View Our Catalog

Join Our E-Mail List

What's New

Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

Press Home

Language Attitudes in the American Deaf Community
Previous Page

Next Page

table iDeaf and Hard of Hearing Students in Instructional Settings, 2000–2001
  Primary communication mode of instruction

Instructional settings


Speech only Speech and sign Sign only Cued speech Other Total
Regular school setting 11,442 79.7 18.4 1.3 0.2 0.3 100.0
Resource room 4,653 75.1 22.2 1.7 0.7 0.3 100.0
Self-contained classroom 10,190 29.9 63.3 5.0 0.6 1.2 100.0
Special school 9,029 8.9 74.3 15.4 0.0 1.4 100.0
Total 35,314 46.6 46.1 6.0 0.4 0.8 100.0
Note. Numbers are the percentage distributions. Adapted from Karchmer and Mitchell, 2003.

The placement of deaf and hard of hearing students in one of the four instructional settings is based on the students’ degree of hearing loss and their teachers’ and parents’ input, which together determine the communication method designed for the students’ needs (Karchmer & Mitchell 2003, 2011). For example, students with profound hearing loss tend to be placed in the programs where signing or Simultaneous Communication (signing with speech) are used, whereas students with milder hearing loss are in the programs where speech is the primary instructional mode. Karchmer and Mitchell (2011) reported that in 2003, 90% of deaf and hard of hearing students attending deaf schools received instruction through signs or a combination of signs and speech (p. 22). Karchmer and Mitchell (2003) also found that almost 70% of the students in self-contained classrooms received sign- or sign-supported speech-based instruction, nearly 80% of the students in the regular school setting received instruction through speech, and 75.1% of the students in resource room setting receive speech-based instruction (see Table 1).

Along with the instructional modes of communication, some students are fitted with personal hearing devices to amplify their residual hearing. In the Gallaudet Research Institute’s summary report (2011) of the 2009–2010 annual survey, 58% of students with hearing loss used hearing aids for instruction. Even though the number of cochlear implant users is small in the United States, it has increased rapidly from 5.3% of the 41,768 students in the 1999–2000 survey to 15% of the 37,107 students in the 2009–2010 survey (Gallaudet Research Institute, 2001, 2011).

The concept of using speech as a medium of instruction in deaf education is pretty straightforward. Deaf and hard of hearing students are encouraged to use their residual hearing and practice their oral communication skills with their teachers and with each other. The teachers speak to the students while being mindful of their students’ special communication needs. Some students are fitted with personal hearing devices that further facilitate oral communication while some students prefer to do without. Speech-based instruction is prevalent in regular education and resource room settings, and students with milder hearing loss tend to be placed in these settings. Though not accounted for in Mitchell and Karchmer’s statistical studies, it is possible that students who have profound hearing loss but possess good or excellent speech abilities may also be placed in these settings. Using sign communication as a medium of instruction is not as simple as it seems. Depending on school language policy and instructors’ intentions, ASL may or may not be used in classroom. Even though ASL is accepted by some as a true language, its effectiveness as the medium of instruction is still hotly debated, especially when it comes to teaching English. Because deaf and hard of hearing students attend schools in United States, they are expected to achieve a certain level of literacy in English. The skepticism about the status of ASL may be one cause for the invention of manually coded systems for teaching English.

signing varieties

In the second half of the 20th century, when the ban on sign language use in classrooms started to be lifted, several educators developed communication tools to provide complete access to English by manual means. Collectively, these have come to be known as manually coded English (MCE). Examples of MCE are Signed English (SE), created by Harry Bornstein (Bornstein, Saulnier, & Hamilton, 1983); Seeing Essential English (SEEi), by David Anthony (Luetke-Stahlman & Milburn, 1996); Signing Exact English (SEE2), by Gerilee Gustason and colleagues (Gustason, Pfetzing, & Zawalkow, 1972; Gustason & Zawolkow, 1993); and Linguistics of Visual English (LOVE), by Dennis Wampler (1973). MCE systems, also known as “artificial sign systems,” can be used with or without voice and are typically used in Simultaneous Communication[9] programs (Power & Leigh, 2011, p. 39). For the sake of simplicity, only SEEi, SEE2, and SE are discussed here. MCE systems are designed in a particular way so that the essential features of English can be expressed visually; however, the systems differ from one another in their philosophy of how English should be expressed. In SEEi, signs are designed to correspond with English morphemes or root words irrespective of conceptual meanings. For example, the English word “butterfly” is conveyed through two separate signs, butter and fly.[10] SEE2 developed from SEEi with a special concentration on the conceptual meanings of independent words and morphemes of English to which the signs corresponded. For example, SEE2 has one conceptual sign for “butterfly” instead of the two signs used in SEEi (Gustason et al. 1972, 1993).

SEE2 borrows some percentage of ASL signs, and the handshapes in the signs are usually modified to match the initial letter of the corresponding words, a process known as initialization. The signs car, bus, and truck are identical except for their handshapes: C for car, B for bus, and T for truck. The ASL sign for car is not initialized with the C handshape; this is an iconic sign that represents the hands handling a steering wheel (see Figure 1).

    9. Simultaneous Communication is a means of communication in which a person can sign and speak at the same time. MCE systems are typically used in this manner because they are based on English, but with ASL it is difficult to express oneself clearly through Simultaneous Communication. See Tevenal and Villaneuva 2009 for further discussion.

    10. It is a convention in sign language studies to use small capital letters for English words (glosses) that represent ASL or MCE signs.

Previous Page

Next Page