CLT Certification a Top Priority for Recent Scholarship Winner

by Zainab Alkebsi The 2011 winner of the Cornett Scholarship stood out from the other applicants as a zealous and forward-looking Cued Speech advocate. As Jason Gorny explicates in his winning application, “Cued Speech has been a lifeline for me to literacy, so I will advocate, network, and educate others about the benefits of using Cued Speech. I believe that I can use my experience with Cued Speech to help others believe in it as a means of teaching language and communication, not only to the deaf and hard of hearing (D/HOH), but in a larger world where new language learning skills are really needed.”

Crediting this very “lifeline,” Gorny’s own life experiences have been the catalyst for such passion for Cued Speech advocacy. Born in what Gorny loyally describes as “one of the greatest cities in the world,” he grew up in a dorm at the University of Chicago where his parents were Resident Heads. He identifies as a vegetarian and explains that he “believes that being healthy is an important part of successful living.” He considers himself to be an open-minded person who enjoys meeting various types of people. Having a wide range of interests from sports to creative writing, Gorny also participates in Bible Club and Habitat for Humanity.

Gorny’s hearing loss was discovered at the tender age of one year old. At first, he was fitted with hearing aids and began learning American Sign Language (ASL); however, things took an interesting turn when he was introduced to Cued Speech at the age of three years old in an early intervention program. Gorny explains, “A very good family friend, Nancy Burke, introduced us to Cued Speech and my parents [favored] this mode of communication because they believed that it would help me learn the English language more easily and efficiently than ASL.”

However, Gorny faced challenges in learning Cued Speech at school. He and his family fought misperceptions that teachers in the D/HOH programs had about Cued Speech. Gorny felt that most of his teachers expressed no interest in learning the system and consequently gave his parents a difficult time during that period of his life. “My school was not interested in providing Cued Speech for me, despite the efforts to educate the teachers by advocates for Cued Speech. So we began at home.

Our family attended workshops and camps to learn Cued Speech and meet other families using cueing. My mom had been frustrated with ASL and that she had to carry a dictionary around with her in order to teach me new words. Once she learned to cue to me, though, that was all we used at home,” Gorny said.

However, it was still an uphill battle from there. Over the next eight years, Gorny moved to six different schools within the Chicago Public School system. Despite the challenges at each school with receiving services, Gorny’s family used Cued Speech at home consistently and taught it to their family members and friends. Some of these family members and friends attended Cue Camps, to Gorny’s benefit. “Cueing worked really well for my family when I was learning language skills and especially when I didn’t have my hearing aids on. We continue to use Cued Speech today, so even when I’m not wearing my cochlear implant, there is never a time when communication can’t take place,” Gorny said.

Gorny received his first cochlear implant on his right side when he was eight, and then received his left-side implant when he was 15. He enjoys many of its benefits, explaining that he listens to many different types of music, but is “especially partial to country music.” Gorny still struggled at school, though. He stood alone as the sole user of Cued Speech in his area. “The school I went to when I was younger didn’t really [expend] much effort to accommodate me, but my mother changed that. My mom advocated for me successfully because I was able to receive a Cued Language Transliterator (CLT) in grammar school, get a notetaker, and an FM system,” explained Gorny. It made all the difference for him; Gorny maintains that Cued Speech helped him learn the English language, thus improving his reading and grammar skills.

The hard work certainly paid off, for he is now a freshman at Saint Louis University, where he was admitted to their six-year Physical Therapy program. Upon completion in 2017, he will have a Ph.D. in Physical Therapy. “Normally, it would take three to four years after graduating with a M.S. in exercise physiology to get a Ph.D. in Physical Therapy, but because I am in the program, I do not have to worry about applying to graduate school and taking the GRE and can get my doctorate faster,” Gorny explained.

Gorny’s luck with receiving accommodations has improved. “So far, there have been no obstacles, which is awesome. All of my teachers are very accommodating and Saint Louis University has a very good disabilities service program,” Gorny said. Upon being asked whether he still uses CLTs in his classes, Gorny said, “Right now, I don’t need CLTs because I am taking several large classes which are more appropriate for Computer-Assisted Realtime Transcription (CART). Some of my professors talk really fast and I think it would’ve been hard for the CLT to cue that fast in addition to cueing [a vast amount] of information. Actually, there are no CLTs around St. Louis as far as I know. I prefer CART now. It’s a lot easier for me to know what is going on.”

Gorny has considered what the future holds post-graduation. He said, “Once I get my Ph.D. in PT, I will most likely move back to Chicago to get a job because the Health Science job field in Chicago [looks promising]. It has been an interesting journey for me as I faced obstacles and achieved many things, but without those I would be a very different person. I think my life became easier once I started Cued Speech because that allowed me to take advantage of opportunities.”

Gorny won the scholarship because of his advocacy efforts, he said. “I won the scholarship because I have been a good advocate for Cued Speech, promoting it as an alternative form of communication over ASL [via panels, demonstrations, education, et cetera]. It helped me achieve academic success in school.”

Gorny advises other deaf cuers, “to never lose focus on their goals in life and no matter what the obstacles are, find a way to overcome them.” He is well aware of the powerful impact of his battles. “It has always been hard, and sometimes isolating, to have a hearing loss and then to use a communication system that is not well known or practiced,” he said. “But I have learned many lessons and I believe that I am an example of using Cued Speech successfully and doing well in school. Even though most of my teachers never understood or agreed with the Cued Speech system, at least they gained an awareness and respect for the results that they could see.”

It is that very awareness that Gorny continues to pursue. He said, “It’s really important to educate parents of young children, just like my family did, so they have the opportunity to begin cueing at a young age and be on their way to literacy. I hope to have workshops to educate parents. The biggest need, however, is for trained certified CLTs in the school system. I will use my experience with Cued Speech to push educators to include CLT training in their curricular plans.”

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