Kissane’s signs simplify lives
When Nikki Kissane approached a psychology professor about a research project, she had no idea she’d change thousands of lives.
Photo courtesy of Nikki Kissane.
Or that it would change thousands of lives.
Kissane worked for four years with Bonvillian and psycholinguist Filip Loncke to develop a 500-word lexicon in a simplified sign system designed to facilitate communication with hearing but non-speaking victims of strokes, cerebral palsy and autism. She posted drawings of the signs last spring on the project’s Web site, www.simplifiedsigns.org.
When word began to spread after a University publication featured their work in May, the recent graduate was suddenly a hero.
Numerous news media, among them CNN’s Headline News, NBC’s “Today” show, The Washington Post and Paul Harvey’s radio show, featured Kissane’s work, drawing thousands of people to her Web site.
“The number of e-mails I’ve received and the magnitude of hits on the Web site” — 51,000, to be precise — “shows the sheer need for such a system,” Kissane said.
Kissane’s simplified system is designed to be universal and “guessable” for those who suffer from cognitive disabilities — unlike American Sign Language. “This is meant to convey basic needs,” she said. “It’s not a language by any means; it’s just a tool.”
Kissane is now a first-year student at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Medical College of Virginia in Richmond — and perhaps the signing system helped get her there. But it appears to have fulfilled an even greater dream.
“I had hoped to participate in some sort of research project that would be valuable to people — one that would affect lives rather than just be interesting data,” Kissane said. “With this project I got that and more; I got that 51,000 times over.”