Fortunately, in the sixteenth century, society's view of the deaf began to change.The Spanish monk Pedro Ponce de Leon established the world's first school for the deaf at the monastery of San Salvador near Madrid.He developed methods to teach reading, writing, and speaking to deaf members of nobility in order to prepare them to inherit money and property.
He also wrote textbooks on teaching deaf students using manual (sign) language.
De L'Eppe is credited with writing the first French sign language dictionary.
We will next consider whether a Deaf Mute can make a valid will.
Evidently, a person deprived of the control of his property during his lifetime, cannot consistently be permitted to alienate it from the legal heirs at his death. The English law would decide this question according to the actual intelligence manifested.
As this case was an important one, and seems to have been argued at much length, and carefully considered by the court, we will give an abstract of the points in which the judgment was founded:"The heirs have not denied that the characters which compose the material body of the document purporting to be the testament of Theresa Charlotte Lange were the work of her hand, but maintained that they could not be the work of her intelligence; hence that there was no occasion for a verification of the hand-writing, or for enquiring at whose charge such verification should be.""No provision of the law places the Deaf Mute in any exceptional case as to the capacity of making a will; he possesses the common rights of other men; and therefore can, like the generality of citizens, bequeath or give away property, provided he complies with the formalities exacted by law.""If in consequence of his infirmity, he cannot make a will by acte publique, he cannot, at least, when he knows how to write, when he can manifest his will in an unequivocal manner, contest his ability to make a holographic or a mystique testament; this is a point on which there is now no difficulty.""To be valid, the holographic testament must be written, dated and signed by the hand of the testator.""In ordinary language, and in the strict acceptation of the term, it is true that to write may be understood to trace on paper letters or characters, no regard being had to their signification.""But in the eyes of the law, and in its more extended acceptation, this expression has a very different sense; and it is evident that in a matter of such importance as making a will, to write most evidently cannot be understood of the purely mechanical act which consists in copying, instinctively or by imitation, characters that have been placed before one's eyes, and of which the copier does not know the use or meaning; that to know how to write is to be able at once to conceive, collect, arrange one's thoughts, put them in form and express them on paper by means of certain conventional characters; and consequently, it is much more an operation of the mind, a work of the intelligence, than a labor of the hand.""Whence it follows, that to know how to write in the true acceptation of the word, it is indispensable to know the significance of words, to comprehend the relations which they have, the objects and ideas which they represent; that thus to establish that an individual knows or knew how to write, it is not enough to produce a sample of characters placed one after another; this would only prove that he had been habituated to figure letters, or to draw; but it is necessary to prove that he has received, whether in a public institution or by the care of capable persons, the education necessary to attain this result; this is above all true when the question is of a Deaf Mute from birth, who, deprived of two organs, so essential as hearing and speech, whatever natural genius and capacity he might have otherwise, has so many difficulties to overcome in order to develop, or rather to form, to re-temper his intelligence.""When such a proof becomes necessary, it is without doubt incumbent on the party who would have the benefit of a writing attributed to a Deaf Mute; in this matter the general rule is, the state in which nature has placed the individual afflicted with dumbness and deafness; the exception is, the modification or amelioration wrought in that state: the presumption of law is, that the Deaf Mute is illiterate, and the fact to be proved, that he has been brought out of his ignorance by education—which is consequently to be proved by him who alleges this fact, or claims the exception.""Therese Charlotte Lange was born deaf and dumb.
Nothing offered in evidence shows her to have been, whether in youth or at a more advanced age, placed in an establishment consecrated to the special education of those unfortunate persons afflicted like her with this double and deplorable infirmity. Four witnesses, whose communications with the demoiselles Lange were frequent, were on this occasion called in to assist at this declaration in mimic language, and to interpret the signs by which they made known their resolutions; all these circumstances are such as to give a strong suspicion, in spite of the physical fact (fait materiel) of the apposition of the signature of Charlotte Lange at the bottom of the protestation, which was written, as is mentioned in the acte itself, by Rose Lange—that signs were the only means she knew to manifest her will or wishes.""From this epoch to that of her marriage in 1821, nothing is shown which could tend to invalidate this conclusion. Desportes, having offered a liberality of 12,000 francs to the defendant and legatee Hardy, the latter acquiesced in the judgment; a fact that induces a suspicion that the decision of the court was not considered altogether conclusive, and that there was some possibility of a different ruling by a higher tribunal; or at least doubt enough to encourage the defendant to prosecute an appeal, if not bought off.Historically, deaf people have been treated as though they were cognitively impaired, particularly if they signed or wrote rather than spoke in order to communicate with the hearing world.This probably stemmed from early theories linking intelligence with spoken language.A substantial number of the early students at the school came from Martha's Vineyard, which had an unusually large deaf population.The deaf population of Martha's Vineyard was a fully recognized part of the Vineyard community, and they had developed a local sign language.Since most early learning, as well as the transmission of cultural and traditional knowledge, was accomplished orally, persons who were deaf were excluded from educational opportunities by the prevailing culture.