Cued Speech and Mainstreamed Deaf Students

by Alison Candela

One Transliterator’s Thoughts – Cued Speech and Mainstreamed Deaf Students

I. The “New Deaf” Student

“Watch Ms. Candela.” Jenny hears that a lot. I, Ms. Candela, am the Cued Speech Transliterator (CST) in her first grade class. Jenny is deaf and I am there to provide her with equal access to the mainstream environment by rendering speech and other sounds into Cued Speech.

“Were you watching Ms. Candela?”

“No, but I heard the teacher with my CI,” Jenny says, one day early in the school year. Jenny’s teacher wears a microphone that transmits her voice via FM signal into Jenny’s cochlear implant.

Indeed, many deaf and hard of hearing children who use cochlear implants, powerful hearing aids and FM systems have impressive listening abilities. There are children with hearing loss who do not use such devices for various reasons; this editorial is about the children like Jenny who do: the “new deaf” children.

The “new deaf” students have very different needs from most deaf students in the recent past. Has listening technology made Cued Speech obsolete in their education? I think the litmus test we should use to answer that question (now and in the future) is whether the technology is allowing deaf students equal access to spoken language at school.

II. My observations

From what I observed this past year, I have concluded that even the students with impressive listening abilities via technology do not have equal access to the spoken language in the classroom. They certainly do access a lot of speech and sound at school, but since there are still disparities in their access, Cued Speech is still a useful tool.

The most marked access disparity between deaf and hearing students includes access to peer speech. Although an FM system can greatly increase a deaf student’s understanding of the teacher’s speech, the students often cannot hear their peers at all during class discussion.

Outside of formal lessons, a key part of the mainstream experience is informal conversation. Some of that conversation is on-topic and some is not; both types of interaction contribute to a student’s intellectual and social development.

Further, even with the benefit of the FM system, deaf students’ access to the teacher’s speech may not be equal to that of hearing students. I have observed that deaf students who learn to use a CST “part-time” during lessons understand more than when they use listening alone. (Of course, I can’t prove that statement other than anecdotally; this would be a good question to investigate in a formal research study.)

III. The “New CST”

How should I, as a CST for “new deaf” students, adapt to the students’ new needs and abilities? My answer to that question is still a work-in-progress. In this piece, I hope to kindle a dialogue on that topic in the Cued Speech community.

A large part of my job as an educational transliterator with young children is to educate them about how to benefit from my services. The task of guiding a student to maximal benefit from a CST differs depending on the student’s hearing status.

CST-use training works best for students with little or no access to sound. It teaches students to fix their gaze on the CST as much as possible during lessons. As a student increases how much he watches the CST, the amount of information he accesses increases markedly. Further, if the student had limited receptive Cued Speech skills, that student could pick up Cued Speech by “osmosis” out of necessity.

Contrast that student’s experience with that of the “new deaf” generation who uses technology that enhances his or her aural access. It is not obvious to the “new deaf” student that her access is unequal. She can hear the teacher a lot of the time and when she can’t, she doesn’t know that she’s missed anything. She can and does learn from auditory input.

Further, and most critically, since the “new deaf” student does not depend upon Cued Speech for access to auditory information, she should not be counted on to learn Cued Speech by “osmosis.”

Many students who are in Cued Speech programs at school primarily use spoken language to communicate at home. Further, students who are fully or mostly mainstreamed spend very little time with people at school who cue directly to them while speaking. These students’ main exposure to Cued Speech is the CST.

My observations indicate that CST exposure is not enough to develop effective receptive Cued Speech skills in students who have good auditory skills. And naturally, a student who does not understand Cued Speech cannot benefit at all from the presence of a CST.

My proposed method of showing the new generation of deaf students how to benefit from a CST has two goals. The first goal is to increase the student’s familiarity with Cued Speech if his receptive skills need improvement. The second goal is to show the student which situations watching the CST is most crucial. I observed that students benefited most by learning to look at me in the following circumstances:

• informal peer discussion
• peer comments or questions during instruction
• announcements over the PA system
• clarification of the teacher’s speech during lessons.

This past school year I incorporated informal Cued Speech lessons into my role as CST. During moments before school starts or moments right after recess when Jenny and I could work on cueing, we practiced One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.

Many of Jenny’s classmates became interested in learning to cue too—Cued Speech became a popular interest in the class. Jenny and a few hearing first-graders became enthusiastic, proficient cuers. (They got the hang of “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” by the end of the year!)

Since its invention, Cued Speech has been a tool of empowerment. Cued Speech has allowed deaf people, regardless of hearing status, to access spoken language in unprecedented ways. I think that the new generation of deaf children can still find empowerment in Cued Speech as long as we, the adults in their lives, show them just how powerful it can be.

Alison Candela is a Cued Speech Transliterator in Montgomery County,MD. She can be contacted by email at

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