by Greta D’Amico
(Auburn, CA, USA)
I would have to say that there are three categories of people that really stand out to me as heroes for the Deaf.
First, those dedicated souls who didn’t give up on their deaf students. I am especially impressed with Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, who was so determined to educate Laura Bridgman, his deaf-blind pupil. If it weren’t for him, Charles Dickens would never have written about Laura in his publication and Helen Keller’s mother would have never found out about him and found Anne Sullivan, who educated Helen Keller.
Anne Sullivan truly is a hero in my book. She had an a task before her which surely seemed almost insurmountable at times, but she never gave up and never stopped believing in Helen. Helen’s example showed the world what was possible even without the use of sight and hearing. It conceptually made it possible in the mind of the public that anyone could be educated and that the absence of certain senses did NOT mean that a person wasn’t intelligent.
We think this is self-evident now, but it certainly was not obvious even 100 years ago. The effect of this new awareness should not be underestimated. The “scientific fact” that deaf (and blind) people had the same intelligence as anyone else was the beginning of removing prejudice that was so common a century ago. It probably isn’t completely gone yet, but huge strides have been made.
More recently, William Stokoe is certainly a hero and in a category of his own. To have clearly demonstrated that ASL was a real language in its own right, naturally lead to the recognition that along with language, the Deaf had a culture in their own right, immersed as it was in the larger culture of the hearing. Further, by designating it as a “foreign language”, it opened the way for multitudes of interested hearing persons to learn ASL, which promotes cultural understanding and communication, making the Deaf and Deaf culture less socially isolated and better understood by everyone.
Finally, all the engineers and technology experts that have made devices that allow deaf people to more easily communicate with each other and the rest of the world really deserve our respect and gratitude. I have no doubt that technology will continue to assist all sorts of people to communicate and build understanding across cultures within our country and in the world at large.