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Alexander Graham Bell, the Advocate

On March 3, as we mark Alexander Graham Bell’s 175th birthday and celebrate his accomplishments as an inventor, teacher, visionary and scientist, it is also a day to reflect upon his contributions to the scientific underpinnings of hearing and hearing loss.

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By Sara Grosvenor

While the invention of the telephone brought fame to Alexander Graham Bell, it was his lifelong dedication to improving the lives of those who are deaf or hard of hearing that brought him the most fulfillment. As a tireless crusader on behalf of individuals who are deaf, he encouraged their full involvement in society with the help of lip-reading, speech therapy and technologies that would ensure that any kind of impairment in hearing would never be a hurdle for living a full and vibrant life.

Beginning with the materials Bell collected from around the world, scholars have helped us now understand that we hear with our brain, and we access sound through our ears. As Bell prophesied in McClure’s Magazine in 1893:

“The brains of deaf people are usually in a perfectly healthy condition, and the only thing which prevents them from hearing is some defect in communication with the vibrating air. If their brains could be excited artificially in the same way that the brains of ordinary persons are excited by vibrations communicated through the various chambers and passages of the ear, then the deaf would hear in the same way that other persons do.”

Bell was clearly a progressive thinker and scientific visionary who hoped that those who were deaf could fully participate in life’s offerings. Bell would be mesmerized by today’s advances in hearing technology, including the development of high-quality, digital hearing aids and cochlear implants that make it possible for many people who are deaf or hard of hearing to listen and speak. As an advocate of equality and universal suffrage, he would be equally gratified to see the widespread recognition of the rights of individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing.

Bell’s most memorable “pupil” was Mabel Gardiner Hubbard, who had lost her hearing to scarlet fever at age five. Mabel’s father, a successful Boston patent attorney, hoped she could realize her potential as a vital member of the community and sought guidance from Bell on Mabel’s education. Years later, following finishing school in Europe, Mabel became Bell’s wife and went on to be a highly accomplished businesswomen who understood five languages.

Indeed, Mabel was one of the first women to form, invest in and manage an aviation company, while also founding numerous organizations to support women, particularly in advancing their own careers and financial independence. She also encouraged many of the scientific interests of her husband, including his continuing studies of sound and light, and her engagement in his interests ensured that theirs was a fruitful and fascinating partnership — a love story for the ages.

Both Alexander and Mabel Bell would be supportive of today’s technologies, which allow many people who are deaf or hard of hearing to hear and learn spoken language. They also would be strong advocates for modern technology and intervention methods, including early diagnosis through newborn screening, immediate access to modern hearing aids and/or cochlear implants, and early intervention with certified professionals, all of which have dramatically changed outcomes for people who are deaf and hard of hearing.

Since 1890, Bell’s vision continues to be carried forward by the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, the first organization of its kind to promote the use of listening and spoken language by children and adults who are deaf or hard of hearing. Bell had founded AG Bell to provide advanced education for teachers of spoken language and offer accreditation. He would be delighted to know that the AG Bell Academy now provides an international certification in Listening and Spoken Language for professionals.

Bell’s pioneering work, and his dedication to erasing barriers for individuals with hearing impairments, is an inspirational reminder of the role we each play in ensuring that communication – in every form – is shared by all.

Sara Grosvenor serves on the AG Bell Board of Directors. She is the great-granddaughter of Alexander and Mabel Bell and President of the Alexander & Mabel Bell Legacy Foundation.

Alexander Graham Bell, el defensor

El 3 de marzo, cuando se cumplen 175 años del nacimiento de Alexander Graham Bell y celebramos sus logros como inventor, maestro, visionario y científico, también es un día para reflexionar sobre sus contribuciones a los fundamentos científicos de la audición y la pérdida auditiva.

Si bien Alexander Graham Bell adquirió fama por la invención del teléfono, fue su dedicación continua a mejorar la vida de las personas con sordera o hipoacusia lo que le aportó la mayor satisfacción. Como incansable defensor de las personas con sordera, alentó su plena participación en la sociedad con la ayuda de la lectura de labios, la terapia del habla y las tecnologías que garanticen que ningún tipo de deficiencia auditiva sea nunca un obstáculo para vivir una vida plena y activa.

Comenzando con los materiales que Bell recopiló en todo el mundo, los académicos nos han ayudado a comprender que oímos con el cerebro y accedemos al sonido a través de los oídos. Tal como Bell profetizó en McClure’s Magazine en 1893:

«El cerebro de las personas con sordera suele estar en perfecto estado de salud y lo único que les impide oír es algún defecto en la comunicación con el aire vibratorio. Si su cerebro se pudiera excitar artificialmente, de la misma manera que el cerebro de las personas con una audición normal se excita mediante vibraciones comunicadas a través de las diversas cámaras y conductos del oído, las personas con sordera oirían de la misma manera que el resto de las personas».

Bell era claramente un pensador progresista y un científico visionario que deseaba que las personas con sordera pudieran participar plenamente en todo lo que la vida ofrece. A Bell le fascinarían los avances actuales en tecnología auditiva, incluido el desarrollo de los audífonos digitales de alta calidad y los implantes cocleares, que hacen posible que muchas personas con sordera o hipoacusia escuchen y hablen. Como defensor de la igualdad y el sufragio universal, estaría igualmente satisfecho del reconocimiento generalizado de los derechos de las personas con sordera e hipoacusia.

La «alumna» más memorable de Bell fue Mabel Gardiner Hubbard, que había perdido la audición a causa de la escarlatina a los cinco años. El padre de Mabel, un exitoso abogado de patentes de Boston, esperaba que su hija pudiera desarrollar su potencial como miembro vital de la comunidad y pidió consejo a Bell sobre su educación. Años más tarde, después de terminar sus estudios en Europa, Mabel se convertiría en la esposa de Bell y en una empresaria de gran éxito que entendía cinco idiomas.

De hecho, Mabel fue una de las primeras mujeres en crear, realizar inversiones y administrar una empresa de aviación, además de fundar numerosas organizaciones de apoyo a las mujeres, especialmente en el avance de su propia carrera profesional y su independencia económica. También alentó muchos de los intereses científicos de su esposo, incluidos sus estudios continuos sobre el sonido y la luz, y esta participación en sus intereses aseguró que la suya fuera una asociación fructífera y fascinante: una historia de amor para la eternidad.

Tanto Alexander como Mabel Bell apoyarían las tecnologías actuales que permiten que muchas personas con sordera o hipoacusia puedan oír y aprender el lenguaje hablado. También serían firmes defensores de la tecnología moderna y los métodos de intervención, incluido el diagnóstico temprano a través del cribado auditivo neonatal, el acceso inmediato a audífonos modernos y/o implantes cocleares, y la intervención temprana con profesionales certificados, lo que ha cambiado drásticamente las expectativas de las personas con sordera e hipoacusia.

Desde 1890, la visión de Bell continúa avanzando a través de la Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, la primera organización de este tipo que promueve el uso de la escucha y el lenguaje hablado por parte de los niños y adultos con sordera o hipoacusia. Bell fundó AG Bell para ofrecer una formación avanzada a los maestros del lenguaje hablado y facilitarles una acreditación. Le encantaría conocer que la AG Bell Academy ofrece actualmente una certificación internacional en Escucha y Lenguaje Hablado para profesionales.

El trabajo pionero de Bell y su dedicación para eliminar las barreras de las personas con una discapacidad auditiva es un recordatorio inspirador del papel que cada persona desempeña para garantizar que la comunicación, en todas sus formas, la compartan todas las personas.

Sara Grosvenor es miembro de la Junta Directiva de AG Bell. Es bisnieta de Alexander y Mabel Bell, y presidenta de la Alexander & Mabel Bell Legacy Foundation.

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