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  • To ask the value of speech is like asking the value of life.’ Alexander Graham Bell,

  • inventor of the telephone and advocate of mainstreaming deaf education once said

  • Before he tried to wipe out sign language, deaf marriage and deafness altogether!

  • [facepalm]

  • Hello lovely people!

  • Whilst Hearing people often assume that Deaf people would naturally want tofixtheir

  • hearing, the truth is quite different. And when it comes to the complex relationship

  • between Alexander Graham Bell and the Deaf Community the truth is VERY different!

  • Society tends to view Alexander Graham Bell as a famous, wealthy and influential American

  • hero

  • [cough] he was Scottish [cough]

  • And inventor of the telephone, metal detector and a variety of other inventions. He was

  • also a teacher of deaf children, had a deaf mother and a deaf wife. He was very familiar

  • with the Deaf community.

  • Because he wanted to wipe it out!

  • Bell feared "contamination" of the human race by the propagation of deaf people (even though

  • most deaf people statistically are born to hearing parents.)

  • I first started the conversation about eugenics and disability in my profile on Helen Keller,

  • which you can find in the card above, rightnow!

  • Today were going to be continuing to talk about how sometimes good intentions are actually

  • bad intentionsthat then sporn a multimillion pound company that makes money from deafness.

  • What? I’m just your impartial narrator.

  • In all truth though, as a deaf person- but someone who went deaf later in life due to

  • a separate medical condition- I’m vaguely objective. Kind of.

  • Well let’s find out...

  • If youre new to the channel or youve been watching for a while but haven’t yet

  • done so then please, subscribe! I make fun and educational videos twice a week with added

  • gayness and fluffy dogs. Hello to everyone who subscribes just for Walter and Tilly-

  • did you know they have their own Instagram? I know, theyre getting too big for their

  • boots.

  • On with the show...

  • Alexander Bell was born on the 3rd March 1847 in Edinburgh, Scotland, to Eliza Grace Bell

  • and Alexander Melville Bell, a famous phonetician-

  • Phonetics is a branch of linguistics that studies the sounds of human speech, orin

  • the case of sign languagesthe equivalent aspects of sign.

  • He had two brothers: Melville James Bell and Edward Charles Bell, both of whom would die

  • of tuberculosis before the age of 30.

  • When he was 10 he made a plea to his father to have a middle name like his two brothers.

  • For his 11th birthday his father allowed him to adopt the middle name "Graham", chosen

  • out of respect for Alexander Graham, a family friend.

  • Whilst he was a child, his best friend, Ben Herdman’s, family operated a flour mill

  • which became the site of his first invention. In the mill wheat had to be dehusked through

  • a laborious process but at the age of 12, Bell built a homemade device that combined

  • rotating paddles with sets of nail brushes, creating a simple dehusking machine that was

  • put into operation and used steadily for a number of years. In return Ben’s father

  • gave both boys the run of a small workshop in which to "invent".

  • Alexander showed a talent for art, poetry and music from an early age, including mastering

  • the piano without formal training. He was clearly very interested in sounds and apparently

  • revelled in mimicry and ventriloquism.

  • His mother began to lose her hearing when he was 12 and he was deeply affected by this,

  • even learning a manual finger tapping language so he could sit at her side and silently tap

  • out what was going on for her. He developed a technique of speaking in clear, modulated

  • tones directly into his mother's forehead, which apparently she found easier to understand.

  • Personally, this particular relationship with his mother is what makes his later position

  • seem so strange to me. He realised that his mother needed something other than spoken

  • English to understand what was going onso why did he then push to extinguish that

  • later?!

  • Hang on though, were not there yet!

  • The Bell family was long associated with the teaching of elocution: Alexander’s grandfather,

  • uncle and father were all elocutionists. His father’s book The Standard Elocutionist

  • from 1860 is still well known today. In the book Bell senior explains his method of how

  • to teach deaf people to articulate words and read other people's lips.

  • His systemVisible Speechis much like the modern International Phonetic Alphabet

  • as one shape corresponds to each sound that is found in human speech as well as notations

  • for tone, pitch and suction. It’s essentially a kind of mimicry that means you learn how

  • to correctly position your tongue and lips for each syllable so you can then pronounce

  • words perfectly, even if youve never come across them before or never heard them.

  • It’s similar to what I do in front of the mirror to train my own voice.

  • Well, to keep it trained.

  • The young Alexander may have taken it a little far however as he took to experimenting on

  • the family dog. He first taught the terrier to growl continuously then Bell would reach

  • into its mouth and manipulate the dog's lips and vocal cords to produce specific sounds.

  • Okay...

  • If he did them in the right order, it sounded like the dog was talking!

  • Bell grew up to teach his father’s Visible Sound method to actual humans. Largely, deaf

  • ones. He taught at a number of deaf schools includingHorace Mann School for the Deaf

  • and a number of outposts of theAmerican Asylum for Deaf and Dumb Persons’...

  • Just going to let that name sink in for a few minutes

  • The Americanasylum

  • Anyway! This is why we rename things!

  • In October 1872, Alexander Bell opened his "School of Vocal Physiology and Mechanics

  • of Speech" in Boston, teaching his father’s system. His first class numbered 30 students

  • and one of his private pupils was Helen Keller, who later said that Bell dedicated his life

  • to the penetration of that "inhuman silence which separates and estranges"

  • Oh just wait for the estrangement to come!

  • You see, at the time, the most influential people in the field-

  • (who were all Hearing)

  • - viewed deafness as something that should be eradicated. They believed that with the

  • proper resources and effort, they could teach deaf people to speak and avoid the use of

  • sign language, which they saw as being a barrier to communication.

  • Ie: “a small minority of people have formed their own language so they can easily communicate

  • with each other and not be isolated. But I can’t understand them so they should be

  • forced to learn my language and enunciate properly! They would try harder if they felt

  • isolated again.”

  • Yeah

  • At the age of 26 Bell met 15-year-old Mabel Hubbard who became the object of his affection

  • she was also one of his pupils. She had lost her hearing after a bout of scarlet fever

  • when she was five so had already been able to speak and had a head-start in the speech-only

  • classroom.

  • During this time he also began experimenting with the physiology of speech and methods

  • of recording and transmitting soundswhich then lead to him inventing the telephone.

  • Which is nice.

  • He was also a massive racist.

  • Not so nice.

  • He decried immigration into the United States of what he termedundesirable ethnical

  • elements,” as he felt it stopped theevolution of a higher and nobler type of man in America.”

  • (he meanswhite people’)

  • He described sign language asessentially a foreign languageand argued thatin

  • an English speaking country like the United States, the English language, and the English

  • language alone, should be used as the means of communication and instruction.”

  • wow...

  • [Sarcastically ]Not at all relatable to the current political climate...

  • As such he was an important figure in the spreading of audismthe belief that it

  • is inherently better to be able to speak and hear.

  • Again, if youre Hearing or youve never come across Deaf Culture that might seem like

  • anof coursestatement to you but I will explain why it’s not an intrinsically

  • good position in a moment

  • Just know to begin with that Bell’s views on immigration, deaf education, and eugenics

  • overlap and intertwine.

  • In 1883 Bell presented his paper Memoir Upon the Formation of a Deaf Variety of the Human

  • Race to the National Academy of Sciences. In it he applied his study of eugenics to

  • thedeaf racestating: "Those who believe as I do, that the production of a defective

  • race of human beings would be a great calamity to the world, will examine carefully the causes

  • that will lead to the intermarriage of the deaf with the object of applying a remedy."

  • To review: deaf people were forming clubs, socializing with one another and, consequently,

  • marrying other deaf people(!) and the creation of a “deaf raceis a

  • great calamitythat may ruin humanity forever!

  • (again: 90% of deaf children are born to Hearing parents. Because that’s not how genes work)

  • How did he propose to reduce the number of deaf people? By discouraging deaf-to-deaf

  • marriages, promoting oral-only education and removing deaf teachers from the classroom.

  • Oh, youre a teacher who also happens to be deaf? Youre fired!

  • Oh, you struggle to lipread? Youre failing this class!

  • Oh, yousound deaf’? Youre getting caned!

  • Oh, youve fallen in love with another deaf person? Youre banned from seeing them!

  • In 1880, encouraged by Bell’s talks, 164 delegates met for the Second International

  • Congress on Education of the Deaf.

  • Only one of these delegates was deaf. Of 164!

  • At the conference, a resolution was passed that banned sign language in schools, in an

  • effort to encourage spoken language skills, and thus “[restore] the deaf-mute to society.”

  • Other passages in the resolution urge us toconsider the incontestable superiority

  • of speech over signs,” and argue that teaching deaf people to speak English willgive

  • them a more perfect knowledge of language.” After its passage, schools in Europe and the

  • United States ceased all use of sign language.

  • Funnily enough, due to this and his efforts to suppress the teaching of sign language,

  • Bell is often viewed negatively by those embracing Deaf culture.

  • Shocker!

  • What is Deaf culture?” you ask? Well

  • The worddeafwith a lowercase ‘d’ refers to the audiological condition of not

  • hearing. The wordDeafwith an uppercase ‘D’ refers to a particular group of deaf

  • people who share their own language- sign language- and culture. Theyll go to Deaf

  • club nights, follow Deaf artists, participate in Deaf sports teams, generally all know each

  • other! It’s a distinct community of people.

  • Much like an ethnic minority or the LGBT community.

  • - not so much the knowing each other thing! Just because your cousin is a lesbian, doesn’t

  • mean I know her!

  • As I previously mentioned: it’s also easy to assume that a deaf person would want their

  • hearing to befixed’- but that isn’t always the case, in fact it’s often far

  • from the truth.

  • Personally, if someone offered to give me 100% perfect hearing in both ears tomorrow

  • I would probably be terrified.

  • Both because (A) magic now apparently exists and (B) that’s actually a really scary prospect.

  • I’ve spent half my life not being able to hear birds singing. I like the idea but I

  • think it would be really startling.

  • And, again, I’m someone who went deaf as a teenager, after years of being able to hear

  • (not particularly well but still…) AND I went deaf due to a medical condition and disability.

  • If someone has been profoundly deaf their entire life, that’s… just their life.

  • People in the Deaf community don’t feel like they have a problem because everything

  • in their life works perfectly fine for them, it’s just different tothe norm

  • - pah! Who wants to be normal anyway? Says the deaf, disabled lesbian...

  • Deaf people don’t like being seen as sick, disabled or in some way deficient. Ever wondered

  • why I call myselfdeaf AND disabled’? Because I don’t see deafness as intrinsically

  • disabling.

  • My chronic pain? Completely disabling.

  • My chronic fatigue? Beyond disabling.

  • My lax joints and ability to paralyse my limbs for any length of time? … disabled!

  • Disabled!

  • I can’t say for sure obviously because it’s not the case but were I to just be deaf I

  • don’t know that I would see myself as disabled. I lipread well, I don’t generally have problems

  • with people understanding me, I have a sign language interpreter for work events, meetings

  • and so on

  • Obviously, I’m not saying that all deaf people feel the same way.

  • These are just my feelings, I could hear reasonable well for 15 years

  • So there's a roll over effect on that

  • There are many who

  • feel their deafness is disabling.

  • But it’s a personal feeling, not something that can be decided for you by another person

  • To members of Deaf culture, Sign Language is a cultural cornerstone. It’s part of

  • who they are. A child who is born deaf should have access to that community and learn about

  • themselves.

  • Others feel thatfixingdeafness is the way to go: using things like a cochlear

  • implant or hearing aids and learning to pronounce things clearly.

  • The problem there though is that the child in question would still BE deaf. They would

  • just have an accessory that helps them move through the wider world.

  • A paraplegic person is still paralysed when they are in their wheelchairtheyre

  • just able to wheel around.

  • And when it comes to sign languageif a family have been deaf for six generations

  • and then suddenly the children are no longer using sign language, theyre not only losing

  • part of their culture, theyre literally unable to communicate with their parents and

  • grandparents because theyre speaking a different language.

  • It’s okay to have opinions on both sides. I can see why parents go straight to giving

  • their children cochlear implants- the unknown is really scary! But it’s not okay when

  • people make a decision about other people’s lives without considering their opinions.

  • And putting 1 deaf person on a panel of 164 is not considering their opinions!

  • But if you think that was bad, were about to start talking eugenics…!

  • [slow clap]

  • First off: ‘what is eugenics’?

  • Eugenics is the set of beliefs and practices that aims at improving the genetic quality

  • of the human population through higher rates of sexual reproduction among people with desirable

  • traits and reduced rates of reproduction or sterilization among people with less-desired

  • traits.

  • It became particularly popular at the start of the 20th Century, with many countries adopting

  • eugenic policies with the intent to improve their population. Such programs included both

  • "positive" measures, encouraging individuals deemed "fit" to reproduce, and "negative"

  • measures such as marriage prohibitions and forced sterilization of people deemed unfit.

  • Unfit people included those with mental or physical disabilities, people who scored in

  • the low ranges of an IQ test, criminals and members of disfavored ethnic minority groups.

  • Alexander Graham Bell was heavily connected with the eugenics movement in the United States

  • due to his work with deaf people

  • And sheep.

  • His hobby of livestock breeding to his appointment to biologist David Starr Jordan's Committee

  • on Eugenics, under the auspices of the American Breeders' Association.

  • I know...

  • Because humans and the animals we raise to eat are exactly the same (!)

  • The committee unequivocally extended farm animal principles to human beings, advocating

  • the passing of laws that established the compulsory sterilization of people deemed to be, as Bell

  • called them, a "defective variety of the human race".

  • But at least he gave us the telephone!

  • [ding]

  • By the late 1930s, about half the states in the U.S. had eugenics laws, and California's

  • compulsory sterilization law was used as a model for that of Nazi Germany.

  • Oh you thought we could talk about eugenics without bringing up the Nazis? Nope!

  • Many of the defendants at the Nuremberg trials attempted to justify their human rights abuses

  • by claiming there was little difference between the Nazi eugenics programs and the U.S. eugenics

  • programs.

  • So, yesIn