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The History of Deafness

The History of Deafness.

The History of Deafness

      Deafness is a condition in which hearing is lost permanently, or temporarily, and can be inherent from birth, or developed later in life, either from a disease or from physical damage to one or more of the sensitive aural bones or auditory nerve.  The struggle that the Deaf have had throughout the ages, in being accepted to the hearing, and attempting to assimilate into society, is best summed up on, “Deaf history focuses, in large part, on a centuries-long struggle over ways to overcome a heritage of discrimination by the hearing world and to provide better opportunities for the hearing-impaired.  Language lies at the center of this debate.  While some endorse sign language as the natural method of communication and education for the Deaf, others believe that Deaf people should learn spoken and written language so they can be mainstreamed with the rest of society.  With the appearance of such recent technological innovations as the cochlear implant, questions of community, language, integration and identity continue to rage.” 

     As far back as 1000 BC, the Deaf have been discriminated against.  In Jewish culture of the time, the Deaf did not have the same rights as hearing citizens.  The Talmud, or Jewish code of law, specifically denied the Deaf the right to own property.  During this time the Deaf were seen as subhuman or inferior to the hearing.  The Torah dictated that the Deaf not be cursed, but also that they could not take part in all observances and rituals during Temple.  The Jews also established special laws for Deaf-mutes concerning such legal practices as marriage and court proceedings.  For instance, the Deaf were denied the privilege to be court witnesses.

     As late as 322 BC, the ancient greeks still did not recognize the right of the Deaf to education.  Even Aristotle is quoted as having said, “Deaf people could not be educated [since] without hearing, people could not learn.”  The Ancient King Croesus of Lydia had a Deaf son, but because of his condition, he was not allowed to become king, or even recognized as a legitimate heir, and often left out of historical record. 

     Up to 550 AD, early Christians saw Deafness as a sin, and Saint Augustine had said that the Deaf were a sign from god, indicating His anger with humanity and the sins of the Deaf individual’s parents.  Benedictine monks, fully capable of hearing and speech, took vows of silence as a tribute and for of worship to God.  These monks also developed their own primitive form of sign language so they could communicate with each other without breaking their vows or having to write notes back and forth.  The signs were mostly limited to necessary information however, as they did not want to dishonor their vows with excessive communication of other forms. 

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