It’s the early 1890s, and the Royal Association in Aid of the Deaf and Dumb in London are responding to the findings of the Royal Commission on the Blind, Deaf and Dumb who tell them that they should be wary of allowing Deaf people to assemble. The risk, the Royal Commission state, is that Deaf people will end up separating themselves from hearing society entirely.
The RAD’s response is “We don’t encourage Deaf people to separate themselves from society… but we do allow for their natural inclination to come together. If we didn’t, then Deaf people would do it anyway…”
And then they quote this in support of their stance, from Amos Draper, an American Deaf man.
The tendency of the deaf to associate is marked, is almost universal. Not merely the manually-taught, but likewise the pupils of every pure oral school in America seek one another and, if near enough, form societies as soon as they leave their schools.
From a theoretical and scientific point of view this tendency must be deprecated. From that point it would be infinitely better if the deaf could, upon leaving school, be sundered and scattered among the hearing, and live out their lives in contact with the hearing alone.
On the other hand we are bound to view the matter from the warm regions of humanity, religion and love, as well as from the airy heights of idealism and the cool pinnacles of science. We have got to remember that, comparatively speaking, the deaf man is always and forever a unit in society.
Circumstances may mitigate, but they can never cancel the pitiless fact… The deaf man is a man still. He hath still hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; he is hurt, healed, warmed and cooled as a hearing man is; if you prick him he will bleed, and if you tickle him he will laugh like a hearing man. These susceptibilities are what make a human creature, and they are fully gratified only in a society where there is ease, equality, freedom, and that sympathy which grows out of a common experience.
It follows that the deaf in general do not find with the hearing alone that incredible happiness, that fruition of the soul, and of all the faculties which springs from true human intercourse; and when they incline to cheer the dull round of daily toil by meeting one another in leisure hours they only obey impulses which are at once the sweetest and most dominant in human life.
For these reasons societies arise among them almost by a law of nature, and it can be safely assumed that no arguments, no system of education, and no power whatever short of despotism will ever greatly check the existence and development of such societies.
Draper’s speech is taken from the 1893 Chicago International Deaf Congress (page 245).