June 19, 2007
Deafblind: Tadoma Method vs.
American Sign Language
The Tadoma Method of communication involves a deafblind individual placing
their thumb on a speaker’s lips and spreading their remaining fingers along the speaker’s face and neck.
Communication is transmitted through vibrations, motions of the jaw, and facial expressions of the speaker. (Tabak
2006) Although the Todoma Method is very difficult and time-consuming to learn, it has proven successful, granting
fluent Tadoma users the ability to comprehend up to forty words a minute. (Tabak 2006)
Sophia Alcorn first taught this method to students Tad Chapman and
Oma Simpson in the 1920’s. (Tabak 2006) Tadoma became ‘the’ method of communication for the deafblind at the
Perkins School for the Blind. During this time, oral education was a dominant philosophy in American Deaf education.
Gertrude Stenquist, a teacher at Perkins believed the manual alphabet would interfere with the acquisition of speech.
(Tabak 2006) He regards signing as even more of a problem; his view was if a student learned to sign, they would have
no interest in using speech.
The domination of the Tadoma method began to subside in the 1950’s due to the difficulty in acquiring the
skill of use of the method and often inaccuracy. Despite the vast successful of few individuals there are
approximately only fifty users of the Tadoma method worldwide, half of which live in the United States. (Tabak 2006)
American Sign Language is much more widely used to date than the Tadoma
method. ASL for the deafblind consists of the individual resting their hands on top of the signer’s hand, and going
through the motions of the signing, almost as if they were signing themselves. (Tabak 2006)
Communicating American Sign Language to a deafblind individual posses a few
difficulties that are not apparent with two sighted individuals, such as, a deafblind comprehending sign if often
slower, there is difficulty deciphering between questions and statements, and following when some signs ‘feel’ the
same. (Tabak 2006) These problems can be solved however; in a different manner than sighted ASL. Questions can be
asked by first pointing to the deafblind individual and then forming the question. Another way is to sign the ASL
sign for question. When dealing with signs that are created similarly such as “dry,” “summer” and “ugly” the signer
may first fingerspell the word in question, or rely merely on context of word usage. (Tabak 2006)
Back-channel feedback is a common act in all forms of communication. In the
English language, two speakers conversing will say phrases, “right” and “uh-huh” to let the speaker know the listener
is following and understanding what is being said. In American Sign language, the Y hand shape is often bounced a few
times to allow the signer to know the recipient of the conversation is following. In signing with a deafblind
individual, often the individual taps the signers hand a few times throughout conversation to mean the same thing. (Tabak
Regardless of the method one chooses to learn, a deafblind individual faces
extreme obstacles in the field of communication. These individuals complete tasks far beyond most sighted individuals
could even imagine. The advancements of the deafblind population have completely awestruck the American population and
Tabak, J. (2006). Significant Gestures. Westport, CT. Praeger Publishers.
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