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The Curious Case of Cued Speech

In the summer of 2015, the RID National Conference was a battleground of controversy fueled by anger and heartache over the extreme growing pains being suffered by our national organization. One of the issues that was addressed was the sunsetting of the Oral Transliteration Certification (OTC). The issue was swept up alongside RID's decisions to move for a moratorium on certification. The outcry was loud and largely resounded with a single theme: You didn't ask US first.

Faced with a loss of authority and fear of what would surely be significant changes, people at the conference rallied around issues where some small measures of power could be wrestled back into the hands of the membership. Two individuals passionately spoke onstage about their OTC credentials and the importance of serving this population. Seeing an opportunity to take back some power, the membership voted to overrule the board of RID and reinstate the OTC exam.

One of the arguments that struck me at the time was the notion that there was a significant population of people using the particular services verified by the OTC credential. Since 1999, the first year the OTC was offered, only 86 people have achieved this certification. That averages out to about five per year and represents only .6% of the total membership of RID. With such a vanishingly small number of providers, I think the argument of a significant client base for this skill set is unfounded from the beginning. In addition, there are arguments to be made that RID's name suggests that we serve people who are culturally "big D" Deaf and, therefore, users of sign language. Certifying oral methods of communication seems to be in conflict with that goal. I don't want to get too far into the politics of branding, but this line of thinking had me considering another option.

Cued Speech.

Cued Speech Chart
Cued Speech Chart

If you don't already know, Cued Speech is a system that allows access to the phonemes of English. That often shared statistic of only about 30% of English being visible on the lips is made moot by 8 handshapes, some locational specificity and mouth movements.

As a service provider, I have begun to see requests for Cued Speech as the generation of users first exposed to this method have aged into the marketplace. Cued Speech began to take hold in the 80s and, combined with the advent of mainstreaming programs seeking options to educate the deaf and hard of hearing children now mixed into their classrooms, means we are now seeing increasing numbers of adults embarking upon their professional lives using Cued Speech as their preferred accommodation.

Unfortunately, there are shockingly few providers of Cued Speech at this time.  Even in the D/M/V (a.k.a Deaf mecca), there is not yet a critical mass of users to warrant training and certification of this skill set.  I believe that to be changing and the market for Cued Speech will increase significantly in the next few years. Fortunately, there is already an organization supporting the training and certification of this skill set. In addition, there are training classes being offered around the country, including this one.

I don't think that hanging onto marginal credentials is the best way to serve the community. Looking towards the future and trying to position our skill sets to meet emerging needs is a better use of our time