Deaf Women Who Have Changed The World

Deaf Women Who Have Changed the World


There's two kinds of people: the ones who let obstacles become roadblocks, and the ones who use them as staircases. We want to highlight the following amazing, tenacious women who changed the world. They also just happen to be deaf.


Claudia L. Gordon

Claudia Gordon not only broke through the glass ceiling in American politics, she crushed it. Born in Jamaica, she endured discrimination and ridicule when she lost her hearing at age eight. Her education in Jamaica ended at that point, due to the school's belief that deafness would hinder her ability to learn. Claudia's mother decided to move the family to America when she witnessed a deaf woman in town (cruelly nicknamed "dummy") suffering constant harassment because of her hearing loss.

Claudia became the first deaf graduate of American University Washington College of Law, earning a Juris Doctorate. She also became the first black deaf female attorney in the U.S., with a long and impressive list of accomplishments including Policy Advisor for the Department of Homeland Security. She devotes her life to protecting the rights of disabled Americans against workplace discrimination, and credits this success to her mother who taught her that we should never become victims of our circumstances.


Helen Keller

Helen Keller became deaf and blind at 19 months from an illness believed to be Scarlet Fever. Although Helen did learn to speak, she often communicated by touch. She fingerspelled the alphabet in the palm of her hand, and lip-read by placing her fingers on the speaker's mouth.

Helen graduated from Radcliffe College, and devoted her life as an advocate for deaf and blind. She was a popular activist for the suffragette movement, helped remove disabled people from asylums, and raised funds for the American Foundation for the Blind.


Marlee Matlin

Marlee Matlin is one of the most famous deaf actresses in America, with a thriving career that spans over 30 years. Although she wasn't the first deaf actress, she was one of the first ones to bring deaf acting into the mainstream. In 1987, Marlee was the first deaf woman to win an Oscar for Best Actress, for Children of a Lesser God. Currently, Marlee Matlin plays the role of Melody Bledsoe in the television series Switched at Birth.

Marlee lost her hearing at 18 months. Because she had such difficulty fitting in with hearing kids, her family enrolled her in the Center on Deafness, where she developed an early passion for acting. She's a spokesperson for the National Captioning Institute, and helped pass a law requiring closed captioning in televisions.


Juliette Gordon Low

At age 51, Juliette Gordon Low became the Founder of the Girl Scouts in America. Inspired by the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides in Great Britain, she formed her first groups in her hometown of Savannah, Georgia. Juliette lost her hearing at age 25, as the result of injuries. For more than 100 years, her legacy has endured as a source of inspiration and empowerment for generations of girls. Today, there are 1.9 million Girl Scouts.


Mojo Mathers

Mojo Mathers is the first deaf New Zealand Parliament Member. Mojo was born in London, England in 1966, and lost her hearing due to complications during her difficult birth. After her hearing loss diagnosis at age 2, she wore a cumbersome listening device consisting of a large box with a harness. Fortunately, technology has greatly improved since then.

She fought for and won the funding for electronic note takers she needed in order to work in Parliament. She uses a laptop in the debating chamber, while people in another room transcribe what is said. Then the device converts the transcription into captions. Mojo is an advocate for employment and accessibility for disabled people, including captioning for 200,000 hearing impaired New Zealanders.


Mabel Hubbard Bell

A note on the back of an old photograph reads, "The girl for whom the telephone was invented." That girl was Mabel Hubbard Bell, the wife of Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone. When Mabel became deaf from Scarlet Fever at age five, her mother made the controversial decision to make sure she would speak rather than use sign language. She learned to speak and lip-read so well that she successfully mainstreamed with hearing children.

Mabel didn't let her deafness or her gender hold her back in the business world. She was a majority shareholder in the Bell Telephone Company, and invested $35,000 of her own money into the Aerial Experiment Association, an early innovator in flight technology.


In honor of Women's History Month, we wanted to raise awareness of deaf women who changed the world through their contributions to politics, activism, the arts, and empowering women of future generations.

- a the word changes contributor
Antoinette Rodney

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