Paper Matters Blog
Making the News: Celebrating Deaf History Through Paper

A few weeks ago, we shared how paper has helped preserve Deaf history at the Cogswell Heritage House as part of our celebration of Deaf History Month (Mar. 13 – Apr. 15). The Deaf community has a rich and detailed past, and through the original journals, workbooks and other artifacts, we are able to see how the American School for the Deaf came to be and how Deaf education has evolved since. Now, in the second half of Deaf History Month, we want to share how the Deaf community has helped preserve paper. From The Silent Worker to The Washington Post, deaf persons have left an indelible imprint on newspapers, and the paper industry, for centuries.

Turning on the Lights

In an interview with The Washington Post, Jan DeLap, a woman who worked at The Post for 27 years before becoming a certified deaf interpreter, described her time walking through the paper’s darkrooms, trying to work without exposing developing photos, and said “Imagine trying to do sign language in complete darkness.” We’d have to think that signing without light is not unlike trying to carry on a conversation with earmuffs on, or staying up to date on the daily news without a newspaper—you’re left in the dark. Newspapers serve to inform, interpret and entertain their local or national audience. They help readers stay informed by providing them with facts, statistics and opinion columns, but they often serve a specific community. Long before The Washington Post’s article on how the Deaf community helped build their paper, Deaf-run newspapers were born and nurtured, and soon came to support their community, much like the The Post itself.

The first official publication from the deaf community was a journal, not a newspaper, titled the “American Annals of the Deaf.” First published in 1847, it is the oldest and most widely read English-language journal dealing with deafness and fostered a sense of familiarity and community among Deaf persons that led to the establishment of the National Association of the Deaf (NAD)., Following “The American Annals of the Deaf,” The Silent Worker (1969) became the first Deaf newspaper, produced by the New Jersey School for the Deaf and the first nationally distributed publication of the NAD. The paper not only offered practical and political news in articles covering deaf rights, accessibility issues, and success stories, but it also paved the way for other Deaf publications to follow. The Oregon Outlook (1988) was part of the Gallaudet “little paper family” network, alongside The Silent Worker, and was published by students at the Oregon School for the Deaf; The Buff and Blue (1892), the school newspaper for Gallaudet University, is even older than both The Silent Worker and The Oregon Outlook, although its current incarnation is a website that provides content covering current events occurring both on and off campus, as well as news relating to the Deaf community. No longer would the Deaf community “sign in the dark.” Through local and national publications, they were able to stay informed about the news that affected their community and the people that were invested in their lives.

The Deaf have started countless publications that serve their community and have been mainstays for over a hundred years, but they’ve also lent a helping hand to a few newspapers that may be a little more familiar.

Making the News

The Washington Post is the most-widely circulated newspaper within the Washington metropolitan area and has a large national audience. Its first issue was 1877, thirty years after “The American Annals of the Deaf” and fifteen before The Buff and Blue, and during the 20th century, Deaf persons would come to work at The Post and help build its legacy through print.

Steve Moore, a Post veteran of over thirty years shared that “Schools for the Deaf encouraged students to work in certain fields”—one of those fields was the print industry. Deaf employees at the post were there to watch hot type bow to the advent of cold type, which was ultimately replaced by computers through pagination. The Post writes that during a reunion of around a dozen retired deaf Post employees, they had over three-hundred years of print experience. These were alums who had a hand in protesting the hire of a hearing person as president of Gallaudet University, coworkers who ensured that the newspaper was ready to print and run each and every day, friends who played practical jokes on each other that kept the workplace fun. Their presence at The Washington Post was a blessing to peers at the paper who could hear, and their audience across the nation that read their work, and the Deaf community at large has more earned the right for their history to be well-known.

In our last article on Deaf history, we wrote about Gallaudet University’s impact as the first school for the Deaf; at the beginning of this article, we shared how the university was part of a “little paper family” of newspapers for the Deaf that supported each other; and at the end, we’d detailed how they reached out and made an impact on The Washington Post as well. Deaf History Month runs from April 13 through March 15, but we see and enjoy the contributions of the Deaf community year-round. Domtar is happy to provide these glimpses into Deaf History and we hope you’ll stay for a longer look.

For more on deaf printers, visit the Schuchman Deaf Documentary Center. And for more articles like this, subscribe to Paper Matters Magazine or visit our blog.

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