SoundSpace Online

History of the Deaf community

For over 7,000 years there has been evidence of the existence of sign language using Deaf people ([207]) and in 360 BC Socrates alludes to Deaf people using signs. In 44 B.C. Quintus Pedius was the earliest deaf person in recorded history known by name. Please visit this Revolvy website page to learn more about Quintus Pedius. Another source of information is ([208]).

The history of Deaf people and their culture make up Deaf history. Deaf communities were based on communication through sign language, commonality of experience and relationships with one another, with the choice of communication being different to that of the majority society ([207]). Unlike other cultures the Deaf culture is not associated with any native land as it is a global culture, characterised by the use of sign language. Defining the Deaf community is complex ([206]) and deafness is not the sufficient condition for membership. Woll and Ladd (2003) give useful conceptual discussion.

The Deaf Jam website page gives an overview of key events in the history of deafness which is often linked with the development of deaf education. The issue of communication when one cannot hear was recognised by Aristotle who believed that "Deaf people could not be educated without hearing, people could not learn," and therefore those who were deaf were then denied education. How to overcome the challenge led to  conflicting practice in Europe in the use of oral or signed communication for educating deaf children. In 1880, at the Second International Congress on Education of the Deaf in Milan, Italy,hearing educators voted for the use of oral education and not the use of sign in education. For more information, please visit this Institue of Cognitive Science and Technologies (ISTC) website page on the Second International Congress on Education of the Deaf. There were no Deaf people contributing to the decision, and it led to strong protest, and the arguments for the use of sign language grew. This was at a time when there was no hearing technology to support access to speech by hearing and  the poor educational results observed for deaf children led to the growth in the interest in the use of sign language in education and for sign language to be recognised as a language. In the UK, British Sign Language was finally recognised in 2003 as an official language.

In order to be able to build communities of Deaf people using sign language, in the second part of the nineteenth century, these meeting places became more formalised with the development of deaf clubs, central to the Deaf community, which provided a place where deaf people could gather together regularly. There were two main reasons for this: the development of schools for the deaf and the initiatives of the church.  The formal education of deaf pupils in the UK (and elsewhere) began in the eighteenth century and by 1850 there were 17 schools for the deaf, many of these residential, with the school community becoming the child’s “family”.  Pupils formed social groups and often tended to stay in the same area after leaving school and thus became the nucleus of a Deaf club. In the early days, churches provided rooms where Deaf people could meet and where they could come to worship. After some time, the groups began to develop their own premises and by the end of nineteenth century there were 40 Deaf clubs in the UK, some being open every day of the week.

Deaf clubs thrived and until recently were the centre of the Deaf Community for Deaf people in a locality. However, lately numbers attending Deaf clubs have declined and Deaf clubs have started to close down. This is partly due to the closure of schools for the Deaf, a consequence of the policy of educational inclusion, and the increasing use of effective hearing technology, including hearing aids and cochlear implants. The social life of Deaf people has extended beyond the Deaf club with developments in communication technologies such as email, texting and Skype facilitating improved communication without being face-to-face. The consequences of this for the Deaf Community have yet to become apparent, but it appears that its definition becomes even more complex.