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Deaf History

Deaf history and heritage is very rich and fascinating. People wanting to learn about deafness in history can read about events such as the Deaf President Now movement that brought Gallaudet University its first deaf president, learn about the development of hearing assistive technology, read about segregation in schools for the deaf, and learn about the many people in history who were deaf. What is presented here is only a sampling of what can be learned in deaf studies.


The deaf and hard of hearing community has a strong history of activism. Twice, Gallaudet University students were involved in a protest, first in the 1980s and then again in the early 2000s.

Deaf President Now
The historic Deaf President Now movement that resulted in the first deaf president of Gallaudet University.

Unity for Gallaudet
In this second protest, students rose up against an unpopular choice for president, and brought attention to academic issues at Gallaudet.

Assistive Technology

Almost as long as there has been deafness, there has been assistive technology. Technology has given deaf and hard of hearing people the ability to hear, has enabled them to use the telephone system, and has made video programming accessible.

History of Closed Captions
Closed captioning has only been around for a few decades.

History of Cochlear Implant
The modern cochlear implant is the result of centuries of work.

History of Hearing Aids
From laughable trumpets to sleek BTEs, hearing aids through the years.

History of the TTY
Before text pagers and email, there was the TTY.

Economic Survival

In the Great Depression of the 1930s, deaf people faced the same challenges as hearing people, if not more. Plus, while there are far fewer around now, once in a rare while people do encounter "deaf peddlers."

Deaf People in the Great Depression
How did deaf people survive during the Great Depression?

Deaf Peddlers
Were you ever out in public and approached by someone offering you an alphabet card in exchange for $$? If so, then you met a deaf peddler.


Deaf education in the United States has a long history, going back to the 19th century. There was also an event in 1880 that turned many against sign language in education. Plus, for a long time, black deaf students could not attend classes with white deaf students, even in the same school.

History of Gallaudet University
A brief history of Gallaudet University, with links to more in-depth resources.

Milan 1880
In the 19th century, the very mention of this event struck fear in the hearts of sign language users.

Segregation in Schools for the Deaf
Back when public schools were segregated, schools for the deaf were no exception.


Deaf characters (if not deaf actors) have been on television for decades. There have even been attempts to have deaf cable channels. Today, the internet has changed everything and made it possible for the deaf community to have the modern equivalent of a deaf cable channel.

Deaf People on Television Fifties to Today
Did you know that deaf characters have been on television almost since television began?

History of the Silent Network
The birth, life, and death of the Silent Network cable channel.

Silent News Passes Away
At one time, the deaf and hard of hearing community had a very respected newspaper, the Silent News.


Many deaf and hard of hearing people, and some hearing people too, have made major contributions to deaf history. Did you know that a deaf person is behind those delicious Girl Scout cookies you enjoy every year? Or that a deaf woman was a journalist in the 19th century?

People in Deaf History
Articles about historic and famous deaf and hearing people, including the Abbe de L'Epee, Alexander Graham Bell, Andrew Foster, Dummy Hoy, Erastus Smith, Helen Keller, Juliette Low, Laura Bridgman, Laura Redden Searing, Laurent Clerc, and Thomas Edison.

Sign Language

Students often want to know how did sign language come to be? And, did you know that there once was a town where so many people were deaf that all the hearing people learned sign language?

History of Sign Language
How did sign language - any sign language - develop?

Martha's Vineyard
In the 19th century, there was a place where it was just as normal to be deaf as it was to be hearing.


Unfortunately, long ago, deafness was often mistaken for mental retardation. Plus, being deaf during the Holocaust was often a death sentence, even if you were not Jewish. Finally, there is a Word Find as a fun way to learn about deaf history and heritage.

Deaf, Not Retarded
Older deaf people may remember a time not too long ago, when deaf people were frequently misdiagnosed as retarded and institutionalized, with often disastrous consequences.

Deaf People and the Holocaust
In the Holocaust, deaf people were either killed or sterilized.

Word Find
For your entertainment, a deaf heritage word find.

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