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Communication Options

Deaf and hard of hearing people communicate via several major communication systems. Each method falls somewhere on a continuum between manual and oral communication. Below is a brief description of each major approach.

American Sign Language (ASL)
“American Sign Language (ASL) is… a visual language, not a spoken language. One or both hands are used to make signs, and meaning depends on visual components such as shape of the hands, the space in which the sign is displayed, orientation of the hand when signing, and the movement of the hands… ASL is a language distinct from English. Therefore, it has its own grammar and syntax (rules for arranging words to form meaningful sentences and phrases). In ASL words are not represented in English word order… Like all living languages, ASL is continually evolving. New signs representing new vocabulary are added, while outdated signs fall by the wayside. This makes it possible to express anything in ASL that can be expressed in English.” (1)
Signed English
“As the name implies, the purpose of Manually Coded English (MCE) systems is to ‘translate’ spoken English into manual signs. That is, these systems are not distinct languages as ASL is. Instead, the signs for words are represented in the same order as in English, and invented signs are used in some systems to convey tenses, plurals, possessives, and other syntactical aspects of English. The conceptual base of ASL, however, is maintained in most of these sign systems. The most commonly used systems of Manually Coded English are Signed English, Seeing Essential English (SEE I), Signing Exact English (SEE II), and Contact Signing… Someone who uses one system can often communicate fairly easily with someone who uses another.” (2)
Cued Speech
“Cued Speech is a system of using handshapes to supplement speechreading. These handshapes are phonemically based-that is, they are based on the sounds the letters make, not the letters themselves. Cued Speech is comprised of eight handshapes that represent groups of consonant sounds, and four positions about the face to represent groups of vowel sounds. Combinations of these hand configurations and placements show the exact pronunciation of words in connected speech, by making them clearly visible and understandable to the Cued Speech recipient. Cued Speech allows [a person] to ‘see-hear’ precisely every spoken syllable that a hearing person hears.” (3)
“This approach encourages children to make use of the hearing they have (called residual hearing) using hearing aids or cochlear implants. Speechreading, sometimes called lipreading, is used to supplement what’s detected through residual hearing. In this approach, children learn to listen and speak but do not learn sign language…”(4) “Further, this ability is best developed in an environment in which spoken communication is used. This environment includes both the home and classroom.” (5)

(1) Quoted from Choices in Deafness: A Parent’s Guide to Communication Options, Second Edition, Edited by Sue Schwartz, pp. 277-278. (2) Quoted from Choices in Deafness: A Parent’s Guide to Communication Options, Second Edition, Edited by Sue Schwartz, p. 278. (3) Cued Speech: A Professional Point of View, Barbara Williams-Scott and Elizabeth Kipila, Quoted from Choices in Deafness: A Parent’s Guide to Communication Options, Second Edition, Edited by Sue Schwartz, p. 118. (4) Quoted from the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services, Communication Options, Auditor-Oral, accessed online May 22, 2006: (5) Quoted from Help and Hope: Family Resource Guide, p. 95, Idaho CDHH, 2006.

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