Celebrating Deaf History Month

Like many other days, weeks, or months dedicated to raising awareness for certain health conditions, Deaf History Month occurs annually. This period of time, observed nationwide every year, celebrates deaf history and, in particular, contributions made by the deaf community and the hearing impaired to American culture and society. In 2020, it was from March 13-April 15.

The American School for the Deaf
Wikimedia Commons

Key Historic Events

Deaf History Month, by design, spans three key events impacting the deaf community that occurred in American history:

  • March 13 - 1988 Deaf President Now movement succeeds. I. King Jordan becomes president of Gallaudet University.
  • April 8 - Gallaudet University founded. President Lincoln signed the charter in 1864 establishing a college for the deaf. This event is known as Gallaudet Charter Day and is usually marked with a luncheon and awards program at Gallaudet University.
  • April 15 - American School for the Deaf in West Hartford, Connecticut, the first public school for the ​deaf, opens in 1817.

Start of Deaf History Month

Deaf History Month appears to have had its genesis March 13, 1996, when two deaf employees at Washington, D.C.'s Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library taught sign language to their colleagues. This occurrence evolved into a week of deaf awareness created by the library. Quickly, deaf awareness week evolved into a month-long period dedicated to promoting a greater understanding of the deaf community, this period quickly evolved to last a month. 

In 1996, the National Association of the Deaf suggested the week become a full-fledged month, and in 1997, the first annual, nation-wide National Deaf History Month was celebrated from March 13 to April 15. The popularity of Deaf History Month grew over time, and there is currently an effort underway by the American Library Association and the National Association of the Deaf to get the White House to declare it an official national event.

Promoting Deaf History Month

Alice Hagemeyer, founder of Friends of Libraries for Deaf Action (FOLDA), now the Library Friends Section of the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), actively promotes Deaf History Month annually. During this month, libraries are encouraged to have deaf awareness activities that raise awareness of hearing loss and deafness as well as people and events related to deafness in history. From art installations to online learning events, many libraries also host events celebrating National Deaf History Month. 

By Jamie Berke
 Jamie Berke is a deafness and hard of hearing expert.