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The Emergence of Using Sign Language to Teach the Deaf

Page history last edited by Jennifer Lowe 14 years, 10 months ago

According to Easterbrooks & Baker (2002), the first school for the deaf began in Spain at a Benedictine monastery named the San Salvadora de Ona. This monastery establised schools for the purpose of religious teachings as well established a school to teach the deaf. Pedro Ponce de Leon  (1510-1584) has been accredited with being the first teacher of the deaf. The monks used signs to communicate with each other because they worked and lived in silence. As a result, a commuication system or language evolved. Pedro Ponce de Leon instructed his students in fingerspelling, written language, and speech. According to Easterbrooks & Baker (2002) he thought that the use of signs was the fastest way to learn language.


Thirty-six years after the the death of Pedro Ponce de Leon, Juan Pablo Bonet (1579-1633) published the first book explaining specific procedures for teaching the deaf. This book was translated into other languages and became very popular throughout Europe.


The next well known educator of deaf students was a French Priest, Abbe Charles Michel de l'Eppe (1712-1789).  De l'Eppee became interested in deaf education when he met two deaf sisters while he was out ministering to the people of a local community. His inspiration to educate them stemmed from wanting to teach the sisters about religion. D l'Epee introduced fingerspelling followed by the writing of simple nouns and verbs which ultiamtely lead to the instruction of sentence writing. 


Abbe Roch-Ambroise Sicard (1742-1822) was a successor to de l'Eppe. He brought his student Jean Massieu with him and they taught at the same school in France for years. Eventually, Jean Massieu became the successor to Sicard. Massieu has been attributed with teaching Sicard about the signs used by the deaf in France and has been noted as neing a coinventor of  Sicard's systems of signs (Irvine, P. 1988).


Shortly following, Thomas Braidwood (1715-1806) began teaching deaf students in Great Britian.  His teaching methods were based on the works of William Holder, John Wallis, and Henry Baker (Easterbrooks & baker, 2002).  Due to the fact that he wasn't able to recieve funding to establish a public school, his family opened a private school that they personally funded.


Following the work of Braidwood, a man by the name of Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet (1787-1851) became intersted in deaf eduction after meeting a young girl named Alice Cogswell. At this time schools for the deaf had not been established in America.  Gallaudet went to Europe to receive training on how to educate the deaf. Gallaudet ended up going to France to study the methods of Abbe de l'Epee. While he was in Europe, he met a man by the name of Laurent Clerc who decided to travel to America to help Gallaudet establish the first schol for the deaf in Hartford, Connecticut in 1817.  The establishment of this first school lead to an increase of interest in establishing more schools for the deaf in America.



Easterbrooks, S.R. & Baker, S. (2002). Language learning in children who ared and hard of hearing: Multiple pathways. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.


Irvine, P. (1988). Jean Massieu (1772-1846). Journal of Special Education, 22(1).


Posted by: Jennifer Lowe 


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