SASL Journal Vol. 1, No. 1 - Page 38

Reading Methodology for Deaf Children Supalla the idea that Bébian’s focus on reading in Natural Sign may have unintentionally contributed to the rise of oralism. It appears educators were frustrated with the lack of attention on how deaf children could become literate in French. Bébian was fully aware of bilingualism taking place in his school (with Natural Sign and French), but he did not pursue pedagogy for deaf children becoming literate in French as they did in Natural Sign. Oralism offered these educators a sense of direction by adopting what is normally pursued with hearing children. Deaf children would have to learn to speak and hopefully reading would follow, regardless of how counterintuitive that may be. Bébian’s unique accomplishment with Mimography merits some discussion. Rée (1999) provided information about this writing system. Since Bébian was a fluent signer (in addition to the fact that he could hear), he was intuitively aware of the word structure for Natural Sign. As part of helping create Mimography, the French educator “decompose[d] [signs] into combination of elementary gestures, just as spoken words are analy[z]ed, in alphabetic writing, as sequences of elementary sounds” (p. 298). Signs or signed words organized in terms of the handshape and movement parameters were considered analogous to vowels and consonants of the alphabet. A total of 150 graphemes were created to help write signs by the thousands. The mention of how the written sequences of elementary gestures for Mimography parallel those of elementary sounds with an alphabetic system representing a spoken language demands attention. The choice of the term ‘gesture’ appears unusual. By definition, gestures are part of gesticulation that speakers frequently use in addition to speaking. Pointing to something or depicting a shape of something through the use of the hands is not the same as what Bébian attempted with Mimography. Mimography used more refined components of signs in the form of handshapes and movements, for example. Sound might have been a better term (vs. gesture) as it accounts for the abstract components that make up a word either in the signed or spoken form. It is interesting to note that contemporary Deaf culture experts, Carol Padden and Tom Humphries devoted a chapter in their seminal 1988 book, Deaf in America: Voices from a Culture, to the concept of sound concerning deaf people. Silence is hearing people’s perception that mischaracterizes deaf people’s lives. It was described as “clumsy and inadequate as a way of explaining what [d]eaf people know and do” (p. 109). Deaf people “are far from silent but very loudly click, buzz, swish, pop, roar, and whir” (p. 109). Padden and Humphries went on to explain that poetry in signed language “shows how movement, as well as sound, can express notions like harmony, dissonance, resonance” (p. 108). Several decades have passed since Padden and Humphries’ book publication, and an updated use of sound for the visual modality is necessary for this paper. Even with the enlightened association of ASL with human language, deafness seems to define reading more than it should. For example, a group of deaf education experts have claimed that sounds, phonics, phonemic awareness, reading-aloud, and sounding out are for hearing children only and should not be part of deaf education (Simms, Andrews, & Smith, 2005). Signed language reading has not been relevant to deaf education experts (or in the field of deaf education as a whole). While experts may support ASL, they seem to have created constraints on how reading should be pursued for deaf children. The exclusion of important reading development features as strictly auditory phenomenon is an unfortunate (literal) interpretation when it should be more abstract and universally generalized. Unwarranted power is being given to spoken language as the only source for reading (also see Petitto, Langdon, Stone, Andriola, Kartheiser, & Cochran, 2016 for arguments regarding reading with deaf children based on the notion that ASL is a soundless language). SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017 38