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Alexander Graham Bell's design sketch of the telephone, ca. 1876.

[Detail] Alexander Graham Bell's design sketch of the telephone

Assisting the Deaf: Visible Speech

Bell and his father, Alexander Melville Bell were innovators in the field of educating the deaf. Students can use the documents of Alexander Graham Bell Family Papersto learn about Visible Speech, a technique invented by Melville Bell. Search on visible speech to read the Bells' thoughts on this method of instruction and the evolving interest in and use of this technique.

Students will discover in the letters that Bell was not as totally committed to Visible Speech as was his father. In a letter to Gardiner Greene Hubbard, his future father-in-law, Bell confessed that he had some concerns with the system but explained that he felt the need to respect his father's life-long commitment to the system.

  • What were Bell's concerns with this method of instruction?
  • What alternative approaches and improvements did he suggest?
  • How might this critical thinking have helped Bell in his later accomplishments?

Students can research what techniques are used today in educating the deaf.

  • Is there still a need for visible speech?
  • Has this technique been out-moded?
  • How have advances in technology changed life for the deaf?
  • Students can continue their consideration of inventions by discussing what inventions they have seen come and go in their life time? What factors contribute to the replacement of one technology with another?

Helen Keller, a deaf and blind girl, met Bell at the age of six after her family sought Bell's advice regarding her education. He led them to Miss Annie Sullivan who taught Helen to communicate. Search on Helen Keller for Bell's correspondence with the student and her teacher. In his letter of May 2, 1888, Bell wrote to thank "My dear little Helen" for the letter she had written him. Bell expressed a great interest in Helen Keller's accomplishments.

  • How did Sullivan work with Helen Keller?
  • What did Keller express to Bell in her letters?
  • Later in life, what request did Keller make of Bell?