Deaf Culture Timeline

Gallaudet 1988

Deaf President Now at Gallaudet

Wow…..twenty five years ago! This month we are remembering the “Deaf President Now” movement at Gallaudet University in 1988. In light of this historic moment in Deaf History, it seems appropriate to look back and remember how Deaf Culture has evolved over time.

Thank you to Wendy Shaner at College of The Canyons for putting this together.





Introduction to Deaf History

      Centuries-long struggle of discrimination

      Opportunities for the hearing-impaired

      Debate over manual and oral communication.

      Deaf Education

      Cochlear implant debate.

In the Beginning

1000 BC – Hebrew Law denies Deaf Rights

•      The Torah protected the deaf from being cursed by others

•      Does not allow the Deaf to participate fully in the rituals of the Temple.

•      Special laws concerning marriage and property were established for deaf-mutes

•      Property Rights were denied to Deaf-mutes

•      Deaf-mutes were not allowed to be witnesses in the courts.

427 – 237 BC – Philosophy of Innate Intelligence


•      All intelligence was present at birth.

•      All people are born with perfect abstracts, ideas and language in their minds and required only time to demonstrate their intelligence.

      Without speech, there was no outward sign of intelligence, so Deaf people must not be capable of ideas or language

355 BC – Ancient Greeks Deny Deaf Education


      Deaf people were not educated. Without hearing, people could not learn. Those born deaf become senseless and incapable of  reason

      Greek = perfect language

      Can’t speak Greek = Barbarians

      Deaf = barbarian

345 – 550 AD – Early Christians see Deafness as Sin

St. Augustine

      Tells early Christians that deaf children are a sign of God’s anger at the sins of their parents

 Dark and Middle Ages

      Deaf are committed to asylums because of speech and behavior … thought to be possessed by demons

476 – 1453 – Middle Ages 

      “People born deaf could not have faith, could not be saved and were barred from churches”

      Must be able to “hear” the word of God – Punishment from God

Enlightenment Begins

1500’s – First Attempts at Educating the Deaf
Geronimo Cardano of Padua, Italy

      First physician to recognize the ability of the deaf to reason.

      Teaches his deaf son using a code of symbols. Believes the Deaf can be taught written language

Pedro Ponce de Leon, a Benedictine Monk

   Invents signs to circumvent “vow of silence”.

   To communicate necessary information, the monks develop their own form of sign language.

   Successfully teaches speech to people deaf since birth

   He taught deaf sons of the Spanish nobility in order that they might inherit property


Juan Pablo Bonet

    An advocate of early sign language. Wrote the first well-known book of manual alphabetic signs for the deaf in 1620.

Martha’s Vineyard

      Settled by 200 immigrants from Kent County England, an area known as “the Weald”.

      Carried dominant and recessive genes for deafness.

      By the mid-1700’s a sign language for deaf AND hearing (not ASL) had developed on the island

      Nearly all inhabitants signed and town meetings were in sign language

      Deaf islanders married, had families, worked, voted, held public office and were equal

      The birth rate for deaf children =   1 in 155 on the island. The average is 1 in 1,000

      American School for the Deaf was established 1817

   Island deaf children went to Hartford to be educated

   They brought island signs with them and influenced FSL in its change to ASL

1755 – Oral Education
Samuel Heinicke

      German oral teacher of the deaf

•      The first oral school for the deaf in the world in Germany

    Heinicke teaches pupils speech by having them feel his throat while he speaks

    his orally based educational techniques are called “the German Method.”

1760 – French Sign Language Established
Charles Michel De L’Eppe

      A French priest, and “father of Sign Language and Deaf Education”

      Established the first free public school for the deaf in France.

      Worked to develop a bridge between the deaf and hearing worlds through a system of standardized signs and finger spelling.

      Founded a shelter for the deaf in Paris and a school for deaf children in Truffaut, France

      Established the first free public school for the deaf in 1771

      Wrote “The Instruction of Deaf and Mute Persons Using Methodological Signs”, first book to advocate the use of natural signs (1776)

      In 1788 he published a dictionary of French sign language.

 1760-1780’s – Deaf Education Spreads Around the World

England 1760

      Thomas Braidwood opened first school for the deaf in England

Germany 1777

      Arnoldi, a German pastor, believed education of the deaf should begin as early as four years

Rome 1784

      Abba Silvestri opened first school for the deaf in Italy in Rome

 1817 – First American Deaf School Founded

Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet – American interested in deaf education

      Travels to Europe and meets Laurent Clerc

      Gallaudet and Clerc return to American and found the American School for the Deaf in Hartford, Connecticut

      Originally named the Connecticut Asylum for the Education and Instruction of Deaf and Dumb Persons   

      Many teachers of the deaf train in Hartford. Sign-based deaf schools begin to flourish in New York, Pennsylvania, Kentucky….

      Alice Cogswell, Gallaudet’s initial inspiration to teach the deaf, is the first to graduate from the American School. 

1818 – New York School for the Deaf established

1820 – Pennsylvania School for the Deaf

1823 – Kentucky School for the Deaf

1829 – Ohio School for the Deaf

1839 – Virginia School for the Deaf

1843-1912 – More than 30 schools for the Deaf were established by Deaf and hearing teachers from the American School for the Deaf and Gallaudet College, including schools in Indiana, Tennessee, North Carolina, Illinois, Georgia, South Carolina and Arkansas.

Golden Age of Deaf Education

1840 – 1912 – “Golden Age of Deaf Education” – American Sign Language flourishes. Approximately 40% of all teachers are Deaf

1850’s – A Deaf State Is Proposed

John Flournoy

      Former pupil of the Connecticut school

      Proposed to Congress that there be a deaf state with land set aside in the western territories for the creation of a deaf state

   Deaf could control their schools and establish their own government

   For the deaf community to flourish unrestrained by prejudice and the often restrictive good intentions of hearing society

1864 – Gallaudet College Opens

Abraham Lincoln

      Signs the charter for the Washington, D.C. based college for the deaf

      National College for the Deaf and Dumb is the only accredited facility for the deaf in the U.S. to offer college degrees

      The first president of Gallaudet is Edward Miner Gallaudet, son of Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet.

      The dedication of the Gallaudet family is honored when the college changes its name to Gallaudet College in 1893

      Today, Gallaudet remains a leader in higher education for the Deaf

1870’s – Alexander Graham Bell Promotes Deaf Education

      Telephone inventor who began his career as a deaf educator

      Mother was hard of hearing. Father  promoted a teaching method for the deaf called “visible speech”

1872 – Bell’s Deaf School

In Boston, a school opens and concentrates on oral methods of instruction. The school receives heavy opposition from deaf schools using manual sign language. 

 Bell eventually gives up administering deaf education and focuses on a contraption that mechanizes speech

 In 1876, he invents the telephone.

– Armed with wealth and recognition, he goes on to found the Volta Bureau to promote oral- based education for deaf children.

  A period of upheaval in deaf education begins with a backlash against sign language

 1880’s –  The Conference of Milan Endorses Oral Education

    In a move with repercussions well into the future, this international gathering of deaf educators pronounces oral education methods superior to manual communications systems.

    The only country opposing the vote for oral-based education is the United States, where manual education has made great strides.

    During the next 10 years, the popularity of manual education for the deaf declines sharply

    Seventy-five percent of teachers using the manual method have retired by 1890.

    In the U.S., the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) is founded and gains support in reaction to the Milan resolution.

    The NAD is instrumental in keeping sign language and manual education alive.

    1880 –  Helen Keller

Helen is born in Tuscambia, Alabama. She is taught at home by her friend and teacher Annie Sullivan and later at the Perkins Institute for the Blind in Boston, Mass. Helen graduated from Radcliffe College. She –  lost both her hearing and sight at 19 months.

    1887 – Women are admitted to the National Deaf-Mute College (now Gallaudet)

    1892 – Electric Hearing Aid Invented

While early hearing aids are not easy to use (most weigh several pounds and must be placed on a desk), the carbon-based microphones, powered by large three- and six-volt batteries, give hearing-impaired people truly amplified sound for the first time.

Alexander Graham Bell reportedly develops an earphone for amplifying sound, but he never pursues a patent.

Gallaudet As It Is Known Today

1894 – National Deaf-Mute College became Gallaudet College. 

1880’s-1920’s – Deaf Players make changes in Baseball and Football

      In 1901, baseball’s American League gets its first grand slam thanks to William “Dummy” Hoy, a deaf player.

Umpire hand signals are developed so that Hoy can see a strike call from the outfield.

      In the 1920s, Gallaudet University’s football team keeps its plays a secret by hiding signed instructions in a

huddle formation. Soon, other teams are huddling up too, and a football tradition is born.

Rise of Oralism

 1927 – Oralism in America is at its zenith. Only 15% of teachers are Deaf

1910’s-1950’s – Deaf Employment Skyrockets

  While deaf people are not allowed to serve in the U.S. military during World War I and World War II, wartime labor shortages provide    many new job opportunities for deaf people.

      Many take manufacturing jobs. New Deaf communities flourish  such as the one based around the Goodyear plant in   Akron, Ohio, flourish.

      Meanwhile, in Europe, entire companies of deaf soldiers take up arms.

      In the field, commands are given using special signs that can be seen at a distance. 

 1941-1945 – World War Two creates a need for labor. Deaf men and women are hired in record numbers to work in defense industries. Many relocate to work in factories in California, Ohio, New York and Washington, DC. Many employers note the abilities of Deaf workers for the first time.

ASL is a Language

1960 – First Linguistic book and defense of ASL as a language by William Stoke

1964 – Phone for Deaf Invented

Robert Weitbrecht, who is deaf, invents the teletypewriter (TTY), which enables deaf people to use phone lines to call each other and type out their conversations.

1964 – Oral Deaf Education Labeled ‘Failure‘

    Congress issues the Babbidge Report on oral deaf education and concludes that it has been a “dismal failure.” Many in the deaf community applaud this report, and view it as a clear acknowledgment of the superiority of manual communication and education.

Deaf Theater Takes Shape

1965 – Bernard Bragg, a deaf actor and mime, stars in “The Silent Man”, a TV program in California. Bragg, a graduate of the Fanwood School for the Deaf in White Plains, New York was a co-founder of the National Theater of the Deaf and has toured America with his one-man show

 1967 – National Theater of the Deaf is established

Legislation at Work

 1968 – Bilingual Education Act (P.L. 89-10) is passed. ASL is not included because it is not recognized as a language

  1970’s – Total Communication Leads to Mainstreaming

  Two historically divergent education methods converge, at least in theory, as Total Communication, a combination of manual and speech-based instruction for the deaf is developed and promoted.

  Formulated in the early 1960’s by a mother dissatisfied with oral-based attempts to teach her deaf daughter, the Total Communication system gains grassroots support and becomes the foundation for a new approach to deaf education within public school systems.

Development of Other Sign Systems

1970-1972 – Signed English, Seeing Essential English and SEE II methods are developed in order to create a manual code for English that can be used to supplement the Oral method. These sign systems are to be used simultaneously with speech to promote the development of English skills.

1972 – Program Captioning Introduced

    The Caption Center at WGBH in Boston open captions “The French Chef” the country’s first nationally broadcast captioned program. It airs on PBS. By 1980 Close Captioning is developed and the first show broadcast. Close Captioning hides the text from view unless the user has a decoding device. By 1993, the FCC requires that all newly manufactured televisions have the decoding chip.

1973 – Disabled Gain Right to Equal Access

    The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 includes a section requiring that the disabled be given access and equal opportunity to use the resources of organizations that receive federal funds or that are under federal contracts.

    This opens many doors for wheelchair-bound and blind individuals, and also requires that accommodations such as TTY phones and interpreters be provided for the deaf.

1974 Census –   National Association of the Deaf conducted census of Deaf Americans; counted 13.4 million hearing and 1.8 million deaf Americans.

1975 – Public Law 94-142

By 1975, Public Law 94-142, is passed requiring handicapped children in the U.S. be provided with free and appropriate education, allowing many to be mainstreamed into regular public schools, where they receive special instruction but interact with the general school population. Mainstreaming is accepted as current educational philosophy. Number of Deaf teachers drops to its lowest point – 11%.

 Section 504

1978 – Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is passed. The law requires that all businesses, colleges and organizations which have federal contracts or receive federal funds be open and accessible to physically disabled persons

Linguistic Research

1979 – The Signs of Language Klima and Bellugi. First Linguistic research on ASL

1980’s – Silent Network – A Deaf Cable Channel

 Broadcasting in 1981 with only 2 million homes. By 1990, 14 million homes have access to the program. The network operated 24-hours a day, seven days a week.

 Deaf Mosiac

 1985 – Deaf Mosiac begins broadcasting from Gallaudet University Television Studios in Washington, DC. The program, which ended production in 1995, won Emmy awards for the producers and hosts Mary Lou Novitisky and Gil Eastman

1985 – Cochlear Implants Approved

    The cochlear implant is approved for clinical trials in people 18 and older.

    The implant bypasses the bones of the inner ear, placing electrodes directly into the cochlea, where sound waves are absorbed and interpreted by the auditory nerve.

    The cochlear implant stirs controversy among the Deaf

1987 – Deaf Actress Wins Oscar

    Marlee Matlin becomes the first deaf actress to win an Academy Award, for her role in the movie “Children of a Lesser God.”

1988 – ‘Deaf President Now’ Protest Held

      Students and faculty at Gallaudet University protest the selection of another hearing president.

      The ‘Deaf President Now’ protest continues for one week, with multiple rallies, press conferences and marches.

      After eight days of student protests, I. King Jordan is named the first deaf president of Gallaudet University

      Congress recommends that ASL be used as the primary language for the Deaf, with English as a second language.

ASL and Deaf Education

 1988 – “Signing Naturally” Curriculum published, written and produced by Deaf authors Ella Mae Lentz and Ken Mikos

1988 – “Unlocking the Curriculum” published by the Gallaudet University Linguistics Department. This proposes a return to ASL as the first method of instruction for Deaf children. It refutes the Manually Coded English approaches, using speech and sign.

Toward Equality: Education of the Deaf

1988 – Congressional Report published – “Toward Equality: Education of the Deaf.” Report recommends that ASL be used as a primary medium of language instruction with English as a second language. Also recommends that ASL be included in the Bilingual Education Act. Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) investigates the possibility of adding ASL and Deaf children to the Bilingual Education Act, but again it is not approved because of the status of hearing parents and questions regarding ASL as a foreign language.

1990 – Americans with Disabilities Act Passed 

    Discriminatory practices and obstacles to accessibility for the handicapped are both outlawed

    The law has a huge impact on the wheel chair dependent, and also requires greater communications, education, and employment opportunities for the deaf.

    In keeping with the ADA, caption decoder chips are required in television sets larger than 13″.

1990 – Deaf Schools Termed ‘Restrictive’ 

    The 1972 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is re-adopted and amended to recommend that disabled students should attend schools with the “least restrictive environment.”

    Residential deaf schools are struck a blow as they become labeled the “most restrictive environment.”

    Enrollment plunges, and some schools close their doors.


 1993 – Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is passed. U. S. Department of Education establishes a Policy of Inclusion, giving all disabled students the right to attend neighborhood schools in a “least restrictive environment.” Residential schools for the Deaf are labeled “most restrictive environment.” Policy of assimilation into society is the goal of IDEA. Residential schools for the Deaf in some states are forced to close because of decreasing enrollment, but number of Deaf teachers rise slightly (to 16%) as more teaching opportunities in the public schools and the desire for Deaf role models increase.

1995 – First Deaf Miss America Crowned

      Heather Whitestone, an orally educated deaf woman from Birmingham, Alabama, wins the coveted crown.

      She states, “[Speech] worked for me, but it does not work for all deaf children.”

      Speech vs. sign clouds her reign. Her attempt to calm the storm by stressing individual differences and “it (speech) worked for me, but it does not work for all deaf children” does not entirely end the controversy. The question is often asked, “Is she an appropriate deaf role model for deaf children and for the general public?”

1995 –  Use of cochlear Implants increases. Nucleus 22 device and SPEAK Speech Processing system (developed at the University of Melbourne, Australia) are the latest technological advances in implantation.

      12,000 candidates have been implanted at a cost of approximately $40,000.

      Adults and Children severely to profoundly Deaf, age two and above are considered candidates.

      Many parents opt for cochlear implants and mainstreamed education as an educational plan for their Deaf children.

 1998 –  The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released new captioning rules for the broadcast and cable television industry.

      These new rules now require 100% of cable television to be captioned within eight years, and require real-time captioning for many local news programs.

      The FCC has revised its rule to require that 100% of new programming must be captioned, beginning Jan. 1, 2006


Christy Smith, Athletic Deaf Woman and alumnus of Gallaudet University competed on reality TV show “Survivor”

 2002 – Deanne Bray – Deaf Actress and Television Star

      F.B.Eye on the Pax channel.

      Bray grew up deaf since birth (May 14, 1971) and uses one hearing aid.

      Bray was involved with deaf theater (Deaf West Theatre).

 2003 – Curtis Pride – Deaf Professional Baseball Player

      Born in the Washington, DC metro area, deaf at birth from rubella. He grew up oral.

The FDA has now approved cochlear implants in children as young as 12 months of age. 

2008 – Marlee Matlin competes in “Dancing With The Stars”

2011 – Switched at Birth is an American television series that premiered on ABC Family on June 6, 2011. The one-hour scripted drama revolves around two teenagers who were switched at birth and grew up in very different environments. The series’ debut was the highest-rated show debut for ABC Family to date. According to ABC Family, it is “the first mainstream television series to have multiple deaf and hard-of-hearing series regulars and scenes shot entirely in ASL [American Sign Language].

2013 – Switched at Birth airs an entire episode using only ASL with captions for the audience unfamiliar with sign language. This is a “first” for network television and draws a record-breaking audience.  The episode centers around a protest inspired by the historic 1988 “Deaf President Now” protest at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. in which students, alumni and staff barricaded and occupied the campus until their demand for a deaf university president was heard and met.

Whew!  What’s coming up next? Who knows? ANYTHING is possible!





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About Evelyn

Evelyn Hunter is a SODA with years of experiential study in Deaf Culture. She attended Gallaudet University to immerse herself in this unique deaf world while working for the University and studying sign language to hone her skills. Evelyn has served in training, relationship sales, and marketing -- always seeking to expand awareness of Deaf Culture and the unique challenges the deaf face on a daily basis. The Sign Language Company has recently established a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and a website with a blog, as Evelyn coordinates the marketing and outreach efforts for the agency. Her goal is to attract new clients seeking exceptional service, while maintaining optimal relationships with clients who have selected The Sign Language Company for over 20 years.

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