Museum of Deaf History, Arts and Culture in Olathe, Kansas

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The Museum of Deaf History, Arts, and Culture documents the experiences of people in the Deaf community. The theme of fighting discrimination unites many varied exhibits ranging from the history of Deaf education to important achievements of noteworthy deaf individuals. The museum also features a small exhibition of works by deaf artists. 

Photographs and exhibits tell the story of America’s first deaf school, established in 1817, and the founding of Gallaudet University in 1864. American Sign Language (ASL) traces its origins to these schools. Inventor Alexander Graham Bell gets special attention because of his association with oralism, the belief that signing would prevent deaf children from learning to speak. He helped popularize the idea that lip reading and speaking were the best ways of integrating deaf and hearing people, persuading many schools to stop teaching sign language altogether. Signing almost died out as a result.

The museum’s collection contains hundreds of items documenting discriminatory practices aimed at Deaf people over time, and documents milestones in Deaf people’s fight for social justice and full rights. Among their archives is a landmark 1913 film: The Preservation of Sign Language. Created by Deaf activist and educator George W. Veditz, it took advantage of the new medium of film to sign a tribute to the history of this visual language, hoping to persuade hearing viewers of sign’s validity.

The museum also contains a small art gallery, described as “The first and only art gallery in the world solely focusing on De’VIA and Chuck Baird.” Kansas native Baird, a painter who also worked as a theater set designer, performer, and ASL storyteller, was one of the founders of De’VIA (Deaf View Image Art), a resistance art movement emphasizing the Deaf worldview.  

Started in 1988, the museum grew out of a collection of artifacts housed in the basement of the Kansas School for the Deaf across the street. After a campaign of many years, the museum opened in its own building in 2001.

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