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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Signs and Voices: Deaf Culture, Identity, Language, and Arts

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On the other hand, some visitors, like the man married to a deaf woman for forty-one years, seemed to register in their responses a question mark, a blank that continued in their consciousness even after seeing the exhibition. It is as if this man had hoped for some clarity, some insight, into what it means to be deaf. Many, many visitors registered the same response, the same kind of continuing question mark about what it means to inhabit a perceived absence: “How does it feel to be deaf?”[45]

Others tried to position themselves as gatekeepers at the gate of inclusion: “As an employer of the deaf, I believe it is important to educate the public that the hearing impaired are normal people not freaks to be pointed at. Keep up the good work.”[46] Teachers, principals, speech therapists, and other education-related professionals wrote similar notes.

However, throughout, there are oblique mentions of freakishness, of unease with a disabled, not-hearing body, and these sensations were often distanced from the viewer by being recorded in the form of jokes and observations:

Nothing on Helen Keller? How come?[47]

Q: Why was Helen Keller’s socks yellow?
A: Her dog was blind too.
Q: Why did Helen Keller’s dog jump off a cliff?
A: You would too if your name was arrrrgggh.[48]

Interesting and admiring to see how hearing impaired have developed new ways to live life.[49]

I thought there would be more Helen Keller.[50]

Such an insistence upon Helen Keller’s presence as the cultural icon of embodied disability points to a desire to see disabled bodies on display, to view the spectacle of incomprehensible physical difference.

Similarly, non sequiturs mark an unease and apparent need to register one’s presence or reaction:

I am sexy and hot☺.[51]

Not so cool. Not cool at all.[52]

It could be that the writers felt discomfort or disconnection with the display and chose instead to simply register their presence, their physicality and able-bodiedness.

In contrast, others deliberately wrote their bodies directly into the text on display by reading their own embedded history into the culturally Deaf content:

Thanks for an excellent overview of the good old days and the latest developments. It was highly nostalgic to both of us (in 60’s) who experienced many of the events.[53]

It brought back memories of our Deaf school![54]


45. Excerpt, Smithsonian Logbook. 2002. Gallaudet University Archives.

46. Excerpt, Smithsonian Logbook. 2002. Gallaudet University Archives.

47. Excerpt, Smithsonian Logbook. 2002. Gallaudet University Archives.

48. Excerpt, Smithsonian Logbook. 2002. Gallaudet University Archives.

49. Excerpt, Smithsonian Logbook. 2002. Gallaudet University Archives.

50. Excerpt, Smithsonian Logbook. 2002. Gallaudet University Archives.

51. Excerpt, Smithsonian Logbook. 2002. Gallaudet University Archives.

52. Excerpt, Smithsonian Logbook. 2002. Gallaudet University Archives.

53. Excerpt, Smithsonian Logbook. 2002. Gallaudet University Archives.

54. Excerpt, Smithsonian Logbook. 2002. Gallaudet University Archives.


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