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#DidYouKnow: Game Changing Moments In Deaf History

Deaf History Month is March 13- April 15-- let's take a quick look back at some of the most pivotal moments. If you want the full story, visit the history section of your local library!

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#DidYouKnow

Greek philosopher Aristotle declared that people who could not hear were "deaf and dumb." He decided that without the ability to hear, people could not learn, that they were "incapable to reason." This ignorant theory contributed to thousands of years of deaf oppression. 

Today we know this is completely incorrect! The only "dumb" people are the ones who don't take the time to educate themselves on deaf culture before speaking about it!

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The first recorded use of Sign language interpreters is by Princess Joanna of Scotland, who was deaf, born in 1428. She was known to use sign language to communicate in public, even though it was considered to be "impolite."

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in 1620, Juan Pablo Bonet wrote the first modern book about sign language. The publication illustrated a manual alphabet and was designed to help deaf students. Bonet is considered one of the first deaf language advocates and his alphabet influenced the development of many sign languages, including ASL.

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In 1698, Digiti Lingua was written by an anonymous Deaf author. This publication contains simple manual alphabet charts which lay the foundation for the British Sign Language two-handed alphabet.

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The first private school for the deaf, Thomas Braidwood's Academy for the Deaf, was opened in Scotland in 1760. Many famous Deaf sign language users were educated at this institution, which combined signed language and oral education methods. 

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in 1760, French Sign Language was established and French priest Charles Michel De L'Eppe founded the first free public school for the deaf in France. In 1788, he published a dictionary of French Sign Language.

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Inspired by the intelligence of a young deaf girl named Alice Cogswell, Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet founded the American School for the Deaf in 1817. Famed Deaf educator Laurent Clerc came over from France to assist. ASD offered primary and secondary education, and was the first permanent school for the deaf in the United States.

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From the late 18th to the early 20th century, Martha's Vineyard, MA was populated with such a high concentration of deaf families that nearly everyone on the island knew some signs, known as Martha's Vineyard Sign Language.

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In the 1850s, it was proposed to US Congress that land be set aside in the western territories to create a deaf state; a place where deaf people could choose to live and prosper in their own community without the restrictions of hearing society.

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The Columbia Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb and the Blind opened in 1857. It was the first college in the world established for people with disabilities, and now goes by a much better name: Gallaudet University.

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During the 1870s Alexander Graham Bell used his wealth and fame to promote oral-based education for deaf people, aka speech and lip reading. This was a turning point for deaf education because Bell's campaign majorly soured popular opinion on ASL.

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At The Milan Conference in 1880, hearing educators from around the world decided that oral education was superior to sign language. This declaration impacted many generations to come, as deaf children were denied the option of manual communication and forced to learn spoken languages.

It should be noted that modern researchers estimate only 30-40% of sounds in the English language are discernible from sight alone

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The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) was founded by deaf individuals in 1880, making it the oldest civil rights organization in the United States. NAD was created to preserve, protect, and promote the civil, human, and linguistic rights of deaf and hard of hearing people. Similar organizations began worldwide.

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In 1892, the Electrical Hearing Aid was Invented. Early hearing aids were complicated and very heavy, but they did provide hard of hearing people with amplified sounds. In the 1920s, the first portable electronic hearing aids began to come out.

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George Veditz was a deaf educator, the president of NAD, and passionate sign language advocate. Veditz believed that films-- which were all silent at the time--were the perfect medium to preserve deaf history. In 1910 he began a project to film masterful uses of sign language, recording speeches done by himself and other highly regarded deaf individuals. His speech "The Preservation of the Sign Language"  has been included in the Library of Congress National Film Registry.

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In 1958, President Dwight Eisenhower signed into law PL 85-905, which authorized loan services to finance captioned films for the deaf. Deaf people can enjoy movies just as much as hearing people when they are provided access. 

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William Stokoe published his research on American Sign Language in 1960, proving ASL is a legitimate language with it's own unique vocabulary, grammar, structure, and syntax. Prior to this, hearing people generally assumed sign language was a form of "broken English."

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88 years after the invention of the telephone, the teletypewriter (TTY) was invented by Robert Weitbrecht, a deaf man, in 1964. TTY allows deaf people to use phone lines to call other people with TTY devices, conversations are typed back and forth. To engage with non-deaf individuals, a relay operator must be utilized.

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In 1964, Congress issued the Babbidge Report on oral deaf education, concluding that oralism was a "dismal failure." In 1988, Congress recommended that ASL be used as the primary language for Deaf individuals. 

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In 1972 the Caption Center at WGBH in Boston began open captioning the country's first nationally broadcast captioned program, "The French Chef." In 1991, the Television Decoder Circuitry Act was passed by US Congress, which gave the FCC power to enforce closed captioning implementation, requiring all televisions to offer the ability to display closed captioning. 

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In 1975, President Ford signed The Education for All Handicapped Children Act, or PL 94-142, info law which guarantees disabled children a free public education, with appropriate services and special accommodations as necessary. The act required public schools which accept federal funds to provide these children with equal access to education, and one free meal per day. This act was designed to help integrate a diverse range of students into mainstream schools

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Deaf History Month begins on March 13 because that is the day we celebrate the Deaf President Now demonstration at Gallaudet University, which concluded on March 13, 1988. During the protests, students and staff voiced their support for a deaf college president, instead of appointing another hearing person. Meeting the protestor's demands, the Board of Trustees named I. King Jordan the first Deaf president of Gallaudet University. 

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In 1990 the Americans with Disabilities Act passed, outlawing discriminatory practices against disabled people, and offering them better education and employment opportunities. The ADA establishes the right to request reasonable accommodations in both public and private institutions that are open to the public. For deaf people this might mean captioning or a sign language interpreter, dependent on the individual's preference.

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It was not until 2003 that the British government officially recognized British Sign Language. Other countries which officially recognize their signed languages include: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, the Czech Republic, Finland, Iceland, Kenya, Macedonia, Mexico, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Norway, Portugal, the Slovak Republic, Thailand, Uganda, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe. American Sign Language is only recognized on a state-by-state basis in the United States, with many states labeling ASL as a "foreign language."

#DidYouKnow

In 2010, the 21st Century communications and Video Accessibility Act was signed into law, requiring unedited full-length programs that are shown on TV with captions to be also offer captioning if shown online. Two years later, following a lawsuit, Netflix announced that it would be offering closed captions on all TV shows and movies. 

#DidYouKnow

Each day new deaf individuals become empowered to speak out against institutionalized oppression, fighting the audism built into mainstream society. Access to the internet provides a wealth of information, so deaf people can educate themselves about their rights and how to protect themselves against oppression.  With the evolution of communications, especially video chats, social media, and text messaging, deaf individuals are being seen and heard more than ever before!

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