Over the past 40 years, shifting trends in educational policy have resulted in significant changes in educational placements for deaf and hard of hearing (Deaf/HH) students. Legislation such as PL 94-142 and IDEA encourages mainstreaming all students with disabilities in the "least restrictive environment,” which has been interpreted as education in local public schools where students with disabilities have access to the general curriculum. As a result there has been an increase in mainstream placements for Deaf/HH students. As reported in the 30th Annual Report to Congress on the Implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (2008) in 2006, 86.4% of students with hearing loss ages 6-21 were educated in regular schools.
Initially, mainstreaming often meant that Deaf/HH students attended separate classes in public schools. Today however, such students spend more of their school day in classes with hearing peers, supported by itinerant teachers of the Deaf/HH, interpreters, speech-language pathologists, notetakers/captionists, and resource room teachers. In 2006, almost half of mainstreamed students attended regular classes with hearing peers for 80% or more of the day (30th Annual Report to Congress on the Implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Act, 2008).
As a result of these changes, more Deaf/HH students are attending their local public school where they receive support services from itinerant teachers. The term "itinerant" reflects the work model for these educational specialists, in that they usually have a caseload of students in one or several school districts. They travel among these schools to work with their students individually to support their mainstream education. Itinerant TOD/HH’s also provide support for students regarding self-advocacy skills, self-concept, communication, social skills and transition. Additionally, an itinerant TOD/HH provides ongoing support and consultation to school staff and parents. Specific services are based on the needs of the student and usually documented in the student's Individual Education Plan (IEP). In this section, an overview of the work of itinerant teachers is provided. The information is intended for mainstream instructors, Deaf/HH students and their parents, school administrators, and professionals who may provide specialized services for these students.
The work of itinerant teachers of Deaf/HH students can be organized within five broad categories:
- Direct Service
- Indirect Services
- Professional Development
- Reports, Forms, and other Paperwork
Each of these categories is briefly described; video clips provide examples taken from a panel discussion with itinerant teachers as well as a June 27, 2012 presentation at a DeafTEC meeting at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf.