Study Focuses on Improving Integration of Students in Public Schools

A study published in Disability Studies Quarterly, Volume 29, Number 3, explored how members of systematically disadvantaged groups, such as individuals with disabilities, navigate their interactions with members of dominant groups or those without disabilities.

Integration of Students in Public SchoolsThe study, which was conducted by Joan M. Ostrove and Abigail Katowitz of Macalester College and Gina A. Oliva of Gallaudet University, consisted of sixty deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals, ranging in age 28 to 65, who had been fully-mainstreamed in public schools when they were growing up.

Researchers reported that positive relationships require a delicate balance between "treating the individual just like everybody else" and simultaneously being aware of their minority status ('taking an interest'; 'being accommodating/helpful').

"Although there are no easy formulas for effective intergroup interaction, our findings suggest that being interested, accommodating, and caring -- and avoiding being explicitly discriminatory -- may be important ingredients for establishing positive intergroup relations in the domains of deafness and disability and beyond," Ostrove and colleagues write.

During the study, participants responded to four essay questions regarding "the worst and best experiences they had with a teacher and fellow student." Participants discussed a multitude of experiences, good and bad.

Below are excerpts from the study, which can be viewed in its entirety at

A majority of the participants (64%) described situations where a teacher provided accommodations. Twenty-two percent (22%) of the respondents described teachers who specifically treated them "like everyone else." Approximately half of the respondents (42%) described a teacher who encouraged them. Nine percent (9%) of the participants wrote about someone who would "treat me like any other peer." Fifteen percent (15%) of respondents described ways in which they were protected by their peers. Approximately one quarter of the sample reported relationships with peers who showed a general interest in deafness/hearing loss by asking questions and encouraging the individual to disclose information about being deaf or hard-of-hearing.

A majority (60%) of the participants' negative experiences with teachers were those in which they were discriminated against because they were deaf or hard-of-hearing. These teachers explicitly indicated that they did not want the student in their class, or that they thought the student was not intellectually capable. They adopted a condescending attitude toward the student, or questioned whether or not the student was "really deaf." About a quarter of the respondents described being humiliated by their teachers. Some of these teachers seemed to be deliberately mean; others may have been well-intentioned, but the student still felt embarrassed. One third (34%) of the participants' stories described teachers who were explicitly unaccommodating -- they did nothing to help the student understand what was going in the classroom, they maintained rigid seating assignments that meant that a hard-of-hearing student with a last name that started with a letter toward the end of the alphabet had to sit in the back of the room, or they persistently faced the blackboard when they spoke. Forty-four percent (44%) of participants described teachers who were generally insensitive, intolerant, ignored them, or just didn't "get it." More than half of the responses in this category related incidents in which the deaf or hard-of-hearing student got in trouble because he or she did not hear something.

Parallel to their experiences with teachers, about a quarter of participants had peers who were discriminatory or prejudiced toward them because they were deaf or hard-of-hearing. Almost half of the sample (41%) reported relationships with peers in which they were generally mistreated. Seven percent (7%) of the participants described a peer who was unaccommodating, in that the person explicitly did not do anything to help the individual.

Please Note: This article was modified on 8/13/09 to include attribution of content related to study results. It includes direct excerpts from an investigational study published by Disability Studies Quarterly and is not entirely the work of the author.

To read more, please visit the Disability Studies Quarterly Web site at