The People Who Spell

The Last Students from the Mexican National School for the Deaf

1st Edition

By Claire L. Ramsey

Categories: Deaf Communities and Cultures, Deaf Education, Deaf Studies
Imprint: Gallaudet University Press
Hardcover : 9781563685057, 224 pages, November 2011
Ebook : 9781563685064, 253 pages, December 2011
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In this compelling history of the now defunct Escuela Nacional para Sordomudos (Mexican National School for the Deaf), the last students known as “ENS signers” detail their remarkable lives and heritage, and question the future of Mexico’s young deaf people.



The Escuela Nacional para Sordomudos (ENS), translated as the Mexican National School for the Deaf, opened its doors in the 1860s as part of the republic’s intention to educate its deaf people. The ENS did not use Lengua de Señas Mexicana (LSM), Mexico’s native sign language, for instruction, though they tolerated LSM use by the students. The school was closed permanently in 1972, thus leaving its former students still alive today as the last links to this historic institution. In this compelling social history, Claire L. Ramsey presents these unique Deaf Mexicans from their extraordinary experiences as ENS students and signers to their current personal lives.

One ENS signer, María de los Ángeles Bedolla, inspired the title of the book, The People Who Spell. In her account, she describes herself and her peers as cultured and educated compared to the young deaf people of today. The ENS signers pride themselves on el deletreo, LSM fingerspelling, which they consider key to their sophistication. Ramsey relates each of the signers’ childhoods, marriages, work experiences, and retirements. However, she brings threads of their stories together to reveal a common and abiding disappointment in modern-day Mexico’s failure to educate its deaf citizens according to the promise made more than 100 years ago. The narratives of the ENS signers detail their remarkable lives and heritage but also legitimately question the future of Mexico’s young deaf people.


Claire L. Ramsey is Associate Professor of Education, the University of California, San Diego, CA.