#5 – Interesting Facts About Deafness in History

Picture of person using sign language

From the causes of deafness to advancements in technological assistance, deafness has a fascinating, rich history all its own.

Let’s take a look at 5 interesting facts about deafness throughout history.

1. Historical Causes of Deafness

The causes of deafness today may be similar to the causes from years ago, but there are some striking differences. There are also some differences according to where a person lives and the availability of medical care.

The current and historical causes of deafness include being born deaf, developing an illness that leads to deafness or injuries to the head or ears. Today, the illnesses most likely to contribute to deafness include Meningitis or severe and persistent ear infections.

With our advances in medical technology and our ability to treat expectant mothers more readily today, we’ve been able to decrease the chances that a baby will be born deafness when the mother suffered from:

  • Rubella
  • Cytomegalovirus
  • Toxoplasmosis
  • Herpes

But, historically and still in some areas today, these prenatal issues may affect babies. There are also some medicines, referred to as ototoxic, that can affect a child’s hearing abilities prior to birth both today and in the past. Being deprived of oxygen at any point throughout pregnancy can harm hearing, as well.

Some post-natal influences on a child’s hearing include:

  • Being born prematurely before the ears have been able to develop properly
  • Premature babies that are more prone to infections that can damage hearing
  • Developing jaundice, Scarlet Fever, Meningitis, Mumps or Measles
  • A traumatic head or auditory impact
  • Exposure to loud noises

Historically, babies were more likely to be born premature, leading to a higher incidence of deafness.

2. Obstacles For Deafness

People with hearing loss throughout history faced some fairly heinous obstacles. Many persons with deafness were considered “mentally retarded” and were locked up in institutions their entire lives. Institutions throughout history aren’t what many of us think of today. These were places where hoards of people were kept behind lock and key and treated deplorably, often in squalor with strict punishment.

During the Holocaust, Hitler ordered all deaf persons to be slaughtered, Jewish or otherwise. Hearing impairment was seen as a taint on the human race during these years.

For hundreds of years, schools segregated deaf students from all other students. The obstacles included feelings of isolation, sub-standard education and ridicule.

Thankfully, we’re more civilized and informed today on the issues surrounding deafness.

3. Activism

Deafness has a long and trying history of activism. From getting deaf persons out of institutions (de-institutionalization) to ensuring sign language is available in schools, activism has accomplished incredible things throughout history. Some of these accomplishments include:

  • Protests and peace marches to raise awareness of the issues and achieve lasting change
  • Educational assistance for students in the school setting
  • Free public schools for the deaf
  • Research and expanded knowledge
  • Medical interventions and advances in technology

4. Technological Assistance

Technology has come a long way through the years. A few of the more recent advancements in deafness history include:

  • Deaf education and further awareness for the general population
  • Closed captioning in 1972
  • Phone assistance
  • Braille in the mid-1800s
  • Voice alerts for crosswalks

5. Notable People With Deafness

Some of the most prestiguous people who have overcome the obstacles brought to them through the years include:

  • Helen Keller: learned to communicate through her teacher Ann Sullivan
  • Thomas Edison: deemed America’s greatest inventor
  • Laura Redden Searing: first deaf journalist
  • Terrylene: deaf actress

Each of these people was either born or grew deaf as the years passed.

As you can see, we’ve come a long way through the years. And we keep moving forward, one step at a time.

Want more information?

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