(Salt Lake City, UT, USA)
One French priest made an extraordinary impact on the education and lives of deaf people in France, and ultimately, the United States. His name is Abbe Charles Michel de L’Epee.
In the 1750’s Father de L’Epee was approached by a mother who wanted him to teach her two daughters about the Christian faith. The challenge was that these girls were deaf. Father -and later Abbe- de L’Epee worked with them, and found his calling in life. He spent his life dedicated to educating the deaf.
His approach was visionary. He gathered deaf children from various regions around France and LEARNED FROM THEM the signs they were using. He learned their language, and used it to teach the children French. Now they could communicate to their hearing family & community members. This produced a monumental change in their lives.
Thus Abbe de L’Epee established the first free public school for deaf children in 1771, in Paris, France. The language that developed is known as Old French sign language. Eventually more schools were established – 21 in all.
Abbe de L’Epee demonstrated love, respect, and compassion to the deaf children through his dedication and approach to educating them and improving their lives.