Grad's work a sign of success
By Ida Lee Wootten
Kissane, who earned a psychology
degree from U.Va. in May, donned a physicians white coat
and solemnly recited the Hippocratic oath as she started the Medical
College of Virginia this month. Although determined to be a surgeon,
Kissane has already helped thousands of people through an undergraduate
project that has gained widespread recognition.
with U.Va. psychology professor John Bonvillian, Kissane developed
a 500-word lexicon in a simplified sign system designed to facilitate
communication with stroke victims, children with autism or mental
retardation and people with cerebral palsy. In April, she posted
drawings of the signs that can be easily understood and replicated
on a Web site, www.simplifiedsigns.org. After her work was featured
U.Va. and a University press release, word about the project
started spreading in the media and on the Internet. The Washington
Post ran an article with color photo. NBCs Today Show
aired a lengthy segment on the project; Paul Harveys radio
show described it, and articles were distributed nationally by
the Associated Press and the Catholic News Service. The Today
Show segment continues to run as part of a news package
on United Airlines cross-country flights. Bonvillian had the unusual
experience of seeing himself on the screen last week while flying
has been chosen a Cosmo Girl of the Year; a feature
describing her work will appear in the December/January issue
of CosmoGIRL! magazine. She flew to New York City for a photo
shoot for the article and will return for a November ceremony.
Exceptional Parent magazine ran an article on the project in July;
Good Housekeeping is expected to run one in December, and other
national magazines have contacted Kissane for possible stories.
Her work will be included in the forthcoming Exceptional
Learners textbook co-authored by U.Va. education professors
Daniel Hallahan and James Kauffman.
a result of such attention, the simplified signs Web site has
received about 50,000 visits. Kissanes e-mail address and
the U.Va. psychology and news offices continue to receive dozens
of requests for information. Some inquiries about supporting the
project have also been received.
really encouraged by the response to the project, said Kissane,
who is surprised that the project has also been recognized at
MCV. The school gave Kissane the Aesculapian Award from MCV Hospitals
and Physicians, which will cover a good portion of her tuition.
School representatives have also offered meetings with physicians
who can advance her work by providing a medical understanding
of child neurology and autism.
Bonvillian and Filip Loncke, a psycholinguist affiliated with
U.Va.s psychology department, spent considerable time this
summer refining the simplified signs project. For a forthcoming
sign dictionary the three wrote detailed descriptions of how the
signs are formed. The descriptions will allow users to execute
signs without seeing the pictures. They also created memory aids,
or cues, for each sign. Kissane developed a table showing the
signs and their definitions, which Bonvillian and Loncke will
incorporate into a teaching manual that likely will be used in
pilot studies soon. Kissane also redrew about 100 signs and removed
some that had overlapping meanings.
the drawings and the descriptions in the lexicon are clearer.
That helps both visual learners and text readers, Kissane
said, who has her thesis.