Honoring Deaf Individuals During Deaf History Month
Deaf History Month, March 13-April 15, is a great opportunity to recognize notable deaf individuals who have left their indelible mark on our world. Here are just a few who have contributed to the way we learn, the way we play ball, the music we listen to, and the entertainment we watch.
Ludwig Von Beethoven
One of the earliest and most accomplished deaf individuals, musician and composer Ludwin von Beethoven was born in Germany in 1770. Born with normal hearing, he became a child musical prodigy at the hand of his strict, sometimes violent father. In the summer of 1796 he contracted typhus which slowly destroyed his hearing.
By 1801, when he was just 31 years old, Beethoven was deaf. Although extremely depressed, he composed an opera, six symphonies, four solo concerti, five string quartets, six string sonatas, seven piano sonatas, five sets of piano variations, four overtures, four trios, two sextets and 72 songs between 1803-1812. His most famous piece, Symphony No 9 in D Minor, was written in 1824, just three years before he died.
America owes its deaf education system to Laurent Clerc, a Frenchman born in 1785. Historians believe Clerc may have been born deaf or lost his hearing and sense of smell as the result of an accident when he was a year old. His uncle enrolled him in Instit National de Jeune Sourds-Mirets in Paris -- the first public school for the deaf in the world -- when he was 12 years old where he excelled and eventually became a tutor, then teacher. During a lecture in England, he met Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, a minister from Hartford, Connecticut who convinced Clerc to accompany him to America to establish the first school for the deaf. He was 28.
After raising $12,000 from the public and receiving an additional $5,000 from the Connecticut General Assembly, the two opened the Connecticut Asylum at Hartford for the Instruction of Deaf and Dumb Persons on April 15, 1817 -- now called the American School for the Deaf -- America's first school for the deaf.
William Ellsworth Hoy
Born in 1862, William Ellsworth Hoy graduated from the Ohio School for the Deaf and began his professional baseball career in 1886, effectively becoming the first deaf sports player to have a significant career in the major leagues. In his rookie year with the Cincinnati Red Stockings, Hoy led the National League with 82 stolen bases but perhaps his biggest impact on the sport is what he taught his team mates. In order to be able to communicate with his teammates on the field, Hoy taught them sign language, a practice that evolved into the hidden language of hand signals baseball players use today.
This extraordinary woman became the first deaf and blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. Born in 1880, Keller was born with her sight and hearing but lost it to an illness when she was only 18 months old. Her temper tantrums were legendary and her parents were encouraged to institutionalize their daughter.
But a travelogue by Charles Dickens inspired her parents to take her to the Perkins Institute of the Blind in Boston, where they met Anne Sullivan, one of the school's recent graduates. From that time forward, the two worked relentlessly so Keller could learn and speak. She eventually graduated cum laude from Radcliffe in 1904. Afterward, she became an activist for those with disabilities.
An American actress born in 1965, Matlin is the only deaf actress to win an Academy Award for a Best Actress in a Leading Role (Children of a Lesser God) in 1986. Matliin lost her hearing as the result of an illness when she was 18 months old, but went on to enjoy a prolific stage, screen and television career. In addition to her Academy Award, Matlin also received a Golden Globe and several Emmy Award nominations. As a published author, she wrote Deaf Child Crossing and Nobody's Perfect, two children's books dealing with what it's like to be deaf.