Deaf and hard of hearing children were never allowed the same level of access to education that hearing children received. Up until the early 1900s, Deaf education was overlooked in Atlanta. Deaf and hard of hearing children weren’t allowed to attend public schools and were forced to be homeschooled. Without the proper tools they needed to succeed, such as a form of communication and effective teaching methods, hearing impaired children were given the label of “Deaf and Dumb”.

Georgia School for the Deaf in 1888

Georgia School for the Deaf

In 1847, Georgia School for the Deaf was founded in Cave Springs. It was the first Deaf school in Georgia and offered children the opportunity to get a good education while being surrounded by their deaf and hard of hearing peers. 1 The school used oral and manual forms of communication but focused on teaching lip reading and speech. Although the school gave a second chance to many deaf children, it wasn’t able to support hearing impaired children in the metro Atlanta area because it was located an hour and thirty minutes away from the city.

Ashby Street School

It wasn’t until the success of special education with Helen Keller, did the State Board of Education consider having a school for the deaf in Metro Atlanta. 2 In 1912, Atlanta Day School for the Deaf opened at Ashby Street School. It was a small classroom with 8 students: 3 Roy Sturgus, Eva Campbell, Louise Spivey, Maxine Morris, Adelaide Thomas, Emmett McClendon, Willi Hurst, and Herbert Manning. 4 Only two of them were born deaf, while the other six students became hearing impaired due to illness between the ages of one and four. Classes were taught through both speech and sign language, in order to meet the needs of every student.

Mrs. Sarah Temple (teacher of the deaf), Professor William M. Slaton (superintendent of schools), Miss. Flynn (principal of Ashby Street school, and the eight enrolled hearing-impaired students. 5

Mrs. Sarah Temple

Sarah Temple was a teacher for the Deaf and took on the challenge of teaching at the first Deaf school in Atlanta. She was the perfect candidate because of her impressive resume. She was born with Deaf parents, so her primary language growing up was sign language. 6 She graduated from Gallaudet University, which was the only Deaf university in the world, with a teaching degree that focused on speech and sign language. Previous to working in Atlanta, she had taught deaf children in Missouri, Illinois, and Oklahoma. Mrs. Temple made great achievements in Atlanta because she used a method of student-based learning rather than curriculum-based teaching. Markku Jokinen studied the American Annals of the Deaf (Vol.163, No.1 2018) and concluded his inclusive education research by stating, “Truly inclusive education also means a transition from mainstream needs-based teaching to student needs-based learning”. 7

The Exciting Start of Atlanta Area School for the Deaf

In 1971, Governor Jimmy Carter allocated $206,000 of fund to expand Georgia School for the Deaf and open an official school for the Deaf in Atlanta. 8 After a year of construction, Atlanta Area School for the Deaf (AASD) opened in Clarkston on September 5th, 1972 and had 150 hearing impaired students enrolled. 9 The school served 10 counties around metro Atlanta: Bartow, Clayton, Cobb, Dekalb, Douglas, Forsyth, Fulton, Gwinnett, Newton, and Rockdale. 10 This was revolutionary for Deaf education because gave hearing impaired children the opportunity to attend a school with Deaf peers rather than forced into a mainstream school where their needs weren’t met. 11 Less than 3 years later, the school was a success with 250 students enrolled and with plans to add a middle school. AASD gained 13 more classrooms, administrative offices, a diagnostic clinic, and a hearing evaluation center with an audiologist. With the expansion, they were able to enroll an additional 117 students.

Deaf Community Cultural Wealth and Deaf Identity

Today, Atlanta Area School for the Deaf teaches deaf and hard of hearing children from elementary through high school. Not only has the school grown and become more successful, but it’s changed the ways of teaching and has become immersed in Deaf culture. Speech and lip reading is no longer used in the school because everything is communicated in American Sign Language and written English. For struggling hearing parents, the school has programs such as SMARTsign, to encourage and provide resources for parents to learn ASL in order to communicate and help their children. 12

Another important change was that AASD switched its focus to employing Deaf teachers and created an environment around Deaf Community Cultural Wealth (DCCW), which is defined as the knowledge, skills, and tools that a community passes down from one generation to the next, to be acquired by the deaf students. 13 Through this environment, students have been able experience Deaf identity and stand up for injustices.

For example, in 2021, a white hearing superintendent was hired by the Department of Education, which frustrated many students because they want to keep a DCCW environment and have Deaf person in charge. 14 Similar to the Deaf President Now Movement from 1988, the students from Atlanta Area School for the Deaf took to the streets to protest against audism and racism.

Deaf students at Atlanta Area School for the Deaf protest against new hearing superintendent and Department of Education

Educating the Deaf and the Hearing World

Nicholas Mirzoeff, from History Today, stated, “As society has changed its perception of the deaf from being handicapped to being a distinct cultural group, so has its opinion changed as to what constitutes appropriate treatment of them.” 15 From this timeline of Deaf Education, it’s obvious that a lot of positive change has happened, as hearing-impaired children have been rid of the title “Deaf and Dumb” and have begun receiving effective resources that are needed in order to be successful. Parents have changed their mindsets by taking on the challenge of learning ASL and allowing their children to explore their Deaf identity. More studies have been conducted on Deaf education over the past few years, but the hard truth is, Deaf education is unresearched and the Deaf community is still undergoing oppression. The best way to create change is to conduct more research and educate the hearing world.

  1. Cruselle, W. “Georgia School for Deaf a Picturesque Institution.” The Atlanta Constitution, May 20, 1906.
  2. “Schools For Atlanta’s Deaf-Mutes.” The Atlanta Constitution, August 29, 1910.
  3. E. A. F. “Tabular Statement of American Schools for the Deaf.” JSTOR. Gallaudet University Press, November 10, 1916.
  4. “Deaf Children, Eager to Learn, Read Lips of Their Questioners, Demonstrating the Success of Mrs. Sarah Temple’s Teaching.” The Atlanta Constitution, February 14, 1913.
  5. “Atlanta’s Care for Her Deaf Children Is Certain to Bring Splendid Results.” The Atlanta Constitution, November 3, 1912.
  6. “State-Wide Movement Begins for Education of the Deaf.” The Atlanta Constitution, October 6, 1912.
  7. Jokinen, Markku. “Inclusive Education – A Sustainable Approach?” JSTOR. Gallaudet University Press, 2018.
  8. Linthicum, Tom. “$206,000 Allocated to Schools for Deaf.” The Atlanta Constitution, May 20, 1971.
  9. “Deaf School Registering Fall Classes.” The Atlanta Constitution, August 20, 1972.
  10. “School for the Deaf Adds Middle School.” Atlanta Daily World, August 26, 1975.
  11. Edmunds, Emma. “A Place Where Being Deaf Is a Normal Thing.” The Atlanta Constitution, January 4, 1979.
  12. Weaver, Kimberly A, and Thad Starner. “We Need to Communicate! Help Hearing Parents of Deaf Children Learn American Sign Language.” ERIC, October 24, 2010.
  13. Fleischer, Flavia, Rachel Friedman Narr, and Will Garrow. “Why Deaf Education Matters: Including Deaf Students with Disabilities.” Gallaudet University, 2020.
  14. Morris, Amanda. “The Student Body Is Deaf and Diverse. The School’s Leadership Is Neither.” The New York Times, October 26, 2021.
  15. Mirzoeff, Nicholas. “The Silent Mind: Learning from Deafness.” History Today. Accessed July 1992.