November 24, 2018
Charles-Michel de l'Épée’s 306th Birthday
Today’s Doodle honors the Abbé Charles-Michel de l'Épée, a French educator who founded the first public school for the deaf. Dispelling the misconception that people with impaired hearing were incapable of learning, Épée developed a visual method that became the blueprint for the teaching of the deaf in France and that changed countless lives at a time when many deaf people were discriminated against.
"Every deaf-mute sent to us already has a language," he wrote. "He is thoroughly in the habit of using it, and understands others who do. With it he expresses his needs, desires, doubts, pains, and so on, and makes no mistakes when others express themselves likewise.”
Born in Versailles on this day in 1712, Épée was the son of an architect who studied theology and law before devoting his life to serving the poor. He began tutoring two deaf sisters who lived in the slums of Paris and who communicated through their own sign language. In 1760, he used his own inheritance to found the Institution Nationale des Sourds-Muets à Paris, a school for the deaf that was open to all regardless of their ability to pay.
The French National Assembly eventually recognized him as a "Benefactor of Humanity" and asserted the rights of deaf people under France’s Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. His school went on to receive government funding and remains open to this day renamed as Institut National de Jeunes Sourds de Paris.
Happy Birthday, Charles-Michel de l'Épée!