How to Handicap a Deaf Person



Recently, an Amarillo school district has stirred up some controversy regarding the sign language system  taught to deaf students in their district.

The district is not teaching ASL, but instead is teaching the Morphemic Sign System (MSS).  This system is only used in Amarillo and has many in the Deaf community ‘up in arms’ since the system is not used elsewhere.

The Amarillo School District contends that it chose MSS to promote literacy among deaf students.  MSS is closer to spoken English while ASL is a continually evolving context language used by the Deaf across the U.S. The deaf students from Amarillo were observed at an event where they were unable to communicate with other deaf students who were using ASL.

Proponents claim that using MSS helps deaf students with their reading and written English skills. ASL is expressive and is not intended to be used in written communication. When a deaf student ‘writes’ the way they communicate in ASL, it can be an issue regarding understanding and perception of educational level.

Those criticizing MSS, point out how it inhibits the ability to communicate with those using ASL – – the primary language of the U.S. Deaf Community.

The American Disabilities Act provides for a Sign Language Interpreter when equal access is needed by the Deaf.  Legal, Medical, Educational, Government, Political….the list is endless when noting settings where an interpreter may be requested. ASL is most often requested by our agency, but there are other language systems which are more common as a second choice. SEE (Signed Exact English) is one example.

ASL is a complete and complex language that employs hand signs, facial expressions, and body postures. It is said to be the fourth most commonly used language in the U.S.

Signed Exact English (SEE) is preferred among many primary and higher education institutions as it has one sign to represent each word in the English Language.

So here is my question.

Why would the Amarillo School District choose to teach a sign language that is ONLY used by students in Amarillo. Why not choose SEE if your goal is to improve literacy and writing skills?  Do we really need a new language to increase the chances of greater isolation once the deaf student leaves Amarillo?  Do we need to teach them a language that will make it nearly impossible to find a qualified interpreter outside of the city limits?  If nothing else, can be the students ALSO be taught ASL?

It seems to me that the District has made a decision without considering the issue of Community. Yes, there are nearly 300 sign language systems across the globe, however, ASL is the primary language for the deaf in the U.S.  Why give these students a “handicap” where none is needed. If any of these students choose to attend Gallaudet University, they will be completely unprepared in social AND classroom environments.  I am truly baffled.

Just my opinion here. Am I missing something?

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About Evelyn

Evelyn Hunter is a SODA with years of experiential study in Deaf Culture. She attended Gallaudet University to immerse herself in this unique deaf world while working for the University and studying sign language to hone her skills. Evelyn has served in training, relationship sales, and marketing -- always seeking to expand awareness of Deaf Culture and the unique challenges the deaf face on a daily basis. The Sign Language Company has recently established a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and a website with a blog, as Evelyn coordinates the marketing and outreach efforts for the agency. Her goal is to attract new clients seeking exceptional service, while maintaining optimal relationships with clients who have selected The Sign Language Company for over 20 years.

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3 Responses to “How to Handicap a Deaf Person”

  1. Cory Lejeune Says:

    Very well said. In full disclosure, I am one of the “rabble rousers” opposing MSS very publicly, and was featured in the news story on local Amarillo television, but what you write here brings up the same questions the Deaf community, hearing and Deaf alike, asks when discussing MSS.

    Creating an unneeded handicap is exactly what they’re doing.

    Disability is not a physical phenomenon. Disability is a physical phenomenon in concert with social exclusion, and social exclusion is what Amarillo ISD is creating every time it uses MSS with a student. With ASL, there is no social exclusion.

    This is audism at its worst, and still shocks me it’s being used.

    I’ve since moved out of state and the Deaf community here as well as our local Deaf Ed program can’t believe its being used. “This is akin to using exorcism on kids with autism” was something an interpreting coworker said to me. Both she and you are apt in your observations.


    • Evelyn Says:

      Thank you for your comments Cory. I was truly baffled and disturbed after reading about MSS. I just don’t understand how this can make sense to anyone who views the overall big picture and future prospects for the students learning this language. Nice to know you’re “rabble rousing” and attempting to highlight what should be obvious. If you have anything to contribute to our blog, I’d be happy to post it and share with our social network. All the best!


  2. Allen Says:

    I went to the Regional school for the deaf in Richardson, Texas as a child, we were taught MSS. Since I am deaf in the left ear and hard of hearing in the right ear, I can understand how this sign system means well. I will break it down for you on the differences.
    Morphemic sign system, we used incorporates prefixes and endings I think it really helped the students with writing correctly. Also there were specific signs for words which helped with vocabulary building. How you ask?

    MSS: I am playing with my friend Bob.
    ASL: I am play with my friend Bob.

    As you can see it leaves out that -ing. They read it in books, why shouldn’t they learn it in sign language as well?


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