“Father of the Deaf” — Abbe Charles Michael de L’Epee

by Nadine Miller

(Pennsylvania)

Abbe Charles Michael de L’Epee is my favorite person from Deaf History. He led the way in education for the deaf community. He was able to see a need for the deaf to become educated and believed that it was possible. By founding the first public free deaf school, he was showing that social status or wealth should not dictate your educational opportunities.

My favorite thing about his deaf school was not just that it was free and public. It was that it was an open learning environment. His goal was to educate deaf students from all over France who wanted to learn, but he was open to learning right along side of his students. He collected all the signs that his students brought with them from their homes and communities and compiled them into a standard sign language.

Teaching this standard sign language, also known as Old French Sign Language, must have done wonders for these students. Most of them were probably coming from a place where there were few, if any, other deaf people around. Now they were surrounded by people just like themselves. They had a sense of community, and a new language that allowed them to communicate with each other. They also didn’t have to feel as if they were worthless when in the school. They were all the same and could exist in an environment where they were looked down on for being different.

I think Abbe Charles Michael de L’Epee did more than just educate the deaf. I think he was able to give them a sense of community and belonging in a world that that they were worthless. I believe that is the most important thing he did for the deaf community.

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