Integrated or excluded? The history of deaf people
Like other minorities, deaf people have been affected by welfare policies and the expansion of the welfare state in multiple ways, some beneficent, others more harmful and coercive. Our analysis questions and nuances the equation of disability and need for services with indigence and helplessness as it long dominated welfare practices.
Project description (ongoing research project)
Swiss deaf history is still in its very beginnings. We know little about how deaf people were affected by welfare practices in the past, and how practices and preconceptions differed regionally. It remains unknown which welfare measures were aimed at deaf people, and what effect they had on their psyche and life trajectories. The goal is to identify these areas, compare them to practices affecting other vulnerable groups targeted by welfare practices, such as people with physical or intellectual disabilities, analyse their impact on the present, and, together with our project partner SGB-FSS, identify focus areas for action, improvement and information distribution. Here, we will be sensitive to the particular linguistic diversity of spoken and signed languages in Switzerland, and to related cultural traditions since 1900.
Understanding long-standing mechanisms of welfare and coercion is a first step to improving current practices and establishing a sense of cooperation between organizations for deaf people and state and welfare agencies. Research on other minorities has shown that sensitizing professionals for their history as well as their needs and values significantly improves the quality of and access to services. It alerts professionals, for example, to the communication preferences of deaf people and need for professional interpreters.
Documenting Swiss practices of welfare and coercion concerning deaf people during the 20th century into the present is an important and neglected aspect of Swiss social and cultural history. It will lead to a better understanding of the relationship between the developing welfare state and Switzerland’s linguistic and ethnic minorities and people with disabilities. In doing so, we will contribute to current controversies about the future of the welfare state, social security, and the lives of people affected.
As the first large-scale and multi-year exploration of the effect of welfare on Swiss deaf people, our study will be a pioneering groundwork providing an overview and analysis of important archival holdings and materials. Pointing to gaps for further research, it will provide an important impetus for Swiss deaf and disability history and be an important resource for national and international research in this area.
Deaf people within the Swiss Mixed Economy of Welfare since 1900