Special Services Update


Help for the Signing Impaired

Rachel Kolb, in a recent article in the New York Times (6/3/15), writes about the times when her voice fails her. Rachel has cochlear implants, is able to speak, and is also fluent in American sign language. In crowds and at parties, as the noise in a room increases, she finds herself wishing that all people were able to use sign language. She contrasts the experience of trying to shout in someone's ear and her communication partner straining to hear with the experience of being at a party with people purely using sign: the atmosphere is relaxed, and everyone can easily and inclusively communicate and understand. In noisy situations, her hearing friends become "signing impaired".

She elaborates on some of the advantages of using sign language. As a visual form of communication, perhaps our primary way of communicating, sign language can create communication opportunities that don't exist when communicating auditorily. For example, communication can take place across rooms and distances, multiple conversations can occur at once. It "possesses a vibrant visual-spatial orientation and a robust directness of expression that spoken languages lack". Many people comment to her about the beauty of sign.

She remarks that, for her, the line between disability and ability is fluid. Her profound deafness, considered a disability, provides her an advantage at times in her use of sign language. It has also created the ability to read lips. She considers herself fortunate in that she has options for communication. "It is the human desire to communicate-which always strains to break out of presupposed categories, always insists upon its own flexibility and power."

The human desire to communicate is a critical issue for students with special needs. Often, communication for our students in difficult, leading to an increase in behavioral issues. Behavior is the default mode of communication for students who have not found or been provided with a more effective means. Think about how we can provide our students with flexible means of communication, even for students who can speak. Consider the use of visual means- through writing, drawing, and using signs, either formal sign language or individual hand codes for "I need help" or "I need a break", Think flexibly- texting? emailing? smoke signals? What are flexible ways that your students are already using to communicate that you can shape?

How can we help turn disabilities into abilities and strengths?

Jennifer Connolly, PhD

Director of Special Services

Read the full article here: http://kristof.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/06/03/help-for-the-signing-impaired/