Alexander Graham Bell Wanted Deaf People to Stop Using Sign Language

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Today more than ever it seems that anyone with any visibility in the public eye has a dark mark. Although Alexander Graham Bell was well-known for the invention of the telephone and that’s obviously worth applauding, there a few things about him that still cause controversy. Aside from being an inventor, he was a deaf educator. He is, however, not viewed positively in the deaf community. It all started with Bell’s father, Alexander Melville Bell.

Like Father like Son

Alexander Melville Bell’s approach to teaching those with hearing loss was known as “visible speech.” This method consisted of bringing one’s mouth close to the forehead of a hard of hearing or deaf individual and speaking. It was thought that the vibrations would help someone understand speech. Bell’s mother was a deaf woman and he grew up communicating with her in this manner. He thought this was a better method than using an aid device. He even taught this method to deaf students in various deaf schools including Clarke School for the Deaf, Boston school for Deaf-Mutes, and the American Asylum for the Deaf.

Beliefs and Work

Bell believed that deaf education should be very specialized. He did not believe in American Sign Language, also known as ASL, however. Instead, he thought that deaf education should be completely done in an oral method only, also called “Oralism.” He also wanted to minimize deaf people’s interactions with the hearing world. To prevent what would be a “great calamity,” deaf people congregating.

One of the strangest things about Alexander Graham Bell is that he married a deaf woman. She was a former student named Mabel Hubbard. However, he was typically against what he called “intermarriage” between hearing people and deaf people. He tried to discourage the intermarriage of deaf-mute individuals or between families that had more than one hard of hearing person within it. He worried that intermarriage would cause more people to produce deaf children, while statistically most deaf children are born to both hearing parents.

As it often does, what one person meant as a negative, became positive. Throughout deaf history, education has continued to increase. All of the things that Alexander Graham Bell wanted to happen were not implemented but were used in an opposite way, to find ways to make deaf and hard of hearing individuals feel more included in the hearing world.

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