Deaf Awareness: Week 3

Deaf Awareness: Week 3 focus on prominent leaders that have made historical significant impact on Deaf community.

Charles -Michel _de _L'Épée

Charles-Michel de l’Epee : “Father of the Deaf”

The Abbé Charles-Michel de l'Épée (November 24, 1712, Versailles - December 23, 1789, Paris) was a philanthropic educator of 18th-century France who has become known as the "Father of the Deaf". He is also known as the founder of the first public school for the deaf.

At one point, Épée had turned his attention toward charitable services for the poor, and, into the slums of Paris, he had a chance encounter with two young deaf sisters who communicated using a sign language. Épée decided to dedicate himself to the education and salvation of the deaf, and, in 1760, he founded a school. In line with emerging philosophical thought of the time, Épée came to believe that deaf people were capable of language and concluded that they should be able to receive the sacrament (Catholic Churches) and thus avoid going to hell. He began to develop a system of instruction of the French language and religion. In the early 1760s, his shelter became the world's first free school for the deaf, open to the public. 

Though Épée's original interest was in religious education, his public advocacy and development of a kind of "Signed French" enabled deaf people to legally defend themselves in court for the first time.

Épée died at the beginning of the French Revolution in 1789, and his tomb is in the Church of Saint Roch in Paris. Two years after his death, the National Assembly recognized him as a "Benefactor of Humanity" and declared that deaf people had rights according to the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. In 1791, the Institution Nationale des Sourds-Muets à Paris, which Épée had founded, began to receive government funding. It was later renamed the Institut St. Jacques and then renamed again to its present name: Institut National de Jeunes Sourds de Paris. His methods of education have spread around the world, and the Abbé de l'Épée is seen today as one of the founding fathers of deaf education. 



Laurent Clerc

Louis Laurent Marie Clerc was a pivotal figure in the education of the deaf, and has been called “the apostle to the Deaf people of the New World.” Clerc’s influence cannot be overestimated, and reverberates within the Deaf community to this day.

Clerc was born in 1785, in Balme-les-Gottes, in southeastern France. It is unclear whether Clerc was born deaf or became so after a childhood accident. Regardless, he did not attend school in his early years, finally being enrolled at age 12 in the Institut National des Jeune Sourds-Muets in Paris, the first public school for the deaf in the world. Clerc excelled in his studies, mastering the signing methods employed by the institute. In 1806, he became a teacher at the school. 

In 1815, Clerc and his teacher were sent to London to lecture on their teaching methods. There Clerc met Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet; the two would form a collaboration that would last decades and have a monumental impact on deaf education. Gallaudet later convinced Clerc to come to America to help establish the first school for the deaf in the U.S., in Hartford, CT, in 1817.

Clerc’s teaching career spanned 50 years, 41 of them in the U.S, during which he inspired innumerable teachers and administrators. The sign language he taught was a melding of French Sign Language and the signs being used in America. This melded system was later adapted and refined by him and his American students to eventually become the American Sign Language we know today.



Rev. Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet (1787-1851)

A pioneer in deaf education, Gallaudet was the impetus behind the creation of the first school for the deaf in America – now the American School for the Deaf in Hartford, CT – and was for many years its principal.

Gallaudet was born in Philadelphia in 1787, and attended Yale where earned both a bachelor’s and master’s degree. A man of immense and varied interests, he considered studying law, engaging in business, or becoming a clergyman. However, Gallaudet found his life’s calling when he met Alice Cogswell, the deaf daughter of one of his congregants.  Motivated to educate deaf people and funded by Alice’s father, Gallaudet traveled to Europe to learn the deaf education methods instilled there. While in Europe, he was introduced to the French signing method of manual communication. He also met one of the method’s premier teachers, Laurent Clerc, with whom he would forge a decades-long educational partnership.

Gallaudet convinced Clerc to return with him to America to establish the first formal school for the deaf in the United States, the American School for the Deaf, in 1817. Gallaudet served as the school principal and Clerc as the head teacher. The success of the school led Gallaudet to lead the movement to establish similar schools throughout the United States, utilizing sign language as the means of communication. 

Gallaudet’s devotion to bridging the communication gap between the hearing and deaf people were unflagging. One of his sons, Edward Miner Gallaudet, helped to found the first college for deaf students, which would become Gallaudet University.


Helen _KellerA

Helen Keller

American educator Helen Keller overcame the adversity of being blind and deaf to become one of the 20th century's leading humanitarians, as well as co-founder of the ACLU. Helen Adams Keller was born on June 27, 1880 in Tuscumbia, Alabama. In 1882, she fell ill and was struck blind, deaf and mute. In 1887, Keller's teacher, Anne Sullivan, broke through the isolation imposed by a near complete lack of language, allowing the girl to blossom as she learned to communicate. This began a 49-year relationship between teacher and pupil which also became widely known through the dramatic depictions of the play and film The Miracle Worker.

Keller went on to college, graduating in 1904 and she became the first deaf blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree.  After college, Keller set out to learn more about the world and how she could help improve the lives of others. News of her story spread beyond New England and she became a well-known celebrity and lecturer by sharing her experiences with audiences, and working on behalf of others living with disabilities. Throughout the first half of the 20th century, Keller tackled social and political issues, including women's suffrage, pacifism and birth control. She testified before Congress, strongly advocating and improving the welfare of blind people. In 1915, along with renowned city planner George Kessler, she co-founded Helen Keller International to combat the causes and consequences of blindness and malnutrition. In 1920, she also helped found the American Civil Liberties Union.

When the American Federation for the Blind was established in 1921, Keller had an effective national outlet for her efforts. She became a member and participated in many campaigns to raise awareness, money and support for the blind. She also joined other organizations dedicated to helping those less fortunate, including the Permanent Blind War Relief Fund (later called the American Braille Press).

In 1946, Keller was appointed counselor of international relations for the American Foundation of Overseas Blind. Between 1946 and 1957, she traveled to 35 countries on five continents. Through her many speeches and appearances, she brought inspiration and encouragement to millions of people.

Keller was a prolific author, political activist, and lecturer, and outspoken in her convictions. During her lifetime, she received many honors in recognition of her accomplishments. She was inducted into the Alabama Women's Hall of Fame in 1971.

During her remarkable life, Keller stood as a powerful example of how determination, hard work, and imagination can allow an individual to triumph over adversity. By overcoming difficult conditions with a great deal of persistence, she grew into a respected and world-renowned activist who labored for the betterment of others.



Andrew J. Foster

Andrew Jackson Foster (1925–1987) was a missionary educator to the deaf in Africa from 1956 until his death in 1987.  Foster was deafened by spinal meningitis at age 11, and attended the Alabama School for Colored Deaf in Talladega. When his family moved to Detroit in 1942, he worked in a military-equipment factory, studying at night. A missionary’s public lecture about deaf Jamaicans inspired him to choose an evangelical career. With the encouragement of Eric Malzkuhn, he became Gallaudet College’s first and only black student to ever have been accepted at Gallaudet; four years later he became the first black, deaf graduate of Gallaudet in 1954 with a B.A. in Education.  He then went on to achieve two Master’s degrees.

In 1956, Foster founded the Christian Mission for Deaf Africans, and set up his first school for the deaf on the entire continent of Africa in in Accra, Ghana. Within no time at all, there were over 300 families from all over Africa requesting that he teach their children as well.  The borrowed facilities were no longer enough.  Foster flew back to the United States to raise money for mores school to be built.  Foster faithfully promoted his new schools everywhere he could.  It was at the Third World Congress for the Deaf that he met the love of his life, a German deaf woman named Berta.  She felt just as strongly about Andrew’s mission as he did.  They were married in Nigeria in 1961, and worked together to establish more schools across Africa.  In addition to the schools, they also established deaf Churches, Sunday Schools, Youth Camps, and Teacher Training facilities.  In all, he founded 31 schools for deaf African children and adults all across Africa, from Senegal to Kenya.

In 1970, Gallaudet University awarded him a Doctoral degree, making him the first black person to receive such degree from this university. Andrew trained many teachers and continued his missionary work as more schools opened. By 1974, there were 74 schools for the deaf in Africa, a six fold increase over the 12 that existed before he began his mission. His career ended when he died in a plane crash in Rwanda—but his mission is continued by his former students. Based on his contributions, "Andrew Foster is to Africa what Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet is to the United Stated of America."  The mission he started is still going strong, and his legacy lives on in the tens of thousands of deaf Africans who are now literate and living good lives thanks to his lifelong effort on their behalf.

 Deaf Mosaic: Coverage on Andrew Foster  0:45 – 6:50


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William Stokoe

William Stokoe (1919-2000) is a renowned linguistics pioneer of American Sign Language (ASL) and is considered the "father of ASL linguistics" by the ASL community.

Gallaudet University (formerly Gallaudet College) hired William Stokoe as the chair of the English department in 1955. In the 1960s, he observed sign language used by Gallaudet students. He studied and discovered that it contained linguistic features (phonology, morphology, syntax, and all) like any spoken language. He proclaimed that it was indeed a true language of its own.

In the beginning, he did not receive much supports that he received some harsh criticism as well as ridicule from his colleagues. Prior to the 1960s and 1970s, oralism had been the means of deaf education and sign language was looked down on and even was prohibited in educational settings. Before his time, ASL used to be regarded as a set of gestures or a "simplified" or "broken English". However, his works disproved them scientifically and revolutionized the notion of language when he presented his groundbreaking paper Sign Language Structure in 1960 and also co-authored Dictionary of American Sign Language on Linguistic Principles in 1965. He founded the journal Sign Language Studies in 1972. Stokoe's final book, Language in Hand, was published in 2001, after his death

Since the 1970s, studies and research have been widely expanded. Through the publication of his work, he was instrumental in changing the perception of ASL from that of a broken or simplified version of English to that of a complex and thriving natural language in its own right with an independent syntax and grammar as functional and powerful as any found in the oral languages of the world. Because he raised the prestige of ASL in academic and educational circles, he is considered a hero in the Deaf community.



Chuck Baird

Chuck Baird’s career spanned over 35 years and included painting, sculpting, acting, storytelling, and teaching. In 1947, as a baby boomer, Chuck was born with moderate deaf, grown up as culturally deaf while attended the deaf residential school in Kansas. He went to study both at Gallaudet College and National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID). After received his BFA in Rochester Institute of Technology 1974, he spent 5 summers at the National Theatre of the Deaf (NTD) painting their sets.  During these years, he held a variety of jobs developing his art in upstate New York and Delaware before he joined Spectrum, the deaf art colony Texas. In 1980, he joined the NTD for the next 10 years as an actor and did some set designs. He is probably best remembered for his work in "King of Hearts," in the role of the Painter, in which Chuck recreated the entire set every night in front of a live audience.

For the more artistic opportunities, he left the NTD to live nomadically in California and Arizona. He has performed at some Equity theaters.  He also worked for DawnSignPress as an in-house artist, and painted a number of first deaf-related works, culminating in the coffee table book. He went back to Kansas City and moved again to Tucson setting up his own painting studios. During time, he has often traveled to paint murals or lead art workshops for deaf children at schools, summer camps, and at art festivals. He had his works known for the genre and movement called Deaf View Image Art (De’VIA), which he is one of the founders of,  in numerous art exhibits here and oversea. He was summoned to Gallaudet to help coordinating the visual arts exhibitions for Deaf Way II in 2002.  

The concept for De’VIA was developed by Baird and a group of Deaf artists at the time of Deaf Way II, an international cultural and art festival held in Washington, D.C., in 2002 that attracted close to 10,000 participants. Baird’s artwork infuses American Sign Language (ASL) in the iconography of his paintings and drawings. Deaf art is created when the artist intends to express his or her Deaf experience through visual art. He has established the visual art foundation in his name for promoting emerging deaf artists.

“Deaf art expresses the values of Deaf culture—the beauty of sign language and its painful oppression, the joys of Deaf bonding, communication breakdowns between signers and non-signers, the discovery of language and community, and the history of Deaf people,”