Physical Activity Programs for Deaf Individuals
Research studies revealed differences between Deaf children and their hearing counterparts in movement tasks (Bressett, 1971; Campbell, 1983; Long, 1932; MacMillan & Bruner, 1906; Pender & Patterson, 1982; Vance, 1968). In some instances it was presumed that these motor differences were linked to neurological and/or anatomical factors. However, many of the studies were completed prior to PL 94-142, when educational opportunities and awareness of individual potential for Deaf children and youth were limited. Other factors such as language delay and self-concept have been presented to explain why some Deaf children performed psychomotor skills less effectively than H children in research studies.
Schmidt (1985) indicated that language delay associated with hearing impairment has an adverse impact on a student's success in physical education. The earlier age of onset and the severity of hearing loss increase the negative impact of language delay on total development. One adverse effect of language delay for the Deaf children and youth may be a low self-concept, which can lead to underachievement (Hopper, 1988). Creating a sense of community with a support network and strong group identity, as exists in Deaf sport, is probably the most effective way to enhance self-esteem and confidence.
Virtually all of the historical studies reviewed found Deaf and hearing subjects comparable in some skills. Generally speaking, Deaf children and youth are more similar than dissimilar to hearing children and youth in psychomotor abilities, with the exception of balance. Overall, hearing participants were superior to their Deaf counterparts in balance. Deficits in balance can certainly have an effect on motor performance, especially in dynamic and competitive sport situations. However, with a focus on physical activity for health and well-being, deficits in balance should not prevent involvement in physical activity programs. Recent research (Dair, Ellis, & Lieberman, 2006) also indicates a need for effective physical education programs to address overweight concerns with Deaf children.
In the case of a balance deficit, there is a need for specific programs that will improve balance. Pennella (1979) suggested tumbling and gymnastics for those Deaf students with balance, equilibrium, and/or kinesthesis problems, in addition to a well-rounded physical education program. Langdale (1984) recommended practice of basic body movements to improve balance. Dance, with its heavy emphasis on static and dynamic balance, is an ideal activity for Deaf individuals (Hottendorf, 1989; Reber & Sherrill, 1981). Sherrill (1976) suggested that Asian exercise systems and martial arts (karate, kung fu, and tai chi) may contribute to a child's body awareness. All of these pursuits include balance and also enhance overall physical fitness and social integration. Parental involvement may also be another key factor and parents should encourage participation in play and creative movement.
PL 94-142 and its subsequent reauthorizations, most recently as the Individual with Disabilities Education Improvement Act, provided opportunities for more flexible educational placements including the general education program. However, members of the Deaf community have valued residential education. Some leaders in the Deaf community believe that the most appropriate educational placement is a residential school. This view was presented by Butterfield (1991) and is strongly supported today by Deaf community leaders. In some instances Deaf students may be more isolated in public schools, especially where specially trained physical educators are not hired to focus on inclusion. In many cases, only one Deaf child may be placed in a school and this child may face isolation and have limited opportunities for social interaction. These situations are even more apparent in rural schools.
The USA Deaf Sports Association sponsors a wide array of affiliated sports. The following have national association status: basketball, cycling, golf, ice hockey, martial arts, shooting, ski and snowboard, soccer, handball, and track and field. The following are managed by individual committees: badminton, baseball, bowling, orienteering, swimming, table tennis, volleyball, and water polo.
Integration and involvement in community sport and recreation activities present challenges. These activities are most often staffed with coaches and teachers who are untrained in physical education and lack specific communication skills. Special training is needed for communication with Deaf individuals. All physical educators should learn at least some basic sign language and how to communicate with manual and total communication methods. Signing is also a skill that can be used between people when one wishes not to vocalize. Hearing children with knowledge of sign language can help with mainstreaming and social integration. Assigning a peer buddy to a student with a hearing loss has proven to be an effective teaching strategy (Lieberman et. al, 2000). It is especially important that physical educators and youth coaches be familiar with the specific needs of Deaf children and youth. Children need support and encouragement to learn motor skills.
Our modern-day view of providing physical education programs to help individuals develop healthy and active lifestyles in adult life is a critical issue for the Deaf community. The goal of a school physical education program for Deaf students should be the promotion of an active and healthy lifestyle that would include but not be limited to sport participation. Children need the tools to achieve this goal, including effective motor skills and adequate physical fitness. Special instruction should also emphasize communication skills in the physical activity setting. Schools should actively promote sports for Deaf children due to the prominent place of sport in the Deaf community (Stewart & Ellis, 2005). Schools should not view physical education as simply time away from classroom studies but as an essential part of the entire curriculum (Stewart & Ellis, 1999).
A challenge in promoting health and wellness for individuals with hearing loss may rest with the Deaf community. Deaf sport is a tradition and part of the culture of the Deaf community. How to provide physical activity opportunities beyond sport for its members and how to effectively access resources and information generally available to hearing individuals are two significant issues. There is limited research to date that focuses on Deaf adults and physical activity programs. The following questions are worthy of study:
- In what types of physical activities are Deaf individuals engaged?
- How is information on physical activity and health communicated?
- How can health information be made available in a culturally appropriate format?
- What is the level of interest in competitive sports?
- What is the pattern of involvement in physical activity from childhood to adulthood?
- What are the community barriers to participation in physical activity?
- What combination of physical activity programs would benefit individuals?
- How many Deaf individuals meet physical activity health guidelines?