Deaf and vulnerable?


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December 2018




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De Veirman Sofie, and Isabelle Devos. “Tussen familie en instelling? Een analyse van de huishoudtrajecten van doven in Oost-Vlaanderen, 1750-1950.” Belgisch Tijdschrift voor Filologie en Geschiedenis/Revue Belge de Philologie et Histoire (“Between family and institution? An analysis of the household trajectories of deaf people in East Flanders, 1750-1950.” Belgian Journal of Philology and History) 95 (2017): 799–832. 


“Disability scholars assume a social segregation process for persons with disabilities in the nineteenth century. In pre-industrial times, disabled persons were considered the main responsibility of family and kin. When traditional kinship ties failed and individualism increased in the nineteenth century, the responsibility had to be taken over by institutions. Because of the difficulties in identifying people with an impairment in historical sources and the time-consuming nature of life course data collection this segregation hypothesis has never been empirically tested. Reconstructing the household trajectories of deaf men and women, we examine in this article the role of family in the lives of people with a disability and if this relationship changed during the nineteenth century. Based on our analyses, we argue that the nineteenth-century evolution from informal to formal care needs revision. Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth century, family continued to play an important role in the lives of deaf people. Moreover, co-resident deaf persons were not merely care receivers, but actively contributed to the family economy. The personal life stories of institutionalised deaf men and women suggest that institutionalization was to an important extent determined by the pool of available kin, and not necessarily the result of the unwillingness of family to take in a deaf relative. This article shows that the idea that deaf people – and by extension people with disabilities – were vulnerable by definition, at least with regard to their living situations and role within the household, needs revision.”