Honoring the Choice of Cued Speech and Cued Languages

The issue

Despite the many well-known educational programs designed for children who are deaf or hard of hearing, students continue to struggle to develop language and literacy skills commensurate with their hearing peers due to a variety of factors. Individuals who have not had full access to language struggle with academics and have difficulty finding employment in jobs where reading and writing are requirements. It doesn’t have to be this way.

What we know

Cued Speech is the new kid on the block in terms of communication modalities. This system was developed in 1967 by Dr. R. Orin Cornett who was working at Gallaudet University. He was surprised to discover that his students who were deaf struggled greatly with reading and writing English. This presented him with a challenge: Design a language access modality that would provide deaf students with complete visual access to English in its primary mode. Cued Speech was the result.

The first family to try it found great success with their profoundly deaf daughter Leah. Leah attended public schools, completed college, and found gainful employment. Cued Speech was a crucial factor in her success. Over the next 50 years, more families chose to cue with their deaf children; the vast majority of those families also used hearing aids, cochlear implants, or American Sign Language (ASL).

Today, thousands of families all over the world use Cued Speech. Their children grow up learning to read and write at or above grade level. Cuers of all ages can access their home and foreign languages.

Cuers are often bilingual, sometimes multilingual, as they have complete visual access to over 70 languages. Many adult cuers use ASL and seamlessly code switch between languages and communities. Cuers have an increased capability to speech-read when cues are not used because they have a mental model of the grammar and vocabulary of spoken language. Most people can learn to cue in a matter of hours. Fluency comes with practice and use.

Given support from professionals to encourage consistent, accurate cueing in natural language settings, parents can quickly become language models for their children who are deaf or hard of hearing. The option of Cued Speech should be included in the continuum of communication choices offered to families for visual access to spoken languages.

What we don’t know and implications

  • Since 1968, Cued Speech has been taught all over the world. Finding and supporting cuers is a demographic challenge. Many national attempts to determine demographics of cuers result in reduced or inaccurate numbers. A puzzling reality is that children who cue are often left out of studies investigating literacy and language skills. One possible reason is that cuers tend to test on or above grade level in language and literacy as compared to deaf and hard of hearing children using other modes of communication.
  • Cued Speech should always be presented along with ASL and Listening and Spoken Language as a communication choice. Most deaf educators and audiologists are unable to accurately explain and demonstrate Cued Speech to families. Professionals need to be made aware of national presentations, online and college cue classes, teacher workshops, and family camps that are available to increase awareness. Where and when these resources are not yet available, they can be requested and procured.
  • Strong consideration should be given to embedding Cued Speech instruction into teacher and interpreter preparation programs as part of a balanced, non-biased curricular approach. Currently, there are not enough Certified Instructors of Cued Speech to meet the growing demand for workshops and courses around the country and there are not enough Cued Language Transliterators to provide access for cueing children and adults nationwide.
  • There are currently three programs in the USA (Minnesota, Illinois, and Virginia) where ASL and Cued English are used. To date, research clearly shows the positive effects of using ASL and Cued English. As such, there is a need to explore all possible effective strategies in the bilingual setting.
  • Parents’ requests for Cued Language Transliterators for their child are often met with resistance from schools nationwide. Rather than making parents fight for their rights and the rights of their child, let’s follow the federal regulations and set a goal to work together for age appropriate language and literacy for every child who is deaf/hard of hearing so cueing children have equal access to education. Let’s effect positive outcomes for anyone and everyone who chooses Cued Speech to access language and literacy in their home and school.

Posted on Oct. 4, 2019 by
Polly Earl
University of Maine

Benjamin Lachman
National Cued Speech Association

Nicole Frye
National Cued Speech Association


Further reading