History Of Sign Language in the United States
Thomas Gallaudet, a hearing person from America with the help of Laurent Clerc, a Deaf teacher from Paris started the first School for the Deaf in Hartford, Connecticut in 1817. Laurent Clerc brought a method of teaching sign language from the National Royal Institution for the Deaf in Paris that was already very effective. So, our Sign Language in the United States is based on French Signing. (Sign Language is not universal. Each country has it’s own sign language.) Graduates from the school in Connecticut left and went on to open schools like it in other states. Most of these schools were residential schools. Children were there full time to be immersed in sign language and the culture of the Deaf Community.
In 1864 the first university for the Deaf was established. It is now called Gallaudet University, in Washington, DC. (The website for this university is www.gallaudet.edu). President Lincoln signed the charter to establish this university.
In 1880, in Milan, Italy the International Congress on Education chose to adopt a resolution not allowing the use of Sign Language for Deaf Children. The “oral method” of teaching children caught on and speech and lip-reading became the main goal instead of signing. It is sad. Deaf people were no longer encouraged to become teachers and Sign Language was not allowed in classrooms anymore. The National Association of the Deaf was founded in Cincinnati, Ohio that same year, 1880. This brought Deaf people together from all over the country to work on common interests and fight discrimination. There was a fear that American Sign Language would be lost.
Through the years 1900-1960 people were not very accepting of the Deaf or Sign Language. The Deaf were denied even the ability to drive. What helped keep American Sign Language alive was the Deaf Clubs that were started. Local clubs provided a place where the Deaf could socialize and shared ideas, news, and political issues and eventually create and watch captioned films!
The 1960s were a time of great change for the Deaf Community. A Deaf man invented the Teletypewriter (TTY) for the Deaf in 1964. Also, the National Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf began that year. The first linguistic study of American Sign Language (ASL) by William Stokoe at Gallaudet University was published in 1965. The educational philosophy of “Total Communication” began to have more acceptance. This meant that people could use the oral program and sign language. Whatever is necessary for a person to communicate.
In 1966 The NAD fought for the right of a Deaf couple to adopt a hearing child. The judge said that the child would not have a normal home. There was a huge outpouring of support from the Deaf community from all over the United States and the couple was awarded custody of that child.
In the 1970s telecaption decoders were invented and so T.V. also became available for the Deaf. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (the civil rights act for disabled people) was signed and made a law in 1976. This law requires that any institution receiving federal funds be accessible to all disabled people. Sign Language interpreting services began to be provided at many colleges around the country, as well as in hospitals, courtrooms, and government agencies and in the workplace!
When did American Sign Language (ASL) begin?
ASL has been around as long as there have been Deaf people. The standards for ASL began to take form in 1817 when Thomas Gallaudet and Laurent Clerc created the first official school for the Deaf in the United States. American Sign Language along with the standards they set were then spread throughout the United States and Canada.
It is very common for parents in the Deaf Community to send their children to residential schools. This passes along the standards that have been set for ASL and their Deaf heritage.
Learn more about the regional differences in ASL.
You might also like our article on Learn Sign Language Online