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The Illinois School for the Deaf operates under a bilingual mission where they educate a student body of approximately 200 students with both ASL and English. Cued Speech was introduced in 2012 as a strategy to expose deaf and hard of hearing students to English verbally or “through the air”. This is a crucial experiential aspect of literacy education due to how it allows for increased exposure to the way we all use English in it’s primary form. That exposure leads to an increased awareness of how the English language is used and, finally, that awareness leads to a heightened proficiency in the use of English or any traditionally spoken language that Cued Speech has been adapted to. That number of languages exceeds 80 now.
The fact of the matter is that we’re still navigating a very tricky cultural and sociological landscape in terms of deaf education. There are several different goals in mind, which are usually based on where you’re coming from experientially. If you’re a hearing parent or teacher of the deaf, your life experience is generally to try and “rehabilitate” your children/students via listening technology or auditory/verbal methodologies. If you’re a congenitally deaf individual, you may tend to be defensive of your experiences and gravitate to others who share your experiences because it’s easier to communicate within that sphere and it feels better to surround yourselves with people under a shared experience.
Those two perspectives have historically been at odds when it comes to defining deaf education and the goals thereof. Should it be focused towards “rehabilitation” on the oral/listening end of the spectrum and subsequently educating through these communications modalities as best as possible, largely ignoring the diverse range of “rehabilitation” outcomes? Or should it be a square peg into a round hole approach by attempting to teach subjects via a signed language that exists without a written format and that is difficult to reconcile with a largely verbal society?
So where we are today is a pretty new area where everybody now seems to agree on the issues that exist, the problem with the existing solutions, and most importantly, we seem to have come to a general consensus on what the end goal should be; receptive and expressive literacy levels that at the very bare minimum match those of broader society, regardless of communications modality.
Where we now seem to be on this road to deaf educational “nirvana”, as evidenced by this program at the Illinois School for the Deaf, is the part of the discussion where we determine whether or not utilizing English in it’s primary form, which is to say, in it’s verbal form, is an effective way to grant access to all the conventional ancillary learning experiences that implicitly lead to literacy. Cued Speech advocates strongly believe, as a result of 49 years of experience and research, that using English “through the air” in a manner that is as parallel to conventional spoken language as possible but via sensory inputs that deaf/hard of hearing individuals have full access to, allows for contextual and practical learning experiences with that language. Cued Speech is by far the most effective mode that allows for that receptive and expressive exposure to verbal English, regardless of one’s ability to hear.
So the reason that the work we’re doing at the Illinois School for the Deaf is so important is because at the largest scale ever, a historically Deaf organization is buying into the belief that using a visual form of verbal English is beneficial towards gaining proficiency in English, which in turn leads to increased academic and vocational performance and potential. All of these myths that have been perpetuated over the years by protectors of the status quo everywhere are being proven wrong in practice by an extremely high quality staff and student body who have taken the adoption of Cued Speech very seriously. I describe “serious” as a dedication to ensuring that one’s Cued Speech skills are up to the standards put into place by Cued Speech skills certification organizations. As a result, we’re documenting these events taking place so that we can then share our experiences and successes with the wider community.
The deaf education industry is a fascinating sociological case study over the last 100 years. I really believe that with the combination of classroom and auditory feedback technology along with the popularization of a visual form of ‘spoken’ language and a very healthy respect for the deaf environment, we’re entering a new era of enlightened awareness of deaf issues and effective educational strategies.