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Most students take the concept of being able to communicate clearly and effectively for granted. However, for the millions of Americans with a communication disorder, hearing, speaking and getting your point across can be difficult. This lesson intends to convey that point, and teach students the basics of some technology that can be used to assist people with communication disabilities.

Materials Needed

  • ASL Alphabet Worksheet
  • ASL Riddle
  • Television
  • If available: other communication devices, such as a cell phone with the flashing light enables for calls and texts, a phone with the Telecommunications Device for the Deaf (TDD) enabled, and a computer with speech capabilities.


Start by breaking students up into small groups. Give the students short sentences, such as "It's raining" or "I am cold." Ask the students to think of as many ways as possible to communicate this idea to each other without speaking out loud. Have individual members attempt to communicate the statement. As a class, make a list of all of the communication ideas, and discuss which ones worked best and why.

Next, talk about alternative ways of communicating. Introduce the idea of American Sign Language (ASL) (see below). Pass out a copy of the ASL Alphabet, and have students practice signing letters to each other. Next, ask students to solve the riddle/quote on the second handout. Once completed, sit in a circle. The teacher should spell out a three letter word using ASL. The next person in the circle should say the word that has been spelled, and then spell their own three letter word. This should continue until everyone has had a chance to spell a word.

To conclude, discuss other ways that people with communication difficulties may overcome them. Watch a short movie or television show, turning off the sound and using closed captioning. Talk about how this technology can assist people who are deaf or hard of hearing, and how it may benefit others who do not have disabilities (such as people who are learning to read or speak English). Introduce other technologies, such as the option for cell phones to display a flashing light instead of ringing, which can alert a deaf person that their phone is ringing. A computer with speech capabilities (if available) can be used to show how technology can be used to help a person who is nonverbal communicate with others.

Spotlight: Marlee Matlin

One of the most famous deaf Americans is the actress Marlee Matlin. At the age of 18 months, she lost all hearing in her right ear and 80% of the hearing in her left ear. She began her acting career at the age of 7, portraying Dorothy in the International Center on Deafness and the Arts' (ICODA) production of the Wizard of Oz. She was later discovered at ICODA by actor Henry Winkler. She has appeared in 18 movies and 3 videos. In 1986, she won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role as Sarah Norman in the movie Children of a Lesser God. She has also appeared in 45 television shows, which includes series regular and/or starring roles on the shows Reasonable Doubts, Picket Fences, The West Wing, The L Word, Celebrity Apprentice, Switched at Birth and Quantico. She has written four books, and is a prominent activist in the deaf community.

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