In British Columbia, roughly 500 children age five and under are Deaf or hard of hearing.
The early years are a crucial period for language, learning and social development, yet a shortage of early childhood educators with the expertise to support these children means many do not receive care tailored to their learning needs when they enter daycare, preschool or other early learning settings.
The ripple effects of early language deprivation can stretch into adulthood. According to the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association, the unemployment rate of Deaf and hard-of-hearing Canadians is 32 per cent higher than that of people without disabilities. Only 21 per cent are employed full-time and 42 per cent are underemployed.
A new program stream from UBC’s faculty of education aims to tackle these twin problems. Beginning in September, adult learners who are Deaf or hard of hearing can enroll in a B.C. early childhood education basic certificate program that has been adapted to meet their learning needs. It’s the first program of its kind in Canada.
Graduates can apply to be certified as early childhood educators by the Ministry of Education and Child Care and work anywhere in the province with any population of young children.
“This program will help not only meet the needs of young kids who are Deaf and hard of hearing, but also opens up opportunities for adults who are Deaf and hard of hearing to be appropriately employed in areas of expertise where we have great need,” said Dr. Laurie Ford, associate professor and director of the early childhood education (ECED) program at UBC, and co-developer of the new program.
The two-year part-time program will be offered online. Content is fully captioned and interpreted, with much of it delivered visually. In-person practicum placements will be available throughout B.C., with opportunities in specialized early-intervention programs that focus on children who are Deaf or hard of hearing.
The cohorts will be small, and learners will receive weekly support and mentoring in American Sign Language or English by cohort advisor Lisa Meneian, course co-developer and an educator who has extensive experience in early intervention with children who are Deaf or hard of hearing.
Meneian has worked with children and families across the province struggling to find early-learning centres that can support their needs. She is past executive director of Deaf Children’s Society of B.C., one of the province’s three early-intervention agencies for children who are Deaf or hard of hearing.
“These children need access to language and appropriate role models in the form of adults who are themselves Deaf or hard of hearing. They also need opportunities to learn in peer groups with other children who are Deaf or hard of hearing,” said Meneian.
Monika Lane of Parksville, B.C., knows the challenges first-hand. She has three daughters aged six, four and two who are Deaf. Lane, who is herself Deaf, knows the risks of early language deprivation but has had difficulty finding support for her children in learning settings.
“When we found out our oldest daughter was Deaf, that had an impact on us because the resources for Deaf children are quite limited,” said Lane. “But we put her in daycare because we thought it really important to expose her to those environments as early as possible. We tried to get an early childhood educator who could work with her but there were none available.”
Her daughter was left unable to communicate or fully interact with other children or staff at the centre for a full year until they received funding to hire an interpreter so she could at least communicate in American Sign Language.
“My children – and other Deaf or hard-of-hearing children in this province – deserve to have early childhood educators who can fully support their language, learning and development needs,” said Lane.
The new ECE program stream will help address this important gap. It’s not just children who are Deaf and hard of hearing who will benefit.
“Society in general benefits when we have Deaf and hard-of-hearing professionals in the workplace,” said Meneian. “It strengthens programs. And when we have Deaf and hard-of-hearing children in programs, it strengthens early-learning communities.”
The new cohort program was developed with funding from the B.C. Ministry of Post-Secondary Education and Future Skills and an Edith Lando Virtual Learning Centre (VLC) Digital Pedagogy Lab grant from the UBC faculty of education, and supported by the Centre for Accessibility at UBC.
“We felt uniquely positioned to create this program to welcome and prepare adult learners who are Deaf or hard of hearing to meet the needs of children who are Deaf or hard of hearing, because we have very strong programs and expertise in early childhood education, deaf and hard-of-hearing education and online education at UBC,” said program co-developer Dr. Janet Jamieson, professor emerita of education of the Deaf and hard of hearing in special education at UBC. “The Centre for Accessibility at UBC also played a big role in ensuring all of the online and audio-visual materials were captioned and sign language interpreted so they are fully accessible.”
While priority will be given to adult learners who are Deaf or hard of hearing, the program also welcomes applicants who are hearing, have a connection to the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community and have experience working with young children who are Deaf or hard of hearing.
Applications for September close on July 3. Guidance will be available for deaf and hard-of-hearing learners to apply for tuition support.
For more information, visit: https://earlychildhood.educ.ubc.ca/dhh-basic-certificate/
Interview languages: English (Ford, Jamieson, Meneian), American Sign Language (Lane)