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  • Maria Ollintytär Markkanen (1795 - 1867)
    Kuuro. Kuoli naimattomana Dumb och döf Pieksämäen seurakunnan arkisto - I Ab:5 Lastenkirja 1800-1813, jakso 60, sivu 105-106: Kuckola N:o 1; Kansallisarkisto: / Viitattu 23.4.2024 Pieksämäen seura...
  • Kaisa Johanna Erkintytär Varis (1828 - 1881)
    Döf och dum Viitasaaren seurakunnan arkisto - Lastenkirja 1847-1865, jakso 124, sivu 244: Kolima By no 10 Lähdenmäki; Kansallisarkisto: / Viitattu 26.2.2024 Leskiäidin kanssa. Nimi Kaisa Johanna, ...
  • Mikko Erkinpoika Varis (1836 - 1900)
    Döf och dum Viitasaaren seurakunnan arkisto - Lastenkirja 1847-1865, jakso 124, sivu 244: Kolima By no 10 Lähdenmäki; Kansallisarkisto: / Viitattu 26.2.2024 Kuuromykkä Pihtipudas rippikirja 1870-18...
  • Maria Juhontytär Tiitinen (1821 - 1894)
    Kuuromykkä Pihtipudas rippikirja 1870-1880 (AP I Aa:1) Sivu 826 Löysät T (jatkuu sivulla 820) ; SSHY / Viitattu 27.02.2024 Pihtipudas rippikirja 1870-1880 (AP I Aa:1) Sivu 419 Pihtiputaan kylä, No 2...
  • Juho Marianpoika Tiitinen (1853 - 1905)
    Kuuromykkä. Avioliitto lapseton. Pihtipudas rippikirja 1870-1880 (AP I Aa:1) Sivu 826 Löysät T (jatkuu sivulla 820) ; SSHY / Viitattu 27.02.2024 Pihtipudas rippikirja 1870-1880 (AP I Aa:1) Sivu 419 ...

Please add the profiles of those who are or were Deaf OR Deaf AND Unable to speak, OR is/was Mute (unable to speak).

If Deaf - Deaf and hearing impaired persons

  • If Deaf only (for example, Beethoven) - Deaf Project only

If Deaf & Mute - Deaf Mute

  • Deaf & Mute (for example, Helen Keller) - both projects

Tags: Deaf, deaf & dumb, handicapped, hard of hearing, hearing impaired, hearing loss, late-deafened, mute, mutism, prelingually deaf, postlingually deaf, sign language, unable to hear, unable to speak,

Deaf-mute is a term which was used historically to identify a person who was either deaf or both deaf and could not speak.

What is the difference between a person who is “deaf,” “Deaf,” or “hard of hearing”?

  • There are variations in how a person becomes deaf or hard of hearing, level of hearing, age of onset, educational background, communication methods, and cultural identity.  How people “label” or identify themselves is personal and may reflect identification with the deaf and hard of hearing community, the degree to which they can hear, or the relative age of onset. 
    • For example, some people identify themselves as “late-deafened,” indicating that they became deaf later in life.  Other people identify themselves as “deaf-blind,” which usually indicates that they are deaf or hard of hearing and also have some degree of vision loss.  Some people believe that the term “people with hearing loss” is inclusive and efficient.  However, some people who were born deaf or hard of hearing do not think of themselves as having lost their hearing. 
    • Over the years, the most commonly accepted terms have come to be “deaf,” “Deaf,” and “hard of hearing.”
  • “Deaf” and “deaf”
    • According to Carol Padden and Tom Humphries, in Deaf in America: Voices from a Culture (1988):
      • We use the lowercase deaf when referring to the audiological condition of not hearing, and the uppercase Deaf when referring to a particular group of deaf people who share a language – American Sign Language (ASL) – and a culture.  The members of this group have inherited their sign language, use it as a primary means of communication among themselves, and hold a set of beliefs about themselves and their connection to the larger society.  We distinguish them from, for example, those who find themselves losing their hearing because of illness, trauma or age; although these people share the condition of not hearing, they do not have access to the knowledge, beliefs, and practices that make up the culture of Deaf people.
  • “Hard of Hearing”
    • “Hard-of-hearing” can denote a person with a mild-to-moderate hearing loss.  Or it can denote a deaf person who doesn’t have/want any cultural affiliation with the Deaf community.  Or both.  The HOH dilemma:  in some ways hearing, in some ways deaf, in others, neither.

What is wrong with the use of these terms “deaf-mute,” “deaf and dumb,” or “hearing-impaired”?

Deaf and hard of hearing people have the right to choose what they wish to be called, either as a group or on an individual basis.  Overwhelmingly, deaf and hard of hearing people prefer to be called “deaf” or “hard of hearing.” 

  • Deaf and Dumb —
    • A relic from the medieval English era, this is the granddaddy of all negative labels pinned on deaf and hard of hearing people.  The Greek philosopher, Aristotle, pronounced us “deaf and dumb,” because he felt that deaf people were incapable of being taught, of learning, and of reasoned thinking.  To his way of thinking, if a person could not use his/her voice in the same way as hearing people, then there was no way that this person could develop cognitive abilities.  (Source: Deaf Heritage, by Jack Gannon, 1980)
    • In later years, “dumb” came to mean “silent” or unable to speak. This definition still persists, because that is how people see deaf people. 
    • The term is offensive to deaf and hard of hearing people for a number of reasons. 
      • One, deaf and hard of hearing people are by no means “silent” at all.  They use sign language, lip-reading, vocalizations, and so on to communicate.  Communication is not reserved for hearing people alone, and using one’s voice is not the only way to communicate. 
      • Two, “dumb” also has a second meaning:  stupid.  Deaf and hard of hearing people have encountered plenty of people who subscribe to the philosophy that if you cannot use your voice well, you don’t have much else “upstairs,” and have nothing going for you.  Obviously, this is incorrect, ill-informed, and false.  Deaf and hard of hearing people have repeatedly proved that they have much to contribute to the society at large.
  • Deaf-Mute –
    • Another offensive term from the 18th-19th century, “mute” also means silent and without voice.  This label is technically inaccurate, since deaf and hard of hearing people generally have functioning vocal chords.  The challenge lies with the fact that to successfully modulate your voice, you generally need to be able to hear your own voice.  Again, because deaf and hard of hearing people use various methods of communication other than or in addition to using their voices, they are not truly mute.  True communication occurs when one’s message is understood by others, and they can respond in kind.
  • Hearing-impaired –
    • This term is no longer accepted by most in the community but was at one time preferred, largely because it was viewed as politically correct.  To declare oneself or another person as deaf or blind, for example, was considered somewhat bold, rude, or impolite.  At that time, it was thought better to use the word “impaired” along with “visually,” “hearing,” “mobility,” and so on.  “Hearing-impaired” was a well-meaning term that is not accepted or used by many deaf and hard of hearing people. However, it focuses on what a deaf person cannot do, instead of the endless things they can do.
    • For many people, the words “deaf” and “hard of hearing” are not negative.  Instead, the term “hearing-impaired” is viewed as negative.  The term focuses on what people can’t do.  It establishes the standard as “hearing” and anything different as “impaired,” or substandard, hindered, or damaged.  It implies that something is not as it should be and ought to be fixed if possible.  To be fair, this is probably not what people intended to convey by the term “hearing impaired."

The current terms in use by the deaf community today are deaf and hard of hearing. In 1991, the World Federation of the Deaf voted to use the official terms deaf and hard of hearing. The National Association of the Deaf supports these terms, and they are used by most organizations involved with the Deaf community. Evolving terminology allows individuals to describe themselves based on their hearing status, cultural orientation and communication preferences.

  • Prelingually deaf refers to individuals who were born deaf or became deaf prior to learning to understand and speak a language.
  • Postlingually deaf or late deafened describes a person who lost hearing ability after he or she learned to understand spoken language. These distinctions are important as they may determine a person’s familiarity with and memory of spoken English. These terms do not relate to intelligence or potential.

Every individual is unique, but there is one thing all have in common:  all want to be treated with respect.  To the best their own unique abilities, all have families, friends, communities, and lives that are just as fulfilling as anyone else.  Each may be different, but are not less.

What’s in a name?  Plenty!  Words and labels can have a profound effect on people.  Deaf people are very much like hearing people, except they are deaf. Show your respect for people by refusing to use outdated or offensive terms.  You’re pretty safe from offending a deaf person by using “deaf” or “hard of hearing.” When in doubt, ask the individual how they identify themselves.

Development of Sign Language

  1. Wikipedia - History of Sign Language
  2. Start ASL - History of Sign Language - Deaf History. by Michelle Jay. 4 Jul 2008
  3. Deaf websites - The History of Sign Language
  4. NIH - American Sign Language
  5. A History of Sign Language. by Brook Larson, Mid-term Paper, 24 Feb. 1998
  6. Atlas Obscura - The Hidden History of Martha’s Vineyard Sign Language. by Natalie Zarrelli. 4 May 2016

The recorded history of sign language in Western societies starts in the 17th century, as a visual language or method of communication. Sign language is composed of a system of conventional gestures, mimic, hand signs and finger spelling, plus the use of hand positions to represent the letters of the alphabet. Signs can also represent complete ideas or phrases, not only individual words.

Most sign languages are natural languages, different in construction from oral languages used in proximity to them, and are employed mainly by deaf people in order to communicate.

One of the earliest written records of a sign language is from the fifth century BC, in Plato's Cratylus, where Socrates says: "If we hadn't a voice or a tongue, and wanted to express things to one another, wouldn't we try to make signs by moving our hands, head, and the rest of our body, just as dumb people do at present?"

Until the 19th century, most of what we know about historical sign languages is limited to the manual alphabets (fingerspelling systems) that were invented to facilitate transfer of words from an oral to a sign language, rather than documentation of the sign language itself. Many sign languages have developed independently throughout the world, and no first sign language can be identified. Both signed systems and manual alphabets were found worldwide, and, though most recorded instances of sign languages seem to occur in Europe in the 17th century, it is possible that popular European ideals have overshadowed much of the attention earlier signed systems may have otherwise received. It was commonly accepted, for instance, that “the deaf” could not be educated; when John of Beverley, Bishop of York, taught a deaf person to speak in 685 AD, it was deemed a miracle, and he was later canonized.

It is suggested that Pedro Ponce de León developed the first manual alphabet from which Juan Pablo Bonet based his writings. The earliest known printed pictures of consonants of the modern two-handed alphabet appeared in 1698 with Digiti Lingua, a pamphlet by an anonymous author who was himself unable to speak.

By 1720, the British manual alphabet had found more or less its present form. In France, the first sign languages developed in the 18th century. The 18th permanent school for the deaf was established in Hartford, Connecticut; others followed.

American Sign Language, or ASL became prominent in the 1800's thanks to Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet. He wanted to help Alice Cogswell who was his neighbor's deaf daughter, so he travelled to Europe to study how to communicate with deaf people. He met Laurent Clerc who was a deaf instructor of sign language, and the two of them returned to America to found the first school for the deaf.  In 1817, Clerc and Gallaudet founded the American Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb (now the American School for the Deaf).

ASL however was not the only sign language developed. All over the world, different sign languages developed, including in England BSL and Australia Auslan. Even though speakers of English can understand Americans, British, and Australian people equally, with some colloquial differences, signers in America, England, and Australia would be unable to understand each other because the signs are very different. Most of the differences in these signs are based on nuances within the deaf communities of that area, which has led to an interesting evolution of sign language worldwide. It can be said that there are as many sign languages in the world as there are spoken languages.

Is it compulsory for a mute person to be deaf?

Mutism is a very misunderstood misused term, particularly when it comes to deafness. Muteness or mutism (from Latin mutus, meaning 'silent'/unable to speak) is an inability or unwillingness to speak, often caused by a speech disorder or surgery, or may be so due to the unwillingness to speak in certain social situations.

The term "mutism" is specifically applied to people who, due to profound congenital (or early) deafness, are unable to articulate language and so are affected by deaf-mutism

"Mutism" usually refers to several types of "mutism" (I'm using quotes because I'm talking about the misunderstood term, not what it actually means):


  • Those who are physically mute may have problems with the parts of the human body required for human speech (the esophagus, vocal cords, lungs, mouth, or tongue, etc.).
  • Trauma or injury to Broca's area, located in the left inferior frontal cortex of the brain, can cause muteness.
  • There can also be psychological causes


  • Selective mutism previously known as "elective mutism" is an anxiety disorder very common among young children, characterized by the inability to speak in certain situations. It should not be confused with someone who is mute and cannot communicate due to physical disabilities. Selectively mute children are able to communicate in situations in which they feel comfortable. About 90% of children with this disorder have also been diagnosed with social anxiety. It is very common for symptoms to occur before the age of five and do not have a set time period. Not all children express the same symptoms. Some may stand motionless and freeze in specific social settings and have no communication.
  • Alalia is a disorder that refers to a delay in the development of speaking abilities in children. In severe cases, some children never learn how to speak. It is caused by illness of the child or the parents, the general disorders of the muscles, the shyness of the child or the fact that the parents are close relatives
  • Anarthria is a severe form of dysarthria. The coordination of movements of the mouth and tongue or the conscious coordination of the lungs are damaged.
  • Aphasia can rob all aspects of the speech and language. It is a damage of the cerebral centers of the language.
  • Aphonia is the inability to produce any voice. In severe cases the patient loses phonation. It is caused by the injury, paralysis, and illness of the larynx.
  • Conversion disorder can cause loss of speaking ability. (It is sometimes applied to patients who present with neurological symptoms, not consistent with a well-established organic cause. See: Wikipedia - Conversion disorder)
  • Feral children grow up outside of human society, and so usually struggle in learning any language.
  • Some people with autism never learn to speak.
  • Most intellectually disabled children learn to speak, but in the severe cases they can't learn speech (IQ 20-25). Children with Down syndrome often have impaired language and speech.

Notable Deaf & Mute People:

In the past, most deaf people were ignored. If we think back 100 years there were very few hearing people who could communicate with deaf people. Since deaf people were regarded with suspicion, they were not valued, they got poor jobs and there were no chances for them to tell their story. These people and many more prove that this idea was far from true, and it is a good thing they didn’t believe they were worthless!!!

  1. Terptree - 5 Famous Deaf People who Changed the World
  2. Historyplex - Famous deaf people
  3. Famous Deaf People - University of Bristol - Chapter 3: Famous Deaf People
  4. Famous Deaf People (31 listed by occupation)
  5. Ranker - 17 Famous Deaf People
  6. Wikipedia - Category: Mute people (5 listed)
  7. Wikipedia - List of deaf people (includes: Important Deaf figures in Deaf history; Notable Deaf people; Notable people who are hard of hearing & Deaf & hard of hearing musicians)
  • Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827) - German pianist & classical composer; started to lose hearing at age 26 due to suspected disease called typhus (lead poisoning). By age 52 he was presumed to be completely deaf, yet this is when he produced some of his most important works.
  • William Adams (aka: (1975) - American rapper, songwriter, entrepreneur, actor, DJ, record producer & philanthropist; developed tinnitus in early years due to exposure to loud prolonged music.
  • Thomas Edison (1847-1931) - American inventor; had hearing problems from childhood & thought to be completely deaf by his early teenage years from unknown cause, although it did run in Edison’s family.
  • Helen Keller (1880-1968) - American educator, political activist & writer of 12 inspirational books; contracted an illness at 18 months called “Brain Fever” (Scarlet fever) leaving her blind, deaf & mute. She developed a limited way of communicating & created a basic form of sign language.
  • William Willard (1809-1881) - Set up a school for the deaf in Indianapolis, Indiana in1843. This school was officially recognized in 1846 & Indiana became the sixth state to provide free education to the deaf.
  • Laura Dewey Bridgman (1829-1889) - First blind & deaf person to learn the English language. She was born normal, but had Scarlet fever when two years old leaving her a blind deaf-mute. She went to the Perkins School for the Deaf & Blind in 1837 where she learned everyday items & eventually how to associate them with labels with the raised letters for them, which helped her learn how to spell the words. Helen Keller also went to this school.
  • Linda Bove (1945) - A deaf American actress; is known as Linda the Librarian on Sesame Street & has made a huge contribution in introducing the sign language to hearing children.
  • Etienne de Fay (1669-1747?) - One of the 1st deaf people we know about with any detail. He was deaf from birth and was sent to the Abbey of Amiens in France when he was 5 years old. As far as we know he always used sign language but it is not clear how he learned it. He lived in the Abbey all of his life and became an architect, sculptor, librarian and teacher of deaf children. He came from a wealthy family yet he seemed a grass roots type of deaf person. He was a very good architect and his drawings can be seen in the book by Fischer and Lane (1993). His work as a teacher was interrupted when his pupil was taken away by parents to study with Pereire (a Portuguese man, working in France) who said he could teach deaf children to speak. His story has been lost in the past until recently when it was re-discovered.
  • Pierre Desloges (1742 - ??) French deaf writer and bookbinder, first known deaf person to publish a book. We do not know when he died but it was after 1794.
  • Lou Ferrigno (1951) (aka Louis Jude Ferrigno)- a Bodybuilder & actor with 75-80% hearing loss due to a series of ear infections
  • I King Jordan (1943) - The first deaf president of Gallaudet University
  • Andrew Foster (1925-1987) - The first deaf African-American Gallaudet graduate & founder of schools for the deaf in Africa.
  • Laura C Redden Searing ( ) - Was perhaps the first deaf woman journalist; (Laura Catherine Redden Searing)
  • James “Deaf” Burke ( ) - Was a boxer in the 19th century
  • Rush Limbaugh ( ) - an American conservative radio talk show hose; Experienced sudden deafness
  • Heather Whitestone McCallum ( ) - The first deaf Miss America in 1995
  • Laurent Clerc (1785-1869) - Deaf rights leader & founder of the first school for the deaf in1817
  • Jim Kyte (1964) - First ever deaf player in the NHL
  • Hendrick Avercamp (1585 (bapt)-1634) 0 Dutch painter; was deaf & mute

If interested in Deafness in history, See:

References & Further Reading: