The Ears Have It
Time Machine
Posted: January 01, 2024
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    Gallaudet head coach Chuck Goldstein, right, uses American Sign Language during a football game on October 7, 2023, in Washington, D.C. Years ago, Gallaudet players invented the huddle. (AP/Stephanie Scarbrough)
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    A woman uses an ear trumpet. (Getty Images)
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    An akouphone (Fallsofsound.com)
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    A text telephone (Public domain)
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    A girl wears a cochlear implant. (Michael Matthey/picture-alliance/dpa/AP)
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Gallaudet has been playing football—and innovating—for a long time. (To innovate means to do something differently.)

It started with a pastor named Dr. Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet in 1814. Dr. Gallaudet’s neighbor had a deaf daughter named Alice. She couldn’t speak, but she was smart. Dr. Gallaudet wanted to teach her to communicate. After learning how Europeans taught deaf people, he helped co-found the first American school for the Deaf. American Sign Language started at his school. His son started the school that would become Gallaudet University.

But that was just the beginning. Just over a decade after Gallaudet’s football team formed, a Bison quarterback made a suggestion:

What if the players crowded together? That way, other Deaf teams wouldn’t be able to see their ASL signals . . . and steal them. The famous football huddle was born.

Another lightbulb from the Bison: In 1970, the school replaced whistles with a drum. Genius! Deaf players could feel the vibrations.

Hearing through History:

Do you know someone who needs help with hearing? Let’s go back in time. What other innovations have helped the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community?

17th Century: Ear trumpets. You may have seen these oddities in an old movie. They made sounds louder. But they had to be held up all the time . . . which got tiring!

1880s: Electrical hearing aid. First came the microphone and telephone. Hearing aid inventors studied them. Then those inventors came up with sound-amplifying technology. The first was a box with headphones. It was called the “Akouphone.”

1940s: Movie captions. Silent film actor Emerson Romero had an idea for the first technique to provide captions for sound films. Finally, people who were deaf and hard of hearing could enjoy the movies too.

1964: Text telephone. Robert Weitbrecht invented this marvel. He was born deaf and struggled to learn to talk. A text telephone works like this: Type a message. Beeps are sent through a phone line. On the other end, another phone translates those beeps into text.

1960s Cochlear implant. A cochlear implant is a device that attaches to nerves inside the ear. It is placed during surgery. It can help even a person with major hearing loss begin to understand spoken words.

For more about how deaf people feel sound, see Listen: How Evelyn Glennie, a Deaf Girl, Changed Percussion by Shannon Stocker in our Recommended Reading.