Unsound: The Legacy of Alexander Graham Bell

You hear the name ‘Alexander Graham Bell’, and you think ‘inventor of the telephone.’ But he devoted much of his life to the so-called ‘education’ of deaf people. Bell’s fraught legacy with the deaf community is explored in Veronica Simmonds' documentary, Unsound: The Legacy of Alexander Graham Bell.

The inventor of the telephone devoted much of his life to the ‘education’ of deaf people

In 1872, Alexander Graham Bell opened a school for the deaf in Boston called 'Vocal Physiology and Mechanics of Speech,' where he insisted on methods that he believed would teach deaf people to speak. (Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

The great project of Alexander Graham Bell's life was not, perhaps surprisingly, the telephone.

His life's true passion, and the project he focused on his entire life and funded with his earnings from the telephone, was the 'education' of deaf people. He was part of a movement called oralism and believed all deaf people should learn to lipread and speak rather than use sign language.

But not all deaf people can learn to speak. Or believe they should. And the harm of oralism still reverberates today. 

Watch this ASL video of Veronica Simmonds' documentary, Unsound: The Legacy of Alexander Graham Bell, listen above or read the transcript.

Unsound: The Legacy of Alexander Graham Bell [ASL]

2 years ago
Duration 54:00
American Sign Language interpretation of Unsound, a radio documentary from IDEAS exploring the legacy of Alexander Graham Bell and his role in a movement called oralism, and the harmful legacy that still reverberates today.

Guests in this episode:

Katie Booth is the author of The Invention of Miracles: Language, Power and Alexander Graham Bell's Quest to End Deafness. 

Carol Padden is professor of communication at University of California San Diego. She's also the dean of the Division of Social Sciences and has written many books including Inside Deaf Culture and Deaf in America: Voices from a Culture.

Joanne Weber is Canada Research Chair in Deaf Education at the University of Alberta.

Dan Foley is an ASL speaker who struggled with oralist-centric education. 

Dr. Sanjay Gulati is a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Cambridge Hospital and Boston Children's Hospital and an assistant professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. He coined the term 'Language Deprivation' syndrome.

Thanks to ASL Interpreters:

Elizabeth Gregorich, Christopher Desloges, John Urato and Tracy Hetman

* This documentary was produced by Veronica Simmonds and Nicola Luksic.

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