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"Cued Speech as an Option"

by: Stevie Fenton

This letter was written to include Cued Speech as an option for public school deaf and hard of hearing students. Permission is given to reproduce this letter in its entirety (not in parts) for the purpose of training and student or parent education.

May 1, 1997

To the Members of the Cued Speech Task Force:

I am writing to express my support of Cued Speech as a viable option in the education of deaf students. My support stems from training in Cued Speech that I have received, my experience with the current low English competence of the average deaf student, my strong belief in the theoretical model of Total Communication which supports the use of any and all methods of communication in order to increase comprehension, and my belief in parental choice and participation in the student's educational experience.

Let me begin by outlining my experience in the field of deafness. I have worked in some capacity with deaf people for over 17 years. I have a bachelor's degree in Deaf Education/Elementary Education. I was a teacher of deaf students in three public school districts spanning 9 years. These settings have afforded me the opportunity to work with students ranging from 4 to 20 years of age in self-contained, resource, inclusion-like, itinerant, and consultative placements. I've also had the opportunity, through my college experience, to work in a residential setting. I have been directly responsible for the education of over 30 D(d)eaf, hard of hearing, and multi-handicapped students with hearing loss using communication modes ranging from oral, aural, auditory verbal, various English signing systems, and American Sign Language. I am currently working outside the school system as an interpreter for the deaf with Vocational Rehabilitation. I am part of a team of professionals working with adults with hearing loss to acquire or maintain employment.

Throughout my varied experience, I have been disturbed by the prevalence of lower than average comprehension of English in most pre-lingually deaf students regardless of communication modality. The possible reasons for this are many, taught in every teacher preparatory program, and seem to have caused an acceptance of lower expectations in regards to reading and writing for these students. These lower competencies often equate to fewer vocational options for these students when they graduate from high school.

Having said this, I wish to address the pros and cons of Cued Speech as I see them. I first heard of Cued Speech as simply a "little used, little researched system" during my college training. When I had an opportunity to explore Cued Speech last year, I signed up. I was resistant at first, believing it to be a cumbersome system with few benefits. I took the training in order to gather enough experience to be able to dismiss the system as useless to me. I surprised myself. The more I researched the system, the more I saw it as a compliment to the current systems. Cued Speech represents English with the goal of improving the comprehension of appropriate English grammar in deaf students. I have read research and testimonials, have contacted professionals and parents advocating for Cued Speech, and have spoken with people (adults and children) with hearing loss using Cued Speech. These activities have impressed on me that Cued Speech is a viable option for some deaf people.

I do not, by any means, discredit signing as a communication system. I recognize that English signing systems were designed and are put forth as a means to acquire English grammar. In my experience, it has not helped most students to truly acquire the rules of English. It conveys content in English form but it does not generally translate into better English production by most of the students. ASL conveys the content clearly but is in a different linguistic form which does not immediately or often assist in English production. There are many reasons for this; reasons related to school system methodology, teacher skill, extended services, and more. One reason often given for low language production in this environment is that there is low or no exposure to sign systems or language at home. In my opinion, this is a formidable task for parents to learn a new language with ever increasing vocabulary and complexity. We have seen that when parents learn sign and use it consistently with a student, the student's language production is better. What of the students whose parents don't (won't?) (can't?) do this??

I do not, by any means, discredit any of the oral methods. Oral methods depend on the child's knowledge of English and ability to "fill in the gaps" through residual hearing, lipreading, and "guesswork" as to the parts unheard or unreadable. Success in these methods can be compromised if equipment is broken or environments are not conducive to speech reading. Pre-lingually deaf students using this method often struggle to acquire the English required to be successful. If the student does acquire it, however, his/her language production is better. What of the students who doesn't (can't?) acquire sufficient skill?

Cued Speech is a method by which English is visual. The system itself is easier to learn and practice (for parents) and lessens the guesswork (for students). It assists with speech reading which, in turn, can assist with speech production. An added benefit to students using this system is the ability to learn a foreign language verbally as well as in written form since the system is phonetically based.

Last year, I used Cues to support my sign systems with Middle School students on a limited basis in two situations:
  • mainstream spelling words with complicated endings such as -ability (in order to differentiate from -able or -ible)
  • as an auditory discrimination and speech production exercise

I was pleased to see some success in both situations. Had I stayed in the classroom this year, I would have continued to experiment with ways of using visual representation of English with these older students. I do not advocate changing whole programs to Cues only as that again limits the options available to be attempted for these students' success but do see that Cued Speech has potential benefits in various settings even with these students who are strong signers.

I am an advocate of the concept of parental participation in the educational process. Besides the legal reasons of not limiting parental options, there are also ethical reasons not to. These parents, in the long run, are responsible for these students; having them participate gives a feeling of ownership in the educational decisions which in turn strengthens and supports the activities of the school which ultimately benefits the student. Parents of a deaf child make very difficult decisions regarding the very basics of being human - communication. These decisions and the parents' participation have lasting effects on the child's long term development. If Cued Speech can allow for communication between some parents and children in the home, if a parent can be trained to use it easily, if it will assist the child to be more successful, I believe that parents and school should work together. I believe that Cued Speech should be unbiasedly evaluated as to its place in a Total Communication philosophy.

In closing, I support the inclusion of Cued Speech as a component of the Total Communication language philosophy. Cued Speech should be another option in the student's individual educational process of acquiring English competence. With the evidence of low competence in English and the poor communication available at home for many students, Cued Speech may be a possible solution. Parents who are currently using Cues and whose children are learning to understand Cues should be supported in their endeavor to increase their child's understanding of the English language. Cued Speech should be evaluated by incorporating a limited study of a few students or a small group, gathering results, and determining its success after a designated period of time. Given the barriers that these students must overcome in order to be successful in this 'hearing' world, adults from home and school should work together to find the most successful system for each student, enabling them to be on an even keel with their hearing peers. In this way, we will be providing a truly equal (and equalizing) education.

Thank you for this opportunity to express my beliefs, opinions, and observations.
Stevie Fenton

Permission is given to reproduce this letter in its entirety (not in parts) for the purpose of training and education.

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