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ASL or Deaf Culture Topic:

By Emma Patek


Alexander Graham Bell

        Alexander Graham Bell was born March 3, 1847 in Edinburgh, Scotland which is referred to as the "Athens of the North." Edinburgh is known for its rich culture of arts and sciences. Alexander had two brothers, one older and one younger, who both ended up dying of tuberculosis. Alexander's mother was hard of hearing and a proficient pianist. Alexander Graham Bell's father, Alexander Melville Bell, followed in his father's footsteps and became a head authority on elocution and speech correction (Grimm, French, Pak).  Alexander Melville Bell was a strict father figure for Alexander Graham Bell. Early on he was homeschooled by his mother; then for a year he attended a private school, and later he spent two years at Edinburgh's Royal High School (Grimm, French, Pak).

          A big part in Alexander Graham Bell's decision to continue his father and grandfather's work was his grandfather. When Alexander Graham Bell was 15 years old his grandfather became very ill, and Alexander Graham Bell volunteered to care for his grandfather. He mostly did so to get away from his overbearing father. During the time that Alexander cared for his grandfather they became very close. His grandfather encouraged Alexander to follow his dream and to continue with his interests (Grimm, French, Pak). At the age of 16, Alexander thus accepted a position at Weston House Academy in Elgin, England. He taught elocution and music. At the end of the term he went home to apprentice for his father. In 1865, he returned back to Weston House Academy to teach. Again in 1868, he returned home to his family and his father; however, this time it was due to the death of one of his brothers. At this time, his father was teaching in America, so he gained full control of his father's work in London. After some time Alexander Graham Bell's health began to worsen; this caused Alexander Melville Bell to move his family to Brantford, Ontario, Canada. Alexander Melville Bell was offered a teaching job at the Boston School for Deaf Mutes; however, he turned it down and instead recommended his son Alexander Graham Bell (Brian H. Greenwald). Alexander accepted the position but was not rehired the following year due to the school's financial state. In 1872, Alexander Graham Bell opened a school in Boston to train teachers on how to teach deaf children. He also created the American Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, which later changed to The Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. Their goal is to promote the teaching of speech to the deaf and to make sure they can talk, listen, and thrive within society.

Alexander Graham Bell and his father spent their lives promoting and creating what they called, "visible speech." Visible speech was the first notation system for the sounds of speech independent of a particular language. The symbols used in visible speech are intended to provide visual representations of the different pronunciations of each letter (Brian H. Greenwald). Another word for visible speech is "The Physiological Alphabet."

While he tried to do help the deaf, he was trying to "fix" them. He found deafness as sort of a curse or disease. Growing up the only experience with Deaf Culture that he had was with his mother who was hard of hearing. All he really saw was how she struggled communicating within the household, rather than truly witnessing the Deaf Culture. Alexander Graham Bell considered them to almost be a weakness to society. Alexander really only saw the struggles of being deaf within society, rather than the happiness that could be found within the Deaf Culture. Alexander researched how to prevent the birth of deaf children and even wrote a paper about it called, "Memoir Upon the Formation of a Deaf Variety of the Human Race." He put so much time towards this topic because he believed the population of deaf children was increasing too much. Alexander Graham Bell stated about the creation of deaf children, "Would be a great calamity to the world." His goal was appeared to be to make Deaf people less noticeable in society. Saying that without a Deaf Community, people would be forced to integrate into society. Alexander also felt strongly about preventing deaf people from marrying. The two main ideas were one, enact laws to forbid it and two to eliminate residential schools, prohibit sign language use, and forbid deaf teachers from teaching deaf students. Alexander Graham Bell thought that the first idea would not work because there would just be illegal children, rather than actually stopping it. The second idea, he thought, was more reasonable. He assumed it would integrate hearing and Deaf people together more, and the change could appear as education reforms rather than discrimination against the Deaf race. Neither of the two ideas was actually put into action. It did, however instill anger into the Deaf Culture, which caused many debates to start up. Bell did all he could to gain success; he sent he memoir to anyone and everyone involved in deaf education yet it still continued to fail.

When looking at Bell's attempt to educate Deaf people, it is easy to see how the Deaf community would be upset. He was ultimately trying to eliminate their culture because he thought everyone should be alike in a way. American Sign Language was their language just like English, Spanish, French, and so on. Why would it be acceptable for them to have their own language but not for the Deaf to have sign language? They felt that they were being taken for granted. They were trying to be changed and were not accepted for themselves. They stood up for themselves by participating in rallies and protests to prevent the change from occurring. Alexander Graham Bell and his father's goal was presumably to help the Deaf. They wanted them to feel like a part of society; however, while doing that they were also dehumanizing them in a way. The Deaf Culture takes pride in being deaf, and the work that the Bell family was doing was taking away their Deaf identity.  Alexander Graham Bell and Alexander Melville Bell assumed they were helping the Deaf; they had no intentions of destroying or insulting the Deaf Culture. 

Most Deaf people choose to stay deaf. With today's advances of technology and supply of resources, Deaf children if they would wish to do so, could become hearing. While it is not guaranteed to work, there are many methods that could be attempted. People nowadays accept the Deaf Culture and sign language. People are not focused on integrating the two into one but rather educating the two about each other. Alexander Graham Bell passed away on August 2, 1922, in Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada. While the practice of visible speech is sometimes used, it is not a common thing to see.




      Ager, S. (1998, January 1). Visible Speech. . Retrieved May 26, 2014, from

       Grimm, L., French, L., & Pak, E. (n.d.). Alexander Graham Bell . Retrieved June 3, 2014, from

       Greenwald, Ph.D., B. H. (2001, January 1). Education: Essay. disability history museum--: Disability History Museum. Retrieved May 26, 2014, from

       Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. (2011, April 7). My ASL Journey. Retrieved May 26, 2014, from

       Duchan, J. F. (2011, May 12). Browse History. Judy Duchan's History of Speech. Retrieved May 26, 2014, from

       Shoulson, M. (2006, February 8). Visible Speech. . Retrieved May 26, 2014, from


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