TORONTO -- A public school resource teacher and professor at the University of Alberta has been named as Canada’s first research chair in deaf education.

The research chair position is part of the Canada Research Chair program, which aims to recruit top academic minds in the natural sciences, arts, engineering, humanities, health sciences and social sciences sectors.

The post was a result of the federal government passing the Accessible Canada Act in 2019, which also included recognizing American Sign Language, Langue du Signe Quebecois, and Indigenous Sign Language as the “primary languages for communication by deaf persons in Canada.”

Joanne Weber, who was born profoundly deaf, will be using her arts-based research approach to enhance educational experiences for deaf students.

“I will be examining the relationship between language acquisition and arts, arts integration into deaf education programs and school programs,” Weber said through her interpreter Tracy Hetman on CTV’s Your Morning on Tuesday. “I really want to look at how arts integration can contribute to increased language literacy outcomes for deaf children and mutes.”

“We know that arts integration offers opportunities for expressive language skills and it also provides more dialogue, social interaction and reflection, and it contributes to children’s cognitive, social and emotional development,” she said.

For Canada’s education system to become more inclusive to deaf and hard-of-hearing children and youth, Weber said there are some major steps to take.

“You have to protect the deaf child from language deprivation; language deprivation is a neurodevelopment disorder that happens when the child does not receive quality access to language,” Weber said. “In order for that to be dealt with, you have to provide opportunities for expressive language, as well as opportunities for perceptive language.”

Simply exposing the child to regular classes in school does not guarantee language access, even with an interpreter or other accessibility aids, Weber said.

“You need multiple social interactions, meaningful exchanges. Those are the building blocks for language acquisition – you have to provide more opportunities for expressive language,” she said. “Most deaf children do not have these opportunities for expressive language throughout the day, especially at school.”

Weber credits her parents for helping her gain her own education, as she struggled in school as a deaf student – and said she will bring those lessons with her in her new role.

“They really supported my cognitive development, my education, my expressive language, and they emphasized the importance of the arts in my early years,” she said.

“Arts gave me an understanding of my own personhood.”