Progress Report, Summer 1999
work completed on software development for Deaf Education

Programming SignWriter 5.0
Summer, 1999


Breaking New Ground in Two Fields:
Deaf Education & Software Design


Approximately 7% of the world's population has some kind of hearing loss. The majority are born with normal hearing, becoming deaf later in life. "Late-deafened-adults" speak, read and write spoken languages, because in their childhood, they could hear. They rarely learn or use a signed language.

Fewer than 1% of the world's population uses a signed language to communicate. Although most are members of the Deaf Community, not all are necessarily deaf. Hearing children born into Deaf families use a signed language daily too, as do hearing teachers and parents.

An even smaller percentage of the world's population is born deaf, sometimes of Deaf parents. Deafness can be genetic, and if deaf people marry, the recessive gene can create families with several generations of deaf people, including deaf aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandfathers . Some children are born hearing in these families, some are hard-of-hearing, but most are born profoundly-deaf, and everyone in the family uses a signed language as their "native language".

Deaf people born into Deaf families are called "Deaf of Deaf". Their native language is a signed language and if they learn English, or another spoken language, it is their second language. They cannot hear their second language, since hearing aids rarely work for them. As members of "Deaf culture" they live in a silent but visually-rich world which few hearing people ever know.

Signed languages are not international. Just like spoken languages, signed languages developed naturally, and as natural languages, they are different in every country. Signed languages are beautiful, rich languages with large vocabularies and sophisticated grammars that are quite different from the spoken languages of the countries they inhabit.

Twenty-five years ago there was no way to read, write or type signed languages, but now, with the invention of our new writing system SignWriting, and the development of the SignWriter Computer Program, the world's signed languages are becoming written (and typed) languages.

Meanwhile, deaf education has a dilemma: Deaf children are not graduating with good reading and writing skills. This has been frustrating, not only for teachers and parents, but for the children themselves, giving them low self-esteem. Yet those same deaf children are expressive in their native signed language, and have a large sign vocabulary. Sadly, words escape them. Hearing teachers, who often do not know how to sign well themselves, are left baffled.

Deaf people are not handicapped amongst themselves. With each other, they communicate beautifully. They are only "impaired" in relation to the hearing world and to "sound-based" languages. Deafness is the "invisible handicap" because a hearing person cannot "see deafness". Oftentimes deaf education is poorly funded, partly because deaf people have trouble explaining in English that English to them seems " foreign".