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Deaf Studies: Total-Communication

Total Communication (TC) is a wide-ranging approach to Deaf communication that has was developed and promoted for use within Deaf Education programs.  TC advocated a combination of speech, lip reading, auditory training, fingerspelling, and sign language.

In the early 1960's a California teacher and mother of a Deaf child became frustrated with the lack of progress her daughter, using the oral approach, was making in school. She began using a multi-approach to teaching Deaf children in her school. She was very influential in the movement to learn sign language. In her classes, Deaf children were exposed to speech, lip reading, auditory training, fingerspelling, and sign language. She called her approach "The Total Approach." (Gannon, 1981) Several years later Roy Holcomb became the first supervisor of the program for Deaf students at James Madison Elementary School in California. It was his philosophy that good communication was of utmost importance to the success of the child's learning process. Under his supervision, teachers were interested in providing all students with a barrier-free communicative environment. They used "The Total Approach" at all levels in their school. Holcomb began referring to this method as "Total Communication," and he became knows as the "Father of Total Communication." (Gannon, 1981). The advent of this approach to communication, in which a child is provided opportunities to learn multiple modes of communication and to communicate in the method(s) they find the most comfortable, ended centuries of debate and perhaps finally gave children a language they could "feel at home" with.


Reference: Gannon, J. (1981). Deaf Heritage. Silver Spring, Maryland: National Association of the Deaf.


Total Communication is one of several approaches to communication that have been developed or promoted for use within Deaf Education programs in the United States.  Some of the other approaches include: the Oral method (oralism), bilingual, auditory/oral, the Manual method (manualism), the Rochester Method (fingerspelling and speech), etc.

Got a joke for you here:

Why Deaf Youth are Happy with Total Communication:
There is a sign for a philosophy of Deaf education called Total Communication that uses a T and a C alternately moving away from and back to the mouth. One day a visiting administrator asked a student, why is everyone so happy here? The student replied (signed) "Total Communication."
"Ah, that explains it!" the administrator exclaimed with satisfaction. He thanked the student and walked away. The student turned to his buddies and did the sign again, this time modifying the T portion of the sign to show "inhaling" and the "C" portion of the sign to indicate "drinking."

-- Dr. Bill

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