Long before civilizations learnt the power of words, sign language was the norm and was the only medium of communication. Nobody could have thought that this would become the cornerstone of communication for the hearing-impaired. World Deaf Day is observed on the last Sunday of every September around the world. It is observed for people to understand and appreciate the contribution of hearing-impaired people to the world in general. In fact, the whole week preceding this day is celebrated as the International Week for the Deaf in which lectures, debates and cultural events are held across the world to educate and spread awareness about deafness.
History’s pages are filled with numerous personalities who did not let this disability become a hindrance to the way they wanted to lead their lives. Instead they heralded a sea-change in terms of people’s perception of the deaf by their achievements across areas of speciality. Let us tell you about some of these achievers:
1. Helen Keller
She was the first deaf/blind person to graduate from college. She was not born blind and deaf; it was not until nineteen months of age that she came down with an illness described by doctors as "an acute congestion of the stomach and the brain", which could have possibly been scarlet fever or meningitis. The illness did not last for a particularly long time, but it left her deaf and blind. Keller went on to become a world-famous speaker and author. She is remembered as an advocate for people with disabilities amid numerous other causes.
2. Thomas Edison
He was an American inventor and businessman who developed many devices that greatly influenced life around the world, including the phonograph and a long lasting light bulb. In school, the young Edison's was noted to be terrible at mathematics, unable to focus, and had difficulty with words and speech. This ended Edison's three months of official schooling. The cause of Edison's deafness has been attributed to a bout of scarlet fever during childhood and recurring untreated middle ear infections.
3. Ludwig Van Beethoven
Beethoven was, as we know, a great source of confidence for himself and for others, being able to create music and play music even after being completely deaf is by itself quite a miracle. Although it was clear to everyone that Beethoven was but a man, he conquered his disability and became one of the greatest musicians of all time. If there was one thing that was affecting his struggle to succeed it was not only being deaf, but having to fight all the emotions that he felt inside when he had to turn around to look at the audience applause because he could not hear.
4. Ferdinand Berthier
Berthier was a deaf educator, intellectual and political organizer in nineteenth-century France, and is one of the earliest champions of Deaf identity and culture. In late 1837 Berthier petitioned the French government for permission to create the “Societe Centrale des Sourds-muets”, which was officially founded the following year as the first organisation to represent the interests of the deaf community. The organization aimed to bring together "all the deaf spread across the globe”. Berthier played a delicate balancing act as a passionate defender of the deaf identity and sign language, while under a repressive social and political climate. Berthier also wrote books about deaf history and deaf culture, noting deaf artists and sign-language poets of his time.
5. Marlee Matlin
Having lost 80% of her hearing by the age of 18 months, she is the only member of her family who is deaf. Despite this, she started participating in theatre and dramas at a very early age. She went on to win the Academy Award for Best Actress for Children of a Lesser God in 1986. It was her first feature film.
Title image: Biography