Oralism: the superior attitude of modality

Oralism emerged as a predominant communication mode beginning in the 1880s after the infamous "Milan Congress of 1880" at the "Second International Congress on Education of the Deaf" in Milan, Italy, where the delegates (oral proponents) met and declared that oral education or oralism was superior to to manual education and passed a resolution that banned the use of sign language in school.

Shortly after this infamous conference, many Deaf teachers were fired and sign language was banned in schools around the world. From there till the 1960s (the "Dark Age"), many Deaf professionals from writers to teachers declined. Many Deaf people experienced traumas with oralism in their upbringing.

"In my nearly 40 years of life, I've yet to meet a single deaf person who was traumatized by sign language. Yet, I can't count how many were traumatized by mainstreamed and oral education." -- Jeanine Gingras Wiesblatt, on FB, April 12, 2013.

Many Deaf people associate those terms "oralism", "LSL", "AVT", and so on with an experience of pain, coercion, oppression, and other abuses of their natural language acquisition through eye, and the exclusion from their natural human language as well as a damage of healthy identity, and being Deaf.


The oral proponents, such as AGBell (Alexander G. Bell organization), changed this term to other variants: 'listening and spoken language' (LSL), 'auditory verbal therapy' (AVT), and so on, usually capitalized acronomyms such as 'LSL' and 'AVT'.

If you google 'oral' as a single query, the first and the majority of the results on the first page is a dirty word. Pun aside, Amy C. Efron wrote through social media on April 21 that reflects Deaf people's perception, "Oralism is a dirty word. Auditory Verbal Therapy is a dirty word."

The term "listening and spoken language" (LSL) -- in other word English Speech Language -- is seen as a twist and crush over the natural human language, American Sign Language (ASL). It means nothing more than speech as a modality. It is not a language but a superior modality.

"Listening and Spoken Language is used to confuse people and putting this higher esteem over American Sign Language. It is a language appropriation." -Amy Cohen Efron

Efron emphasizes that LSL is actually a therapeutic approach; thus, she points out that it should be called 'listening and speaking therapy'. Back to the old term, 'speech therapy' which is what we traditionally have been familiar with.

Misconceptions and myths

The practice and attitude of oralism reflects phonocentrism which is prevalent in this society -- the superiority of aural-vocal modality over visual-spatial modality.

"The rationale for this educational approach, called 'oralism' was essentially a cliche... 'This is a hearing world, and Deaf people must learn to cope with it.' ... That the average Deaf student, upon leaving school, had an academic achievement level equivalent to a hearing student in the third grade was ascribed to his or her failure to learn, not the school's failure to teach. The fact that schools for the Deaf, before signing was banished, had turned out numberous well-eduated graduates was suppressed to the point that very few, even in the Deaf comunity, were aware of it.'" -- Journey into the Deaf World, pp 266-267.

"Signing would inhibit the learning of speech" is another belief that it is not true. Deaf people with the highest education are bilingual.


With the emerging movement of bilingualism (ASL along with written English) in the late 20th century, many Deaf people rise in professions and higher education.

Neuroscience and linguistics studies show abundance evidence that sign language and speech language are equal from the brain's standpoint.

"The human brain does not discriminate between the hands and the tongue. People discriminate, but not our biological human brain." -- Dr. Laura-Ann Petitto, neuroscientist.

The stories in the video above are very much a similar experience among Deaf students back in the old days where sign language was forbidden in Deaf schools.


Efron, Amy C. "Stop recognizing LSL. It is really LST." Retrieved, April 21, 2016. https://www.facebook.com/notes/amy-cohen-efron/stop-recognizing-lsl-it-is-really-lst/10154833132648712