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DeafBlind people are rarely totally deaf and totally blind. Each individual's degree of hearing and vision loss is unique.

You are here: Home > History > People

DeafBlind People in History

See also DeafBlind/Disability Community History, and Frequently Asked Questions about DeafBlindness.

If you would like to update or add to the information on this page, please use our Feedback Form.

Sanzan Tani (1802-1867)

Sanzan Tani became deaf as a child while growing up in Japan, and devoted most of his time to reading the great books. The more he learned, the more curious he became about the world. As an adult, Tani was known for his excellent knowledge and was awarded a prestigious teaching position by the government of Japan. He began to lose his eyesight, and became deafblind. Tani continued to teach about the great books, and communicated with his students through touch.

Source: Carroll, Cathryn & Mather, Susan M. (1997). Movers & Shakers: Deaf People Who Changed the World. San Diego: DawnSignPress.

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Julia Brace (1807-1884)

  • Laura Bridgman and Julia Brace
    Description: "Before Helen Keller, there [were] …deafblind children - who had also managed to accomplish quite a bit at a time when the odds were seemingly against them."
  • Julia Brace
    Description: Biographical article about Julia Brace. Here is an excerpt:
    The name of Laura Bridgman is remembered today as Dr. Howe's greatest teaching success, as well as for the indirect role her accomplishments played in opening the doors of education for the twentieth-century deaf-blind humanitarian, Helen Keller. That of Julia Brace is all but forgotten. Yet it was because of a visit to the Hartford Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb (now the American School for the Deaf), where Dr. Howe met Julia Brace, that he conceived a plan for the education of the deaf-blind and undertook the training of Laura Bridgman, Oliver Caswell, and eventually Julia Brace herself.

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Laura Bridgman (1829-1889)

  • profile on Laura Bridgman
    Description: A brief paragraph. Bridgman is known as the first deafblind person to be successfully educated, a accomplishment that lead to the education of Helen Keller.
  • Book: Child of the Silent Night
    Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Company; ISBN: 0395068355; (September 1963, with several recent reprints)
    Description: Written for people who read on a 4th-6th grade reading level. This book is much more accessible to children and non-native readers of English than the following books, which are more academic/adult-level.
  • Book: The Education of Laura Bridgman : First Deaf and Blind Person to Learn Language
    Publisher: Harvard University Press; ISBN: 0674005899; (May 2001)
    Description: "Laura's education became an experiment that [her teacher, Samuel Howe,] hoped would prove his own controversial ideas about the body, mind, and soul… [This book] is both a success story of how a sightless and soundless girl gained contact with an ever-widening world, and also a cautionary tale about the way moral crusades and scientific progress can compromise each other."
  • Book: The Imprisoned Guest: Samuel Howe and Laura Bridgman, the Original Deaf-Blind Girl
    Publisher: Publisher: Picador USA; ISBN: 0312420293; (August 2002)
    Description: "The resurrected story of a deaf-blind girl and the man who brought her out of silence. In 1837, Samuel Gridley Howe, director of Boston's Perkins Institution for the Blind, heard about a bright, deaf-blind seven-year-old, the daughter of New Hampshire farmers. At once he resolved to rescue her from the "darkness and silence of the tomb." And indeed, thanks to Howe and an extraordinary group of female teachers, Laura Bridgman learned to finger spell, to read raised letters, and to write legibly and even eloquently… [This book] retrieves Laura Bridgman's forgotten life, placing it in the context of nineteenth-century American social, intellectual, and cultural history."

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Helen Keller (1880-1968)

  • Braille Bug Helen Keller Biography
    Description: A short, illustrated biography written for kids. From American Foundation for the Blind, an organization to which Keller devoted over 40 years of her life.
  • Helen Keller Archival Collection
    Description: In her will, Helen Keller bequeathed her papers and memorabilia to the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB). The Helen Keller Archival Collection contains The Helen Keller Papers, The Helen Keller Artifacts and Memorabilia Collection, The Helen Keller Photograph Collection, and Books from Helen Keller's Library. All except the books are available online at no charge.
  • profile on Helen Keller
    Description: A brief summary of Keller's life.
  • The Truth About Helen Keller
    Description: "Children's books about Helen Keller distort her life." A review of several popular children's books about Keller, most of which leave out her long and empassioned adulthood as an activist for women and the poor. Includes a list of recommended resources.
  • The Socialist Legacy of Helen Keller
    Description: An introduction to Helen's adult political life, this document is the first part of the Helen Keller Reference Archive, maintained by the Marxists Internet Archive. The Reference Archive web site also includes a copy of Helen Keller's FBI file [in PDF file format].

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Robert (1925- ) and Michelle (1947- ) Smithdas

Robert Smithdas was born on June 7th in 1925. He became the first deaf-blind person in America to receive a master's degree, fifty years after another renowned deaf-blind advocate, Helen Keller, became the first deaf-blind person to receive a bachelor's degree. Smithdas ran Services for the Deaf-Blind at the Industrial Home for the Blind in New York as a director. He also published two works: Life at My Fingertips, an autobiography and City of the Heart, a collection of poetry. Smithdas went on to earn three honorary degrees, one from Gallaudet College, one from Western Michigan University and one from John Hopkins University in 1980.

Source: Gannon, Jack R. (1981). Deaf Heritage: A Narrative History of Deaf America. Maryland: National Association of the Deaf.

  • 20/20 Interview of Bob and Michelle Smithdas
    Description: Barbara Walters' "most memorable interview was "'a man I interviewed more than 25 years ago. He was a teacher and a poet, and the most inspirational person I have ever met. His name is Robert Smithdas.' Now, more than 30 years later, Walters revisits Smithdas, who is now married to a woman who, like him, is deaf and blind. She reports how they manage to live independently; cooking by touch, using teletype-style phones and computers, wearing pagers that vibrate to signal the ringing of the telephone or the doorbell."
  • Bob and Michelle Smithdas, Both Blind and Deaf, Lead Lives Full of Love, Work, Hobbies and Humor
    Description: The history and current lives of Robert and Michelle Smithdas.
  • Deafblind-related articles by Robert Smithdas
    Description: On this page you can search the DB-LINK Database for materials written by Robert and/or Michelle Smithdas.
  • Mystery of the Senses: Hearing
    Description: A NOVA program "explores what it is like to hear again after decades of deafness, as it follows Michelle Smithdas of the Helen Keller National Center, undergoing a cochlear implant to restore hearing." Video available for purchase from WGBH.

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John J. Boyer (1936- )

  • History of John J. Boyer and his company, Computers to Help People (CHPI)
    Description: "The founder and Executive Director, John J. Boyer, is himself both deaf and blind. He started the company in 1981 after earning a master's degree in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. His main duties are writing special software for people with disabilities, especially for the Technical Braille Center, business development and fundraising." This page chronicles Boyer's life and career.
  • Godtouches Internet Ministry
    Description: John J. Boyer is not only a computer programmer and business owner, but also a lay minister. This page describes his life, religion, and avocation.
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Danny Delcambre (1959- )

The deaf-blind community in Seattle is extraordinarily vibrant, with a strong sense of pride and independence. That is why Danny Delcambre moved there. Deaf from birth and steadily losing his sight, Danny suffers from Usher syndrome. The region in Louisiana he left behind has the highest concentration of Usher syndrome in the world. This program takes a sensitive look at this degenerative condition, as neurologist/author Oliver Sacks and Danny explore the nature of deaf culture and the marvelous richness of American Sign Language, which includes a sophisticated touch-based variation called tactile signing.

Source: "The Ragin’ Cajun: Usher Syndrome" Video, available from Films for the Humanities and Sciences.

  • DELCAMBRE'S Ragin Cajun Restaurant
    Description: The official web site of Delcambre's restaurant. (It recently closed, but this link fully describes the restaurant and its owner.)
    Description: Delcambre's personal web site Includes information about his services as a motivational speaker.
  • Danny Delcambre - If I Can, You Can
    Description: An article from DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking & Technology) at the University of Washington. "Danny Delcambre, the first Deaf-Blind founder and operator of a Seattle restaurant, gave an inspirational speech on his accomplishments… All of Danny's stories made for a very entertaining hour and a half… Danny made his fantastic speech in American Sign Language where most of the people in the room could only understand him through a voice interpreter."

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Last updated:  11/15/2003 10:25:57 AM

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