Day 51: Indiana bill says deaf school wouldn’t run new deaf education center

I heard this news report from Indiana Public Media in the car on the way to work this morning. It highlights an issue that has been debated for two hundred years and includes such high profile Americans as Alexander Graham Bell. The issues between manualism (sign language) and oralism (spoken language) are deeply grounded in historical context and the exploitation of individuals who are deaf/hard of hearing and their families.

Both methods of communication used throughout history by people with hearing-relate disabilities, though sign language is viewed historically as a liberating point where individuals where not forced to conform to traditional language standards, but rather had a language uniquely suited for their abilities. Oralism, which was supported by Graham Bell (his mother and wife were deaf), was a movement that focused on assimilation into more traditional language methods so as to not isolate or separate individuals with hearing disabilities. While well-intended, some members of the group also supported eugenics, which strongly suggested that deaf individuals not be allowed to marry in order to minimize the possibility of producing deaf offspring. A short synopsis of the debate is nearly impossible, but this an interesting topic that is definitely worth following up on. A historical article on the subject can be found here. Through this Indiana bill, it is clear that the historical context of this issue and the feelings that it gave rise to are still at play in the minds of individuals who are deaf and their loved ones today.

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