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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Alone in the Mainstream: A Deaf Woman Remembers Public School

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Deaf, But Definitely Not Dumb

The phrase deaf and dumb was used historically to mean "deaf and cannot speak." In the 1800s, even Deaf adults proudly referred to themselves as "deaf-mutes," and the word mute referred to their love for their native sign language. However, over time, the term dumb has come to connote stupid rather than mute, and thus the terminology has fallen in with racial slurs and gone the way of other politically incorrect descriptors. Regardless, two participants included this terminology in their responses. My guess is that the term is still tossed around today.

In fourth (or sixth grade), I arrived to class one day just before the bell and before the teacher was there. I noticed that kids were standing around giggling, and on the blackboard in six-inch letters was: D. D. D. D. D. D. After a few minutes of asking around, I was told that it stood for Dumb [my name] Duh, Duh, Duh. I never really found out who did it, but the combination of that discovery and the memory of the giggling really hurt me to the core for many years. F 70

One female student apparently felt that the best way to be accepted in the gang of popular students was to be a bully. Several horrible scenes come to mind, like her breaking in my gym locker to retrieve my jacket that contained my hearing aids and batteries. She actually stood up in front of class to say I have the DD hearing aids and batteries. The DD stands for deaf and dumb. F 83

These are some of the stories told by sixty adults who were mainstreamed as solitaries. These stories prompted my own stories and will likely prompt more stories in any former or current solitary who reads them. They represent much about our lives in the hearing world. It is not to say that we do not have hearing family members and friends that are dear to us. It is just to say that we have had some pretty distressing experiences caused by a pervasive and longstanding ignorance.
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