Specialized Schools: Deaf-blind Educaion

Figure 1.- This photograph comes from the Perkins School for the Blind in Waterville, Massachusetts. The school is famous for its association with Helen Keller. The school came to specialize in children who were born deaf and blind. The photo shows Bobby Baker (from Colorado) sitting on a stone bench near the school in Waterville. It was taken on October 13, 1939. Bobby wears plaid short trousers and brown cotton ribbed long stockings with supporters (obviously attached to a garter waist). He is 8-years old. Notice the hightop shoes, which were a bit old-fashioned for 1939 but may reflect the need for a blind and deaf boy who might have difficulty finding his way and would perhaps be more protective. Perhaps it was just the tendency of institutions to respond more slowly to fashion shifts than the general public. Images courtesy of the Perkins School for the Blind.

We do not yet know much a about the eduacation of death and blind children. We have no information about the ancient world. We suspect that children with major impairments were commonly euthenized. And as the vast majority of children recerived no formal education. Thus there would have been no povision for children with major disabilities. There are blind and to a lesser extent deaf children known in history, but often these were individuals who suffered their impairment after childhood. This did not begin to change until the 18th century when Protestant northern European countries began to founding free public education systems. As education became more of an established convention, some educators by the 19th century began to address the difficult problem of teaching blind and deaf chilren. As a part of this process, braille and sign language were developed as useful tools. As far as we know, all of this work occurred in the Christain West. A part of the reason was the affluence of the West. Another factor was differing attitudes toward the value of life un the West. Schools were founded to deal with the special needs of blind and deaf children in both Europe and the United States. Considerable progress was made in teaching these childen during the 19th century. The Perkins School was one of several such schools in the United States. What proved especially difficult was the unique problems of deaf-blind children who almost always failed to develop language skills. Deaf children because of the difficuklty with language were often called 'deaf and dumb', but deaf-blind children were in an even worse situation, virtually walled off from the outside world. The Perkins School was one of the first to address their needs. Until this time, thse childen if they survived infancy were commonly confined to insane asylums unless the family was affluent to be able to afford in home care and tolerant enough of the often difficult behavior.


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Created: 6:07 PM 1/18/2012
Last updated: 6:07 PM 1/18/2012