It’s been a busy old week here at Time & Again, what with our @gmfringe Shakespeare performances! So much so that we missed our weekly #EarwigWednesdays post on deaf history. Here’s our next installment, better late than never.

In 1880, The Second International Congress on Education of the Deaf was held in Milan. After five days of deliberations, the conference declared that oral education (the use of lip reading and speech) was superior to manual education (the use of sign language) and passed a resolution banning the use of sign language in schools. This leads to the widespread suppression of sign language in many Deaf schools throughout the world.

The Congress was planned by the Pereire Society, a group that was against sign language. More than half of the people invited were known oralists; therefore the Congress was biased and most of the resolutions that were voted on by the delegates gave results in favour of the oral method. Many of the resolutions were worded in a leading way, supporting oral education, such as “Considering the incontestable superiority of speech over signs in restoring the deaf-mute to society, and in giving him a more perfect knowledge of language,/Declares –/That the Oral method ought to be preferred that of signs for the education and instruction of the deaf and dumb”.

The resolutions had a huge knock on effect for the deaf community. Education and quality of life for deaf students decreased, deaf teachers lost their jobs, and there was an overall decline in deaf professionals, like writers, artists, and lawyers.

In 2010, a formal apology was made by the board at the 21st International Congress on Education of the Deaf in Vancouver. They accepted the dangerous ramifications of such ban as an act of discrimination and violation of human and constitutional rights.

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