November 25, 2012 marks the 300th birthday of Abbé Charles-Michel de l’Épée, to whom millions of deaf and hard of hearing people around the world owe a great deal of thanks. Abbé de l’Épée (November 25, 1712 – December 23, 1789) is regarded by the World Federation of the Deaf as the Father of Deaf Education.
Abbé de l’Épée dedicated his life to helping others, and in a chance encounter met two young deaf sisters who communicated with each other in signs. From this encounter, he became involved in the education of deaf students and formed a school in 1760 for this purpose in Paris, France. Just as important was his willingness to allow others to learn from his methods so as to spread the benefits of teaching deaf people through sign language. It was this willingness that made it possible for Laurent Clerc to go to the United States and teach deaf students using the methods of Abbé de l’Épée.
Abbé de l’Épée began a revolution in educating deaf and hard of hearing students, and this revolution continues to be fought today. The NAD is one of many that advocates for the use of sign language in educating deaf and hard of hearing students, as part of its mission to preserve, protect, and promote the linguistic rights of all deaf and hard of hearing individuals in the United States.
Happy birthday, Abbé de l’Épée!