6 Influential Moments in Deaf Culture

6 Influential Moments in Deaf Culture

The deaf and hard-of-hearing community has had numerous important individuals and milestones that have improved lives over time. These opportunities have helped shape what it’s like to be a deaf person worldwide.

Here are just a few of the influential moments in deaf culture that have made an impact on the community.

1857: Gallaudet University Becomes a Leader in Deaf Education

Gallaudet University in its various iterations has been the global leader in education advances for deaf and hard-of-hearing students for more than 150 years. Originally established as a grammar school for deaf and blind children, in 1864 it began its transformation into the higher education institution it is today.

Gallaudet now offers more than 50 barrier-free degree programs and funds $4.7 million in research for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community.

1886: William Hoy Changes Baseball History

William Hoy became deaf and mute when he was three years old, due to a meningitis infection. He attended the Ohio State School for the Deaf and graduated as valedictorian. After graduation, he played weekend baseball and was recruited to play for Oshkosh. An outstanding outfielder, he struggled with hitting due to his inability to hear the umpire call the pitch.

This sparked the idea to ask his third-base coach to signal pitches—one finger for strikes and two for balls. The following season, he excelled in hitting and unintentionally spurred the now-common practice of signaling pitches.

1960: ASL Begins Recognition as a Language

In the early to mid-1900s, people by and large did not recognize American Sign Language (ASL) as a true language but considered it a “code” for English. William Stokoe helped change this perception. He proposed that ASL was as much a language as English.

He published the first book about the structure of the language, entitled Sign Language Structure, which was published in 1960. This triggered others to publish books about sign language, like the ASL dictionary and ASL Linguistic Principles. Because of this impact, Stokoe is considered the founder of sign language linguistics.

1961: The First Cochlear Implant is Developed

The technology that makes up the modern cochlear implant has evolved immensely over the past 3,000 years. The idea of electronically stimulating an ear started in the 1790s, when a researcher placed a metal rod in his ear and connected it to a circuit. Experimentation continued in the 1850s as a way to treat ear conditions.

By the 1930s, researchers found that placing a current near the ear creates auditory sensations. At the same time, the scientific community discovered how the cochlea works and that electrical energy can transform into sound before entering the ear.

In the 1950s, a patient’s acoustic nerve was stimulated with an electrode, allowing him to hear background noise. By 1961, the first cochlear implant was invented—three years later, one was successfully implanted at Stanford University.

1970: The Onset of Closed Captioning

The National Captioning Institute (NCI) is the reason closed captioning technology has become widespread. The first form of closed captioning made its debut in 1970, where only text was displayed on a television screen. The experiment was deemed unsuccessful, but it sparked the idea of closed-captioned TV programs.

A year later, two captioning ideas were proposed at the first National Conference on Television for the Hearing Impaired, but these technologies required special TV sets. Another year of research passed, and Gallaudet University created a closed captioning system in 1972. These programs paved the way for our current closed captioning system.

1990: Deaf Employment Increases

Since deaf people are not allowed to enlist in the military, employment flourished for the community during World Wars I and II. Since so many people were deployed during the wars, the deaf community benefited via increased job opportunities. This was one of the first widespread instances of deaf and hard-of-hearing employment.

Then, with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, outlawing discriminatory practices toward the deaf community, employment and education opportunities for the deaf began to exponentially increase.


Sources: VeryWell.com, Gallaudet University, NCICAP, Cincinnati Reds, SignLanguageCo.com