In the fall of 1880, representatives from European and American schools for the deaf gathered in Milan. There, a 33-year-old Alexander Graham Bell advocated for abandoning sign language in schools. Bell’s wife and mother were both deaf and he believed that Deaf individuals needed to learn how to speak.
The Milan conference is where Bell asserted himself into Deaf-Education systems, Prior to that time, schools for the Deaf in the U.S. were primarily Deaf Teachers teaching Deaf children using American Sign Language. By the end of the conference, it was agreed to bring oral-based education in front of delegates’. Additionally, Deaf individuals were not involved in making the new resolutions. At this juncture Deaf teachers were laid off and children were disciplined for using sign language in schools, Sadly, the Alexander Graham Bell Association still discourages ASL today.
Every year in the U.S., about 24,000 children are born with some degree of hearing loss. Therefore, the issue of language deprivation is widespread and damaging which affects thousands.
One would imagine the rational solution would be to teach children sign language, even in tandem with more popular, speech-based methods (total communication method). But, somehow teaching ASL to every Deaf child is still at the center of a century-old debate which is favoring on the side of oralism. However, many are biased against signed languages and its benefits along with the predisposition against exposing children to this rich visual language, is heinous.
Not allowing a child to linguistically advance is abusive and it should be treated as such. Imagine a hearing child that was never spoken to or given the opportunity to communicate, this would be a world-wide crisis. But it’s acceptable to evoke language deprivation upon Deaf individuals? Absolutely NOT!
The only way we can change these laws is by going to the top in government and advocating for equal access to communication. Hoping this will ensure a better future for those who would normally be deprived from it.