In 1996, we began experimenting with a literacy project. Our intention was to teach Deaf Nicaraguans to read and write their own language. Please consider:
(1) The very act of learning to read fosters a child's analytic and decoding skills.
(2) A child receives a self-esteem boost by learing to read his or her own language, a comparatively easier task than struggling with a wholly foreign language.
(3) Our Deaf teachers, who like all Deaf Nicaraguans have limited Spanish literacy skills, need to be able to read the textbooks we have been designing.
(4) The ability to write signs on the chalkboard is integral to teaching grammatical concepts: verbs, nouns, classifiers, syntax.
(5) Reading has its everyday uses from invitations to correspondence to instructions for taking medicine.
(6) We want Deaf parents to be able to read bedtime stories to their infants.
(7) In the longer run, we submit that teaching sign language literacy will enable some students to achieve a more reasonable level of proficiency in Spanish. We believe that expecting Deaf children to learn to read a foreign sound based language before they are able to read their native visual language is an unsound pedagogical approach.
We chose to adapt SignWriting
to write Nicaraguan Sign Language. (Developed by Valerie Sutton, SignWriting is a registered trademark of the Sutton Center for Movement Writing, Inc., in La Jolla, California, USA.) SignWriting uses a code system to represent each signed word in much the same way that Spanish or English use a phonemic alphabet to transcribe the sounds of speech that form each spoken word. Metaphorically speaking, we may best describe SignWriting as "visually phonetic". One of the achievements of this sytem is that Deaf children learn to read it in the same way that their hearing peers learn to read phonemic orthographic systems. Once the student learns the code, he or she can reliably predict how a sign may be written. In short, SignWriting is "Deaf-friendly".