How Did Bell Help the Deaf and Hard of Hearing?

Black and White sketch of a hand used in teaching the deaf community.

Although he is best known as the inventor of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell actually devoted much more of this life to helping people who were deaf or hard of hearing, especially children.

Bell’s mother Eliza lost most of her hearing in the 1860s when Alec was a boy. He learned to speak close to her forehead so she could feel the vibrations of his voice and would serenade her on the piano as she sat with a hearing tube pressed against it, her face lighting up with pleasure at the sounds of music she could no longer hear otherwise.

Alec taught his first deaf children in 1868 at a London school run by Susanna E. Hull, and “was thus introduced to what proved to be my life-work – the teaching of speech to the deaf,” as he later recalled.

Bell developed innovative new methods for teaching the deaf and, after emigrating to Boston in 1870, was hired to instruct teachers at Miss Fuller’s School for Deaf Mutes. In the evenings he tutored adult deaf men without charge. His progress at the publicly funded Miss Fuller’s School was so successful that the Boston school superintendent observed in his annual report that results were “more than satisfactory; they are wonderful.”

Over his lifetime, Bell wrote nearly a thousand pages of essays about education of the deaf. He spoke at innumerable conferences and testified before committees, created and funded a national organization for teachers of the deaf, and in 1893 founded what is now the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (agbell.org), one of the world’s leading sources of assistance for the deaf.