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  • Partners in Progress: The 21st International Congress on Education of the Deaf and the Repudiation of the 1880 Congress of Milan
  • Donald F. Moores, Editor

In 1880, the Second International Congress on Education of the Deaf met in Milan, Italy, and passed several resolutions. No Deaf people were involved in preparing or approving the resolutions. Two of the declarations are of special note. In English translation they read: (1) given the incontestable superiority of speech over signs in restoring deaf-mutes to society, and in giving them a more perfect knowledge of language that the oral method ought to be preferred to signs; and (2) considering that the simultaneous use of speech and signs has the disadvantage of injuring speech, lipreading, and precision of ideas, that the pure oral method ought to be preferred.

The result was the acceleration of a trend to abolish any kind of sign instruction in almost all countries in the world, with at best a significant reduction and at worst a complete elimination of the numbers and roles of Deaf professionals in the field. Not only were thousands of deaf children denied an effective means of communication, but access to a vibrant Deaf community was either delayed or eliminated.

The influence of Milan dominated the field for more than 80 years. Although the situation has improved since the 1960s, the lost opportunities for optimum development for generations of Deaf individuals are undeniable and can never be atoned for.

In July, 2010, the 21st International Congress on Education of the Deaf (ICED), entitled Partners in Progress, convened in Vancouver, British Columbia, bringing together more than 700 participants from more than 60 countries. In the opening ceremony, in partnership, the ICED Vancouver 2010 Organizing Committee and the British Columbia Deaf community presented the following as a Statement of Principle:

Vancouver 2010 A New Era: Deaf Participation and Collaboration Statement of Principle

Globally, many Deaf citizens encounter the general population's perception of being Deaf as one of disability. This "disability mindset" contributes directly towards the exclusion and devaluation of all people who are considered "different" including those who are Deaf. As a result, many Deaf citizens in many countries are still hindered and excluded from participation in the larger society. Many are prevented from equal access to decision making, employment opportunities, and quality education.

Despite this "disability mindset," Deaf citizens positively contribute to societies that embrace diversity and creativity. They enhance their nations in areas of education, economic activity, politics, arts and literature. For Deaf people,

It is an inalienable right to be acknowledged as a linguistic and cultural minority integral to every society.

Therefore, all nations are urged to recognize and facilitate participation from all of its citizens, including those who are Deaf.

The Resolutions of the 1880 ICED Congress in Milan

In 1880 an international congress was held in Milan to discuss education of the Deaf. At that time, the members passed several resolutions that affected the education and lives of Deaf people around the world. The resolutions:

  1. 1. Removed the use of sign languages from educational programs for the Deaf around the world; [End Page 309]

  2. 2. Contributed detrimentally to the lives of Deaf citizens around the world;

  3. 3. Lead to the exclusion of Deaf citizens in educational policy and planning in most jurisdictions in the world;

  4. 4. Prevented Deaf citizens from participation in government planning, decision-making, and funding in areas of employment training, retraining and other aspects of career planning;

  5. 5. Hindered the abilities of Deaf citizens to succeed in various careers and have prevented many of them from following their own aspirations; and

  6. 6. Prevented the opportunity for many Deaf citizens to fully demonstrate their cultural and artistic contribution to the diversity of each Nation.

Therefore we:

  1. 1. Reject all resolutions passed at the ICED Milan congress in 1880 that denied the inclusion of sign languages in educational programs for Deaf students;

  2. 2. Acknowledge and sincerely regret the detrimental effects on the Milan conference; and

  3. 3. Call upon all Nations of the world to remember history and ensure that educational programs accept and respect all languages and forms of communication.

Accord for the Future

Let it be stated that we, the...


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