Thursday, March 27, 2014

Did You Know Abraham Lincoln Advocated for People with Hearing Loss?


While most of us are familiar with Lincoln’s actions to emancipate the slaves, did you know he was also an advocate for people with hearing loss?

One of Lincoln’s close friends, a former U.S. Postmaster General named Amos Kendall, helped fund the school known as the Columbia Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb and Blind. The best known action Lincoln took on behalf of the deaf (then any sort of hearing loss was lumped under term “deafness” even if the person being referred to could hear to some degree) was signing the Enabling Act on April 8, 1864. This allowed the school later known as Gallaudet College, and today as Gallaudet University, to award college degrees — becoming the first post-secondary school dedicated to the education of the hearing-impaired.

Historians theorize Lincoln became aware of the need to support those who had lost their hearing because of his advocacy on behalf of disabled Civil War veterans, several thousand of whom lost their hearing during the war due to noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). But even before the war, while still a senator, Lincoln voted to found the Illinois School of the Deaf. Others speculate that because one of Lincoln’s children (son Tad) had a speech impediment and language delay, Lincoln understood and empathized with the struggles faced by all young people facing communication challenges.

Whatever Lincoln’s reasons for supporting those with hearing loss, he is still celebrated 146 years later during Gallaudet University’s annual “Charter Day” festivities. Today, there are approximately 32,000 people with varying degrees of hearing loss enrolled in colleges and universities around the nation thanks to opportunities stemming from Abraham Lincoln’s historic support of deaf education, giving us yet another reason to commemorate a great man on his birthday.


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