Silvana Veinberg

Ashoka Fellow
Fellow Since 2002


This profile was prepared when Silvana Veinberg was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2002.
The New Idea
With the exception of most of Brazil, Latin American countries do not adequately provide for their deaf citizens. For example, in Colombia, some bilingual programs have been designed for deaf children between infancy and 5-years-old, but they do not continue in formal schooling; in Uruguay, recent national budget cuts ended programs for training deaf adults as teachers of bilingual education (conducted in Spanish and sign language) and for training deaf children as teachers; in Chile, there are scattered professional groups working in deaf education, but there are no bilingual schools.

As for deaf communities in many parts of the world, the deaf community in Argentina carries the stigma of mental disability, and many of its members face isolation and lack access to effective education and other important public resources. Many people in Argentina and throughout Latin America see the deaf as incapable of learning as quickly as their counterparts. In some cases this prejudice has extreme consequences, manifest when educators, public administrators, and parents discourage or prevent deaf children from attending school regularly or at all. A recent survey of deaf adults in Argentina reveals that 80 percent are functionally illiterate and experience difficulty in performing routine tasks that would enable them to live on their own. Labeled disabled in childhood and later marginalized as illiterate adults, many in the deaf community develop chemical dependencies and other problems. Since they have had inadequate language training, they find it frustrating and problematic to communicate their problems and often refrain from asking for help. The challenge for deaf people begins at home and usually becomes acute in the schools. In public school classrooms in Argentina and elsewhere, deaf children often face a world that makes little sense to them. Teachers use oral instructional methods that are insensitive to their needs and abilities. The underlying problem is one of communication–between deaf students who use sign language and understand little of spoken language and their teachers who insist on using oral instructions. Deaf children learn Spanish from teachers who, in many cases, have not been properly trained to teach language skills to deaf students. Furthermore, signing is not presented to deaf children as an option, even though research reveals that learning sign language as their first language facilitates learning oral and written language later. Important messages are understandable only by hearing students (such as bells that signify the end of class period); consequently, deaf children often feel lost and insecure in the school environment.

Even the more progressive teaching methods encourage teachers to play a therapeutic role with their deaf students rather than challenge them and expand their knowledge of key subjects such as mathematics, science, and history. As a result, many deaf students conclude their primary education by 16 or so and are illiterate for the rest of their lives. In Buenos Aires province, 12 percent of deaf primary school students move on to high school; 10 percent graduate. In comparison, 94 percent of hearing students go to high school and 74 percent graduate.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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