Deaf History Month spans from March 13 to April 15 celebrating the contributions the deaf have bestowed upon the larger population.
Deaf History Month’s roots go back to March 13, 1997 when the Washington D.C. Public Library had its first Deaf History Month event hosting deaf authors and guest speakers.
The popularity of Deaf History Month has grown with an effort under way, orchestrated by the American Library Association and the National Association of the Deaf, to encourage the White House to declare Deaf History Month an official national event.
Prior to the late 18th Century, deaf people weren’t considered intelligent enough to educate. Charles Michel de L’Epee, a French abbot, had other ideas. He founded the first free school in Paris, France for the deaf. He taught his deaf students communication skills like hand gestures, signs, and a special alphabet they could implement with their fingers. L’Epee’s work began the long road of closing the gap between the hearing and deaf worlds.
Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, a Connecticut Congregational minister wanted to help his neighbor’s deaf daughter. He eventually found himself in Paris as he researched the school for the deaf Charles Michel de L’Epee had founded a generation earlier.
Gallaudet returned to Hartford, Connecticut with Laurent Clerc, a deaf sign language teacher, in tow. The sign language Clerc taught soon became known as American Sign Language (ASL). By 1863 twenty-two schools for the deaf were operational in the U.S. Today there are over 60 residential schools for the deaf throughout the United States.
Below are a few famous deaf people you may or may not have heard of before, or just didn’t know they were deaf.
I. King Jordan was the first deaf president of Gallaudet University, the world’s only college designed to be barrier-free for deaf and hard-of-hearing students. Gallaudet University is located in Washington, DC. President Abraham Lincoln signed its charter on April 8, 1864.
Troy Kotsur, who lost his hearing at birth, is an actor who performed in many productions involving Deaf West Theater, a Los Angeles based theatrical group, including the 2003 Broadway revival of Big River.
Juliette Low was the founder of the Girl Scout movement. Low began to lose her hearing when at her wedding a grain of rice, thrown by a well-wisher, became lodged in her ear severely damaging her hearing.
Thomas Edison was an American inventor who changed the course of history with the invention of the light bulb. His deafness was attributed to Scarlet Fever he contracted as a child.
Halle Berry is an award winning actor and model. She lost 80% of her hearing in one ear due to an abusive partner.
Michelle Banks, an African American who lost her hearing to spinal meningitis, founded Onyx Theater Company, the first deaf theater organization for African Americans.
Now do some research of your own and uncover outstanding deaf Americans who have made amazing contributions to our way of life.