Simplified Signs is a system of manual sign communication intended for populations and individuals who have had limited success mastering spoken or full sign languages. It is the culmination of over twenty years of research and development by the authors. As an undergraduate psychology student at the University of Virginia and for a brief time following their graduation, Jess Walters had the honor of working with Dr. John D. Bonvillian as Principal Investigator for his research on The Development and Testing of Simplified Signs between 2013-2015. In 2018, while Jess was in the throes of ESRD, Dr. Bonvillian was diagnosed with cancer and passed away in May of that year. However, with the help of surviving authors Tracy Dooley, Nicole Kissane Lee, Dr. Philip Lonke, and John’s brother, William Bonvillian Simplified Signs Vol I & II were published September in 2020, on what would have been John’s 71st birthday.
The Simplified Signs lexicon comprises approximately 1500 gestures which have been tested to meet specific parameters in order to be utilized as a universal Augmentative Alternative Communication (AAC) tool. During their time as a research assistant and later PI for the project, Jess worked closely with John to expand the lexicon to include more social and medical terms, and personally contributed to the testing of over 500 signs in the lexicon. Simplified Signs: A Manuel Sign-Communication System for Special Populations is available as a free downloadable PDF or purchasable 2-volume set at OpenBookPublishers.com, and an essay by Jess (then Jessica Davis) is also published on their website. In the future, Jess hopes to share the implications of this research and develop an app and other learning tools for Simplified Signs.