A Vision Becomes Real
Hello, my name is Daniel Koo. Today I’m deeply honored to be here to speak on behalf of many deaf cuers who have been some of the greatest beneficiaries of Dr. Cornett’s legacy. I was born deaf and raised orally until my parents heard about a manual system called Cued Speech. Like so many hearing parents of deaf cuers, my parents saw Cued Speech as the perfect solution to the difficulties I had understanding English. So, my parents immediately signed me up and that’s how I came to know Dr. Cornett.
In the early 1960s, Dr Cornett had a vision—that deaf children should have complete access to the language their parents use, that hearing parents should be able to communicate easily with their children, and that these deaf children should be good readers. When he saw that the problem lies in the lack of early childhood communication between hearing parent and deaf child, Dr. Cornett did not just go out and invent a better hearing aid which given his background in physics he could have. But instead he developed a clear, simple, and efficient manual system called Cued Speech. For someone who did not know much about deaf education, his system revolutionized the way we communicate with our parents and transformed the landscape of deaf education as we know it. Having clear, visual, and complete access to the language that our parents use every day enabled us to build our language foundations even before we could go to pre-school. The languages that our parents share with us then empowered us to learn faster, dream bigger, and strive higher. Cued Speech has opened up worlds of opportunities as many of us have discovered a passion for reading, a confidence in our language skills, and our ambitions unbounded. More importantly, Dr. Cornett’s Cued Speech allows us to be close to our moms and dads. We are now able to know their language, to be included in the family, to share their love, their thoughts, and yes, even their tirades. Now, I don’t know who invented my last hearing aid which by the way isn’t all that helpful, but I certainly know who Dr. Cornett is--the genius, the innovator, the motivator—all because he did not conform to conventional thinking and had the courage to act on his vision.
Now let me tell you a little about Dr. Cornett, the man himself. When he was 78 years old and in the middle of writing a book and I was a sophomore in college and totally clueless about my future, he took the time to write long letters, encouraging me to expand the breadth of my horizons in undergraduate school and then later the depth of knowledge in graduate school. Now thanks in large part to him, I’m working on the depth part as a Phd candidate in cognitive science. The dissertation topic? Phonological representations in deaf cuers. Ever the teacher, Dr. Cornett once told me a story about his daughter Linda. When she was ten years old, she asked him if he had all the money in the world, what would he do. He said, “I would teach…because only a few things in life compare with the thrill of seeing the light of comprehension flare up in the faces of students one has helped.” I think these words, “the light of comprehension,” also refer to the light we see when we understand what our parents cue to us. His natural instincts as a teacher and genuine concern for others are what I think the primary reasons why he gave us all the gift of communication and the power of language. For this gift, we will forever be in his debt. For his kind compassion and his brilliance, we are all profoundly impacted.
Recently, I have been talking to many deaf cuers, some old friends and some new friends. All have said the same thing, “I will not be here today if it was not for him.” Those of you who grew up with cueing and have been positively impacted by his vision, please stand up. What you see standing before you today is the embodiment of his vision. His vision has become real. We will be glad to carry on his vision and pass it to future generations. Thank you.