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Communication Modes

While American Sign Language (ASL) is the primary language of the Deaf community, over 20 different communication modes or methods are used by people within the Deaf community. For example, some people sign. Some people speak. Some people may use a combination of signing and speaking. An individual’s communication preference depends on their experience, and the nature and degree of their hearing loss. Moreover, an individual may choose different communication methods depending on the context. Understanding the most common or widely used modes of communication will help you improve your communication with Deaf survivors.

Most Widely Used Modes of Communication

American Sign Language

American Sign Language (ASL) is a manual or visual language, meaning that information is expressed through combinations of handshapes, palm orientations, movements of the hands, arms and body, and facial expressions rather than sounds as is the case with spoken languages. ASL is a complete language with its own grammar and syntax, separate from the English language. It is the primary language used by people who identify as culturally Deaf.


In the auditory/oral method, listening is the primary means of understanding language and speech is the primary means of expressing language. In addition to listening (through the use of assistive technology such as hearing aids or cochlear implants), individuals watch the speaker for additional information from speech reading, facial expression, and gesture.

Cued Speech

Cued speech is a communication method designed to make visually available all the elements needed to understand spoken English. The system combines information that can be seen through watching lip movements with information from additional hand shapes and hand positions near the face, used to identify sounds that can't be seen on the lips or that look the same on the lips. For example, the sounds p, b, and m all look the same on the lips and as a result, the words pat, bat and mat all look exactly the same. There are different hand shapes for the p, b, and m which allow a person who knows the cueing system, to understand exactly which word is being said.

Manually Coded English

Manually Coded English is term used to describe a visual (signed) form of the English language. There are a number of systems for manually coding English such as Signed English or Pidgin Signed English. While these systems may use American Sign Language (ASL) signs as a base, they follow the grammar and syntax of English.

Simultaneous and Total Communication

Simultaneous communication is a method in which spoken English and its manually coded or signed version are used at the same time. Simultaneous communication is often referred to as total communication. Total communication is a communication system that uses a combination of methods such as signed, oral, auditory, and written aids depending on the particular needs and strengths of an individual.