What can deaf people do?

American Manual Alphabet chart Many of us have encountered deaf  “peddlers” passing out cards with the alphabet shown in sign language. Airports, parks, restaurants….you might be approached just about anywhere. On the back, it typically reads “I am deaf and cannot work. Please help me with a financial contribution”.  Unfortunately, this leads many hearing people to actually believe that deaf people cannot work. For obvious reasons, this practice is not a popular one with the deaf population going to work every day. It promotes the stereotype of the “poor and dependent” deaf.

So, without the ability to hear, what else can deaf people do?  Let’s take a walk through history and seek some answers to this question. According to Wikipedia……..

Helen Keller – (1880 – 1968) –  Most people are familiar with this name. An American author, activist and lecturer. She was the first deaf/blind person to graduate from college.

She was not born blind and deaf; it was not until nineteen months of age that she acquired an illness described by doctors as “an acute congestion of the stomach and the brain”, which could have possibly been scarlet fever or meningitis. The illness left her deaf and blind. Keller went on to become a world-famous speaker and author.

Thomas Edison – Thomas Alva Edison (February 11, 1847 – October 18, 1931) was an American inventor and businessman who developed many devices that greatly influenced life around the world, including the phonograph and a long lasting light bulb. In school, the young Edison was noted to be terrible at mathematics, unable to focus, and had difficulty with words and speech. This ended Edison’s three months of official schooling. The cause of Edison’s deafness has been attributed to a bout of scarlet fever during childhood and recurring untreated middle ear infections.

Ludwig Van Beethoven – History tells us that – although Beethoven was completely deaf – he was able to compose and play extraordinary music. Today, he is recognized as one of the greatest musicians of all time. He had to turn and face his audience to experience the applause he was unable to hear.

Marlee Matlin – In 1986, applauded for her performance in ‘Children of a Lesser God’, Marlee became the first deaf actress to win an Academy Award and Golden Globe Award for Best Actress. Look up and to the right >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> there she is talking about The Sign Language Company!

Gerald “Bummy” Burstein –  The first deaf person in the world to become a certified professional parliamentarian. He’s been credited as introducing to America the famous deaf applause — hands waving in the air. In 1999, the Riverside resident became the first deaf person to establish a chair at his alma mater, Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C.

Linda Bove – A deaf American actress who played the part of Linda the Librarian on the children’s television program Sesame Street from 1971 to 2003. Bove has introduced thousands of children to sign language and issues surrounding the Deaf Community. Her role as Linda on Sesame Street is currently the longest recurring role in television history for a deaf person. Bove attended Gallaudet University.

William Elsworth – Dummy Hoy – (May 23, 1862 – December 15, 1961) was an American center fielder in Major League Baseball who played for several teams from 1888 to 1902, most notably the Cincinnati Reds and two Washington, D.C. franchises. He is noted for being the most accomplished deaf player in major league history, and is credited by some sources with causing the establishment of signals for safe and out calls. Hoy became deaf after suffering from meningitis at age three, and went on to graduate from the Ohio State School for the Deaf in Columbus as class valedictorian. Hoy also worked as an executive with Goodyear after supervising hundreds of deaf workers during World War I. In 1951 he was the first deaf athlete elected to membership in the American Athletic Association of the Deaf Hall of Fame.

Harold MacGrath – American author, (September 4, 1871 – October 30, 1932) was a bestselling American novelist, short story writer, and screenwriter. In an article in the April 23, 1932 issue of The Saturday Evening Post written under the title “The Short Autobiography of a Deaf Man,” MacGrath described how he had struggled early in life as a result of a hearing impairment. At a time in history when deaf people were almost automatically considered as lacking intellectual acuity, he managed to hide his deafness from his employer and others. Harold MacGrath’s success made him a very wealthy man and he traveled the world extensively.

Gertrude Ederle– (October 23, 1906 – November 30, 2003) Gertrude was an American competitive swimmer. In 1926, she became the first woman to swim across the English Channel. She trained at the Women’s Swimming Association, which produced such competitors as Eleanor Holm and Esther Williams. She joined the club when she was only fifteen. From this time Gertrude began to break and establish more amateur records than any other woman in the world. Ederle had poor hearing since childhood due to measles, and by the 1940s she was completely deaf. She spent the rest of her life teaching swimming to deaf children.

Laurent Clerc– (26 December 1785 – 18 July 1869) Laurant Clerc was called “The Apostle of the deaf in America” and “The Father of the Deaf” by generations of American deaf people. With Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, he co-founded the first school for the deaf in North America, the Hartford Asylum for the Education and Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb on April 15, 1817 in the old Bennet’s City Hotel, Hartford, Connecticut.

Chuck Baird – Chuck Baird was born deaf in Kansas City and along with his three older sisters, went to the Kansas School for the Deaf. After an art residency at the California School for the Deaf in Fremont, he moved to San Diego in 1992 to work for DawnSignPress as an in-house artist, and painted a number of new Deaf-related works, culminating in the book, “Chuck Baird, 35 Plates.” He had his first major exhibition at the World Federation of the Deaf Conference in Washington DC in 1975.

Heather Whitestone McCallum – (born February 24, 1973) Heather was the first deaf Miss America title holder, having lost her hearing at the age of eighteen months. Whitestone represented Alabama at the 1995 Miss America pageant held in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Despite being profoundly deaf, she performed ballet en pointe to the song “Via Dolorosa” as her talent, winning the preliminary talent competition and the preliminary swimsuit competition.

Evelyn Glennie – (born July 19, 1965) is a Scottish virtuoso percussionist. She was the first full-time solo professional percussionist in 20th century western society. Glennie has been profoundly deaf  since age 12. This does not inhibit her ability to perform at the international level. She regularly plays barefoot for both live performances and studio recordings, to better “feel” the music.

I. King Jordan – The first president of Gallaudet University with a profound hearing loss.

Phyllis Frelich – won the Tony Award for her role in the stage production of Children of a Lesser God.

Terrylene Sachetti – Deaf actress, poet, storyteller, mime, and dancer.

Of course, this is just a partial list, but this post is already over 1100 words…..so we’ll save more for another time.

One question before we wrap it up. When approached by a deaf person requesting money to compensate for the ‘disability‘ and inability to work, what should one do? What is the appropriate action? What do you think?

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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.

View all posts by Evelyn

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2 Responses to “What can deaf people do?”

  1. Catherine Says:

    I have noticed that when I sign to some of the deaf alphabet peddlars, they snatch up their little card and leave right away. Sometimes I wonder if there are hearing people are pretending to be deaf as a scam.
    I don’t usually donate.


  2. John Harker Says:

    Obviously these cards are leftover from a time when people who were deaf, blind and handicapped were usually ‘thrown away’, metaphorically of course. Like the blind man selling pencils outside the train station. Obviously in today’s society there are a plethora of opportunities for the differently abled and wonder like the poster above, might be a scam perpetrated by criminal elements.


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