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Abstract

In 1864, Edward Miner Gallaudet and Amos Kendall founded Gallaudet University, the world’s only college dedicated entirely to the education of the deaf. The school found itself at the center of a nationwide debate; while both sides agreed on the necessity of speech therapy, they disagreed on the allowance of American Sign Language in tandem. At the insistence of E.M. Gallaudet, Gallaudet University used both spoken and signed instruction, earning the ire of the oralists, who believed that Sign Language should be forbidden among deaf people due to the inherent superiority of spoken language.

At the heart of the matter was something far more significant: the importance of American Sign Language to Deaf identity. Realizing that they needed to embrace Sign Language rather than attempt to cure deafness through speech-exclusive education, the students and faculty of Gallaudet University created a community of learning in which the language and culture of the Deaf was celebrated and not condemned. By doing this, Gallaudet University fought against the social stigma of disability that pervaded the field of Deaf Education in the 19th Century.

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