defines them. Focus on positive traits by using simple games like this social skills game that can be easily modified to fit any age group. You can also use the game below to teach and talk about grouping of people.
Begin by explaining to the students that they are going to learn about grouping today. This activity is going to be most effective if students are unaware that this is a self image activity since they may be resistant to such an activity.
- Write 5 general activities on the black board. Make sure they are activities that correspond with the age group that you are instructing.
- Ask students to come up one by one and write their name under the activity that they are the worst at.
- Create groups based on the answers of your students. Ask students to look at the members of their groups and note if they are all the same as each other. (Obviously there will be differences, which is the point of the activity.)
- Repeat the process with activities that students are best at, like most, like least and so on.
- At the end of the activity, discuss how people cannot be defined by one trait alone. Remind them that self image for deaf student classrooms and deaf students should not be based on the fact that the students have a hearing disability. They may own the disability, but it does not own them.
Seeing is Believing
Sometimes it's very easy to get saturated in all of the negative elements of life. Part of being a teacher is teaching life skills that form the foundation for young adults. You can easily teach students how to view the world in a positive light if you are able to do so yourself. Often, finding the silver lining in a cloud is the path to finding the sun. Focus on the possibility of rain from the cloud and you can miss all the shining rays shooting out from it. It's your job to help your students to see life in this manner. You can start with their very form of communication.
Most students who are deaf may know how to verbalize, but probably know sign language as well. In fact, sign language is the ONLY universal language. Students may notice people staring at them as they use sign language. They may consider that people are feeling sorry for them or looking down on them because they are deaf, but the fact of the matter is that most times, people just want to know what is being said. It's not that they are nosy and they probably wouldn't care at all if the words were spoken, but sign language is a mystery to people who don't know it. Anything that is a mystery tends to fascinate people. Encourage your students to be proud of their ability to sign. Let them know that this marks them as having a unique talent, not as having a disability.
A good way to send this message home is to have students sign in public and pay attention to how many people watch their hands. Students will quickly understand that though they may think the person is considering the "deaf factor", it isn't the ears they are looking at, but the hands as they go about the business of expressing the only secret yet universal language.