Sunday, March 20, 2011



When I begin an American Sign Language class, I try to make sure that everyone not only learns sign language, but perhaps most importantly, also learns about the population who uses it. Deafness is something that almost always shocks hearing people when they delve into such things as Deaf Culture and Deafhood and what they mean.

There are several capacities to our culture that many hearing people tend to shut their eyes to. However, not all are avoiding the subject; many are simply misinformed.

Deaf history is also very important to learn about if you’re interested in learning our language, so that people can see how far we’ve come in the past decade. We still have a heck of a ways to go though. And, inarguably, one of the biggest figures in the past movements of the deaf and hard of hearing was Alexander Graham Bell.

AG (as I will call him) is known by many individuals, organizations, and doctors, as a huge supporter of deaf and hard of hearing people. I mean, hey, he had a deaf wife, a deaf mother, and he invented the telephone as a way to try to help deaf people communicate. Thanks, man. Appreciate it. Didn’t work at all for us and actually caused more oppression, but, hey, you accomplished something. Right?

AG’s known in the Hearing world as a supporter, yet he is known in history to be anything but that. In fact, you see, AG was completely against Sign Language. He was completely against many things related to the deaf and hard of hearing. He was a strict oralist and, oh yeah,….

Ever heard of eugenics? Does World War II ring a bell? Hitler? Nazism? Well, remove one Adolph Hitler and replace him, at another time and place, with AG and you’re pretty close in deciphering his attitude to this “defective race.” Yes, I said “defective.” So did he.

See, AG had this theory that, if the country could keep deaf people separated and they didn’t socialize with each other, things would be easier. Deaf people would eventually disappear. If they could make a mandate that deaf people cannot marry, (and why not throw in some sterilization of deaf people?), they’d have the “problem” covered.

His reasoning? If deaf people didn’t have children and they stayed away from each other, “those kind of people” would eventually die off.  Nice. Kind of gives you a warm, tingly feeling, don’t it?

But, thankfully (times a million), his ideas didn’t stick for the entire COMMUNITY. Sure, there are definitely areas where oralism rules supreme, but there are also lots of places where ASL is accepted and Deaf people are simply a minority with their own language and customs.

As you can see, AG Bell, is one of the most well known advocates against Sign Language and yet ASL prevails. As George Veditz said a long time ago (1913), “As long as we have deaf people on earth, we will have signs.” It’s true. I guess I just wanted to get rid of people’s notions that AG helped the signing community. He may be, in my opinion, one of the most notorious figures in Deaf History.


  1. Interesting. I don't know anything about AG one way or another. Thanks for the lesson ;)

    I did take an ASL class once in anticipation of having to use it one day. I didn't stick with it, and I can't remember a thing. Maybe they'll have invented a bionic ear by the time I get to that point. Oh, I guess they have....the hearing aid. It's a poor excuse for a a bionic ear though.

  2. Hey, Jane. Actually they do have something with that name. That's what people are calling the Cochlear Implant. I, personally, am not a fan, but thousands are.

  3. Thanks Michelle. As always your articles are so informative for us "hearies". As a hearie continuing to learn this language to benefit deaf friends and Bible students at our local Kingdom Hall I appreciate your insight so much. Again, thank you.

  4. @thebigguns61, thank you so much for the compliment. It always helps me feel it's worth my time if I'm touching someone and helping out.

  5. @Jane, I have a lot of reasons, actually. Maybe I should blog about it again. I do have one former and very short blog about it on here. Not much help though. I'll see about a blog soon.

  6. By the way, Bell stole phone invention from poor Italian immigrant who discover but cannot afford to pay patent by short few days. Bellini ( not sure how to spell it) Good to discuss here.

  7. Michelle, I love your blog. I love it. I love your writing, your wisdom, humor, candor. I think your gift for articulating your Deafhood as humanhood is so important. This is what arrival looks like, appreciating the stripes & spots we all come in. Thanks for this great invitation to your readers. From one of your grateful audience members. Sign me a huge fan! Antonia Lindsey

  8. Antonia, wow!! Thank you so much. Always nice to read that someone enjoys my blog! Appreciate it!!!