How Are Signing and the Oral Method Different?

In his lifetime of work with the deaf, Bell hoped they could be as integrated as possible with the hearing world and emphasized speech therapy and lip reading for the deaf over signing. This became known as the “Oral Method,” as opposed to the Manual Method, which relied largely on signing.

Bell was not dogmatic about this and emphasized focusing on the best interests of the deaf. In his writings, he recognized that not all deaf people could master the difficult challenge of lip reading, and therefore signing was necessary to some degree.

In his comprehensive 1973 biography of Bell, Pulitzer Prize-winning professor of history Robert V. Bruce noted that when Bell formed a national organization of teachers of the deaf in 1891, he “committed it to promoting speech teaching but declared its neutrality as to the several teaching methods – oral, manual, and combined.”

Today, Bell would almost certainly prefer the “combined” method, making use of lip reading, speech therapy and signing, as well as technological advances – whatever is in the best interest of the individual deaf person.

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