Deaf History Month is a time to commemorate and recognize the accomplishments of people who hard of hearing and deaf. Currently it is celebrated during April. It formerly spanned two months, March 13 to April 15, to include three significant days for the Deaf community:
April 15, 1817
The last day of Deaf History Month marks the earliest milestone included for the Deaf community. Dr. Mason Cogswell recognized the need for a school after his daughter, Alice, was deafened by a fever in childhood. At the time, there were no options in the United States available. He asked Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet for assistance, and after touring schools in Europe, he returned and opened what is now the American School for the Deaf, the oldest permanent school in the country for the deaf.
April 8, 1864
A school for deaf and heard of hearing children was a good first step, but soon the need for advanced education became clear. Edward Miner Galluadet, son of Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, was one of the citizens fighting for an additional school. This led to the creation of the Columbia Institution for the Instruction of the Dead and Dumb and the Blind in 1857. The school grew rapidly, eventually leading to President Lincoln signing and enabling them to grant college degrees. April 8 became the charter day of what was now called Gallaudet University.
March 13, 1988
Even though Gallaudet University was the first university of its kind, it still had its shortcomings. For its more than 100 year history, the Deaf community felt that the Deaf were underrepresented in the faculty selection. In 1988, the current president resigned, and the students began advocating for a deaf president. After a long search, the board narrowed it down to three candidates, two of which were deaf. On March 6, the hearing candidate was officially selected, causing outrage that led to marches and protests. Eventually, after much back and forth, the original choice resigned, allowing Irving King Jordan to become the first deaf president.
‘Deaf President Now‘ was the cry of the students and community, and while it addressed that particular situation, it now serves as a larger stance of empowerment. The phrase represents the self-determination of deaf and hard of hearing people around the world.
Did you know?
Juliette Gordon Low, founder of Girl Scouts, was almost totally deaf as an adult. In her late teens and early 20s, she developed an infection in one ear that wasn’t treated properly, causing her to be partially deaf. A few years later, on her wedding day, a piece of rice was lodged in her other ear, leading her to lose most of her hearing in it as well.
None of this stopped her determination or drive in life. It was later, after losing most of her hearing, that she went on to found Girl Scouts in the United States and create the legacy of building girls of courage, confidence, and character who make the world a better place.
What can you do?
This month (and beyond!) continue to educate yourself about the Deaf community and all of their achievements. Spread awareness about these and reach out to companies to make sure they are supporting their obligations. Donate what you can to deaf-based charities and seek out deaf businesses that you can support.