Manualism and oralism
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Manualism and oralism are two opposing philosophies regarding the education of the deaf. Manualism is the education of deaf students using sign language and oralism is the education of deaf students using spoken language. Since the beginning of formal deaf education in the 18th century, these two philosophies have been on opposing sides of a heated debate that continues to this day, although many modern deaf educational facilities attempt to integrate both approaches.
The manualists claim that the oralists neglect the psychosocial development of deaf children. In their zeal for training in articulation which requires long tedious practice, oralism leaves them with no time or energy to advance academically and socially. The result is inadequate skills and often with poor speaking ability despite the great effort invested since the oral method works best with children who have lost hearing after already having learned to speak. Manualists feel nothing is more important than giving deaf children a visual-motor language they can truly master so as to enable their intellect and humanity to develop normally and that to not respect the whole child treats them as only a broken set of ears and is tantamount to neglect or even abuse.
The oralists claim that the manualists neglect the residual hearing in deaf children and their emphasis on sign language isolates them from the wider culture and hearing family members thus serving to inculcate them in a clannish and inferior subculture that leaves them unable to succeed in the general population. While this used to be true the general change in attitude toward Deaf and Hard of Hearing people, the advent of various alternative communication devices, as well as Federal and State laws protecting their rights have given rise to greater accessibility has meant greater inclusion in all areas of American life. They also point out that only a tiny percentage of the general population can use sign language, although some studies have shown that ASL (American Sign Language) is the third most used language after English and Spanish. Oralists sometimes feel that nothing is more important than giving deaf children the tools to fit in with their families and society at large and so to not develop a child's ability to hear and speak to its utmost is tantamount to neglect or even abuse. However it is a great achievement that many deaf children may not accomplish due to the great degree of time and effort involved. This may change with the use of new computer speech instruction methods with visual feedback capabilities that can assist the Deaf speaker's articulations and improve their sound production with much less time and effort involved. Similarly, Speech Reading (aka lip reading) can also be done with computer programs at greater efficiency. Either methods, old and new, still require a great desire on the part of the Deaf person to achieve much ability.
The modern development of the cochlear implant has served to renew this historical debate.