Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Reminder

I posted a statement to a Facebook group consisting primarily of parents with some professionals and individuals with hearing loss. After some reflection, I thought it would be prudent to share this with the entire community that I am part of as everyone has something they can relate to in this letter.

Some background on this letter:

I recently became a "moderator" (but really admin) of this Facebook forum and have been facilitating conversations for the past few weeks. Much like with deaf adults, passions are stoked from time to time and conversations get heated up, but the reality is there really hasn't been any personal attacks or pervasive negativity. Everyone truly seems to be focused on providing positive feedback rather than criticizing parental decisions or choices made by deaf individuals (much like the "Mommy Wars" and D/deaf politicking). That being said, sometimes people need reminders about the reality they are in. This is one of these reminders.


A reminder about viewing other people's comments. Try to find the positive in each of our comments and think about the different factors that have played a role in each parents' set of choices from diagnosis to decisions regarding educational placement and use of technology.

Hearing loss is such a complex "condition" in the way it impacts everyone's life experience differently so nothing really is black and white. It is so hard to carry out comparative analysis in deaf education because it is difficult to flesh out the different factors that have influenced the academic and social outcomes of each person with hearing loss.

This is why I have stopped comparing the literacy rates of native cuers to the rest of the d/hoh population, since I recognized the biggest factors in native cuers' lives were the involvement of their parents in terms of communication and access to the language of the home. The same can be said for those who are "successful" in their respective mode of communication. Parents truly are the #1 factor in whether a child will have "successful outcomes" as defined by researchers and professionals (of some who could use some reeducation on those definitions).

If you had met me over ten years ago, you would have met a deaf adult who had a chip on his shoulder and viewed ASL in a negative light because of limited interactions with Deaf signers who truly left a bad taste with their attitudes and views (especially at a 4-H deaf camp in NC). Frankly this old Aaron would have been kicked out of many FB groups with the opinions he had.

However, much like some of our politicians today, my views have "evolved" as a result of increased exposure to a diverse population of people with hearing loss, some who still hold onto that archaic view that ASL is detrimental to overall language acquisition (citing research that I honestly could pick apart because of study methods and demographics of participants), and some who still believe cochlear implants are destroying Deaf culture (because they have never been able to positively experience "hearing").

The reality is an increasing majority of today's generation of deaf people are more open-minded than ever and welcome positive dialogue about how we can be inclusive of all communication options and focus on the specific needs of each child with hearing loss. We are all about helping our children (regardless of disability status) develop into well-rounded individuals who are able to pursue their own dreams without fear of oppression or discrimination. We are now blowing away the expectations of old and breaking glass ceilings everywhere, thanks to our loving and dedicated parents and professionals who truly are committed to meeting our needs and not serving their own self-interests.

Today I hold very different views about the benefits of ASL, while still holding fast to the belief of Cued Speech having profound implications for spoken language acquisition and literacy development. From my experience, rather than focusing on which philosophy or approach is the best, professionals need to focus on helping children with hearing loss develop a wide skill set which can include listening, speaking, signing, cueing, writing, and so on. Too many professionals are still being unduly influenced by members of the "old guard" who have not been able to let go of their own bias and accept the reality of today's generation of people with hearing loss.

People may not realize this, but there are many different paths to the same destination, wherever that may be. Some paths may be more difficult than others, but with guidance and support we will get there.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Learning Cued Speech in a Matter of Hours

This past weekend I taught a Cued Speech workshop to a small number of individuals, of one who calls herself hard of hearing and has some vision challenges and another who was born in France, but moved here and is raising a deaf child of her own. What struck me was how quickly those individuals caught on to the essence of Cued Speech and figured out how to match the cues with the phonemes of spoken English. They felt confident enough to go home and practice cueing by themselves after only a matter of hours.

Over the past years I've heard stories of people teaching themselves to cue just by looking at the cue charts and using workbooks purchased online. I know this is true because one of them is a board member of Cued Speech of Colorado and a cued language transliterator for one of the CSCO junior members.

Think about that for a second. They taught themselves how to cue... How is that possible? Cued Speech really is simple enough in that you have eight handshapes with four hand placements and four hand movements to convey all the phonemes of spoken English. As long as you know how to decode words.

The crux of learning Cued Speech is essentially decoding spoken English at the phonemic level. Let's take the word 'cat.' The word itself has three phonemes - /k a t/, but because Cued Speech is a consonant-vowel system, you have to ask yourself TWO questions. What is the hand shape? Where is the hand placement or movement? Hand shapes represent the consonants (or vowel only) and hand placements or movements represent the vowels (or consonant only).

Now one important thing to remember about how spoken languages are articulated. We pair consonants and vowels together. So we don't sound out each word as in /k ... a.... t.../, but rather sound out words in syllables because that's just how it is in running speech - /ka t/. Cued Speech is a syllabic system in that it pairs consonants and vowels together, so hand shapes and hand placements are conveyed simultaneously, making it easier to convey spoken language fluently and at a natural rate.

Now let's break down the word 'cat' in terms of cuems.

/k/ - hand shape 2
/a/ - at the throat.
/t/ - hand shape 5
    - at the side * (Many words don't end in a vowel, so where do you end up? At the side)

The cue notation for /kat/ would be 2t5s, so you're conveying two cuems: /ka/ - 2t and /t/ - 5s.

A word that ends in a vowel is 'batty' - /b a t ee/, therefore the last cuem is where the vowel is.

/b/ - hand shape 4
/a/ - at the throat
/t/ - hand shape 5
/ee/ - at the mouth

The cue notation for /ba tee/ would be 4t5m, also two cuems.

Still confused? Don't worry. Not everyone knows how to decode spoken English readily because they really never were taught to do that in the real sense of purposefully showing the phonemes of this language visually. Speech language pathologists typically have this ability to decode spoken language into speech sounds because it is ingrained into their training as professionals who support both articulation and language acquisition. They have to learn the IPA system after all.

Now everyone who takes a Cued Speech class or workshop either uses their decoding skills they've acquired through schooling or experience, or they learn to think about the speech sounds we produce in running speech. Once they get over that hump of decoding words, then they are already on their way to mastering Cued Speech by memorizing the hand shapes and hand placements or movements that correspond with each consonant or vowel phoneme.

Now if you really want to teach yourself how to cue, you should check this CD out, created by IDRT.

You can also go to the Cued Speech Discovery Bookstore to find more products that can help you learn Cued Speech.

Then there's the Cued Speech Initiative out of University of South Florida with a page for materials to use for learning.

Don't take this as criticism of sign language, but many parents who started out learning sign language, but switched to Cued Speech cite their frustration with learning new sign vocabulary and how much easier it was to learn to cue. The point of the matter is they already know the vocabulary of their primary language, so more cognitive effort is spent on matching phonemes to hand cues instead of matching new vocabulary in another language to existing vocabulary in the primary language. For some, matching vocabulary in one language to another is easy. At the same time others struggle with the kinesthetics of sign vocabulary.

In other words, to acquire sign language requires more than a workshop or two, but rather real immersion in the deaf community with exposure to different situations for acquiring new vocabulary. People tell me it took years for them to really be fluent in sign language because of the amount of vocabulary they had to acquire and the grammatical structures they needed to internalize. Some might be able to learn it faster than that because they have access to more resources and Deaf mentors, but the reality is that's not the case everywhere in the United States.

Let's move on to advanced cueing and consider the logistics of becoming a fluent cuer at the conversational level or even working as a cued language transliterator. Envision a college level course where the goal is to learn Cued Speech and become fluent. The course would be set up so that students learn the system in the first few weeks, and the rest of the semester is focused on improving fluency and all the things that come with being a professional or transliterator that provides cued language services. Ideally, students would be expected to gain fluency at the sentence level by the end of the semester and by the end of the year, fluency at the conversational level. So hypothetically, a cued language transliterator program should only take a year for someone to get to the position of entry-level work where they receive additional on-the-job training in order to meet state standards for certification or endorsements. I can attest to this because I have trained sign language interpreters who were to start working as transliterators in a matter of months... They didn't get to that certification level by the first day of school, but within a school year, they certainly got close.

Northern Virginia Community College offers a 3 credit elective course in Cued Speech (INT 295 CS-1) as part of "interpreting topics" in their interpreting program, while Nazareth College, Teachers College, Illinois State University, and University of South Florida offer Cued Speech courses for their respective fields related to hearing loss (SLP, Deaf Ed, and Communication Sciences and Disorders).

USF students in the communication disorders program who take the Cued Speech course are required to perform a skit in front of a camera at the end of the semester as part of their evaluation. See this youtube search page for multiple videos to see the varying levels of fluency.

Hopefully ten years from now, we'll see Cued Speech courses as part of every post-secondary program that offers a degree in deaf education or related fields and more Cued Speech instructors across the United States. This shouldn't be an unrealistic goal since the logistics of teaching Cued Speech is relatively simple compared to the logistics of training interpreters to be qualified enough for RID and EIPA standards.

In a nutshell, Cued Speech is simple enough to fit on the back of a business card... yes, a business card, designed by a native cuer.

Now go forth and learn Cued Speech.