Saturday, May 31, 2008

Celebrating 180 years in a deaf family

The Guardian in the UK has a great story about a family's pride representing eight generations of British deaf people.

The Smith family has inherited deafness for eight generations, but today's family members say that thanks to technology, many of the challenges faced by their ancestors no longer apply. They say they are proud of their deaf heritage.

Sandra Smith says: "Our family has eight generations of deafness. The earliest deaf relative we have traced is Thomas Smith, who was born in 1824 in Bisley. He was my great-great-great grandfather. He is recorded on the census as being 'deaf and dumb,' which is what deaf people were called in those days. When my sister and I found Thomas and realised that deafness in our family went back to the early 19th century, we just froze. It was such an amazing feeling - to know that we came from such a strong deaf line had a big impact on me.

"Technology has changed the experience of deafness over the generations, even in my lifetime. We didn't have a telephone when I was growing up. It was before the invention of the minicom textphone or fax or mobile texting, so deaf people had no access to telecommunications. We would have to go to the neighbours and ask them to make the call for us. We would only phone if there was a really important reason. If the neighbour came knocking on our door to say there was a call for us we always knew it was bad news.

"We have sign language and deaf culture as a link through the family, but I don't think it matters if a child is deaf or hearing. I have five children: four are deaf and one is hearing. My hearing son signs too, so we all have that common language and bond. I would like to see deafness and deaf culture carry on in our family for future generations, though. That's important to me."