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December 22, 2002

R. Orin Cornett Dies; Invented Cued Speech

From: Washington Post, DC - 22 Dec 2002

By Richard Pearson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 22, 2002; Page C11

R. Orin Cornett, 89, a physicist and mathematician by training who was a former assistant commissioner in the U.S. Office of Education and a retired vice president of Gallaudet University and who was the inventor of cued speech, died Dec. 17 at his home in Laurel after a heart attack.

Dr. Cornett invented cued speech, a manual supplement to lip-reading, in the mid-1960s. In English, cued speech uses eight handshapes displayed in four different positions ("cues") over the face to convey the spoken sounds of the language. Cued speech has also been adapted to more than 50 other languages.

Cued speech, based on the phonetics of spoken English, is easy to learn, much easier than the better-known and more popular American Sign Language, in which many words have to be spelled out.

In addition to cued speech and ASL, there is greater reliance today on surgical procedures to restore or even give hearing to children and adults.

Richard Orin Cornett, who came to the Washington area in 1959, was born in Driftwood, Okla. He was a 1934 mathematics graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and received a master's degree in physics from the University of Oklahoma and a doctorate in physics and applied mathematics from the University of Texas.

Before coming to Washington, he had taught physics, mathematics and electronics at Oklahoma Baptist, Pennsylvania State and Harvard universities. He also had served as a vice president of Oklahoma Baptist and as education commission executive secretary of the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville.

In 1959, he joined the U.S. Office of Education as higher education division director. From 1961 to 1965, he was an assistant commissioner. In 1965, he joined Gallaudet as vice president for long-range planning. From 1975 until retiring in 1984, he was a research professor and director of the university's cued speech programs.

Dr. Cornett said that he saw the need for a new system of deaf communication when he found that test results of hearing-impaired students were surprisingly low. He said he had always thought that scores would be high, because these students should be getting more of their information from the printed word than others. He maintained that reading should be a deaf person's "window to the world."

According to Dr. Cornett, sign language, although an effective method of communication among the deaf, is a language in and of itself. Because its syntax differs from that of English, it does not lend itself to the acquisition of reading skills. His cued speech system was designed to help the deaf improve reading comprehension and speed. And research has shown that it is often successful.

Dr. Cornett had written scholarly papers and books on physics, algebra and electronics systems and tubes. He was co-author of the books "Cued Speech Handbook for Parents," published in 1971, and "Cued Speech Resource Book for Parents of Deaf Children," published in 1992.

Over the years, he had received awards for his work from such organizations as Oklahoma Baptist University, the New York League for the Hard of Hearing and the National Council on Communication Disorders.

He not only had taught cued speech in Washington but had traveled the world to present his research findings and explain cued speech at seminars and conventions. He also had directed cued speech camps and week-long family cued speech learning vacations at Gallaudet.

His wife of 58 years, the former Lorene Elizabeth Huston, died in January.

Survivors include two sons, Robert, of Cheverly, and Stanley, of Baltimore; a daughter, Linda Badley of Murfreesboro, Tenn.; and three granddaughters.

© 2002 The Washington Post Company