In the early twentieth century, most schools for the deaf across the nation used the “natural” sign language, now called American Sign Language (ASL). Most of the administrators and teachers who ran these schools were deaf. Not until 1880, after an international conference in Milan, Italy, did educators decide that the oral approach was the best way to teach deaf children. The rationale was that to assimilate the deaf children into the society of hearing people, the children must learn to speak and understand the language of their hearing community and to read and write it well.

From the perspective of many deaf communities, this reflects a dark period of deaf education. One by one, schools for the deaf all over the nation abolished ASL, forced ...

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