Cued Speech was invented in 1966 in Washington DC, USA, by Dr R Orin Cornett, Ph.D. (1913–2002).
Soon after in 1970, Cued Speech was brought to the UK by Winifred Tumim (1936- 2009) and promoted tirelessly by the dedication of June Dixon-Millar (1935-2016), founder of Cued Speech UK and who also helped establish Cued Speech in many other countries.
Dr R Orin Cornett, Ph.D.
While working at Gallaudet University, Washington DC as the vice president for long-range planning, Dr Cornett was surprised to find that the deaf student body had low reading levels. He had assumed that the students would be avid readers because books would give them access to information that they could not get by listening. He came to the realization that many of the students who had grown up using sign language did not read well because they did not have full mastery of English.
To read and write a language proficiently, a person must first have a fluent mental model of the language; to be able to ‘think in English’, if you want to read and write English. Fluency in terms of literacy comes from learning to recognise and manipulate the smallest parts of the language, known as phonemes. These are the sounds that we make when we speak, that when put together form words and sentences. Dr Cornett realised that as profoundly visual people, his deaf students would need to be able to see these phonemes because they were not able hear them or distinguish them by lipreading alone.
Dr Cornett set about inventing Cued Speech to enable those who cannot hear English speech, to clearly and unambiguously see all its phonemic structure. In this way deaf babies, children and adults can gain proficiency in English and reading skills. Deaf children brought up with Cued Speech are able to discover and explore their world through reading. Dr. Cornett’s Cued Speech proved so successful for deaf people and their families all around the world, that it has been adapted into over 60 languages and dialects.
As an experienced teacher of the deaf, June Dixon (later June Dixon-Millar) was asked in 1970 by Winifred Tumim (later Lady Tumim) to consider using Cued Speech with one of Winifred’s two deaf daughters, who was being taught by June at the time. Winifred Tumim, chairman of the Education Committee of the National Deaf Children’s Society, together with Michael Reed, HMI for the Inner London Education Authority, first became aware of Cued Speech after they had both attended the International Congress on the Education of the Deaf, in Stockholm, where Dr Cornett gave a paper. Winifred could see the potential that Cued Speech offered her daughter and with June’s consent, she went to America and spent a week with Dr Orin Cornett, adapting the method in to British English. On Winifred’s return to the UK, June spent two one-hour sessions with her learning about Cued Speech and thereafter, learned to cue in just 20 hours from an audio cassette recording of Dr Cornett. In addition to Winifred’s daughter, June was also teaching two other deaf children and they too benefited from her initial use of Cued Speech.
“I taught my three pupils to cue with ease and their vocabulary growth, language, reading and writing skills progressed remarkably as lipreading instruction and language became clear and frustration virtually vanished.’
As the first teacher to use Cued Speech in the UK and inspired by the unprecedented successes of her pupils, June sought help in 1975 to establish a national centre for Cued Speech, while she was living in Fulham, so that it could be made available to any family with deaf children, to deaf adults and to professionals working with deaf people. She was supported for three formative years by the charity KIDS and with June’s unrelenting determination, the KIDS National Centre for Cued Speech helped introduce Cued Speech to 39 counties in the UK, before becoming independent in 1978 as The National Centre for Cued Speech.
June, while doing most of the teaching, promoting and all of the fundraising, continued as director of the charity until 1995, which went on to be called the Cued Speech Association UK and only recently became Cued Speech UK in 2017. June’s vision extended to many other countries where she helped others to establish their own national Cued Speech organisations.
After her retirement in 1995, June continued to work voluntarily as Acting Director until 1999. She was a member of the Management Committee until 2009 and she never stopped working for the charity, teaching many courses. She was particularly interested in promoting Cued in other countries: South Africa, Wales, Iran and Pakistan all benefited from her interest. In 2006 the American Cued Speech Association presented June with both a Cueing Pioneers award and a Lifetime Membership award “for her enduring legacy and lifetime commitment”. Even in 2016, the year she died, she contributed video clips to Cueing around the World, a video celebrating the NCSA’s 50th anniversary.