by Audrey Chaffin
Of all of the brilliant people that have helped nourish the use of sign language in history, Abbe de L’Epee definitely stood out the most to me. I fully agree with his deserving the title “Father of the Deaf” because, in my opinion, he was the first to make a huge impact on the world regarding to the treatment and education of deaf people.
Epee believed that deaf people should be allowed a formal education in sign language, rather than being forced to speak using others’ method of oralism. This is important because, while I think oralism is acceptable if a deaf or hard of hearing person prefers that method, it is understandably more difficult than sign language and, in the time of Epee at least, seems a way of forcing the deaf community to conform to hearing culture. Epee learned from the deaf, rather than making them learn another way. He created the first school for the deaf, which was free of charge and open to the public. The open aspect of the school allowed sign language to be spread fluidly through the population. Epee even had a program for training foreigners to teach sign language. This inspired one student of the school to found the first school for the deaf in North America, leading to the creation of the basis of ASL!
I will admit that Epee’s version of sign language was questionable. It was much more difficult than what the French had been using, and some said that students never used it outside of class. I still respect Epee, though, as I don’t think he was intentionally making the language difficult, just more complex.
So nonetheless, I feel that Abbe de L’Epee made a huge difference for the deaf community by bringing sign language into the eye of the public as a legitimate language and showing that the deaf community was as intelligent as the hearing and could be taught successfully without oral language.