Conditions of the deaf in historical times
This document summarizes what we know about the conditions of the deaf in historical times.
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Those born deaf were not allowed to own property or conduct major business transactions. They also were not liable nor punished for any damage or injury they incurred.
Those born deaf were considered "non-persons" in Greek society and rejected by parents as their legitimate children. Killing of deaf and other disabled babies was a common practice. Aristotle was quoted as saying that those born deaf "become senseless and incapable of reasoning".
Roman law specified that those born deaf had no legal rights or obligations and were forbidden to marry in addition to being required to have guardians to look after them. Those who became deaf after having developed speech were allowed to enjoy full legal rights.
St. Augustine (354-430 A.D.) taught that the deaf are excluded from salvation on the grounds that they cannot hear the Word of God, citing St. Paul: "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17). St. Augustine also taught that handicapped children were the results of the "sins" of their parents.
The International Congress on Education of the Deaf, which met in Milan, Italy, over the protests of many Deaf and Hearing educators, rammed through a resolution endorsing the oral method in deaf education worldwide, ushering in a new "Dark Age" in the history of the Deaf which saw hundreds of Deaf teachers fired from their jobs and an overall decline in the quality of deaf education
Alexander Graham Bell, calling the deaf "a defective variety of the human race," begins a crusade to destroy sign language and to push for laws forbidding marriage between deaf persons and requiring compulsory sterilization of deaf girls in the name of "eugenics." Some states passed such legislation.
Last update date:
1996 Jan 19
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