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  Deaf History, Europe

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1880: the Milan Conference

1880: the Milan Conference

The Second International Congress on Education of the Deaf was (despite the name) the first international conference of deaf educators held in Milan, Italy in 1880. It is commonly known as "the Milan Conference".

After deliberations from September 6 to 11, 1880, the conference declared that oral education (oralism) was superior to manual education and passed a resolution banning the use of sign language in school.

The first two of eight resolutions passed by the convention:

  1. The Convention, considering the incontestable superiority of articulation over signs in restoring the deaf-mute to society and giving him a fuller knowledge of language, declares that the oral method should be preferred to that of signs in the education and instruction of deaf-mutes.
  2. The Convention, considering that the simultaneous use of articulation and signs has the disadvantage of injuring articulation and lip-reading and the precision of ideas, declares that the pure oral method should be preferred.

After its passage in 1880, schools in European countries and the United States switched to using speech therapy without sign language as a method of education for the deaf. As a result, deaf teachers lost their jobs, as there was an overall decline in deaf professionals, like writers, artists, and lawyers.

A formal apology was made by the board at the 21st International Congress on Education of the Deaf in Vancouver, BC, Canada, in 2010 accepting the dangerous ramifications of such ban as an act of discrimination and violation of human and constitutional rights.

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