The first known teacher of the Deaf was Pedro Ponce de Leon, a Spanish monk (early 1500s). He taught an 18-year-old Deaf son of a Mayor to say a few words. Deaf sons of rich people were able to ‘perform’ speech to gain inheritance, and also were able to overcome the stigma of producing abnormal children that existed within their social circles. These wealthy parents were willing to pay anyone who could make their Deaf children “normal”.
Pedro Ponce de Leon’s success encouraged further education techniques for the Deaf. He was followed by Manuel Ramirez de Carrion (late 1500s), the man who is seen as the inventor of speech training for Deaf people.
Carrion taught speech using a phonetic method, which involved pronouncing individual letters of the alphabet correctly. By associating individual letters with specific sounds, Carrion claimed that he could teach the Deaf to speak. The training in speech involved learning to make vowel sounds using a model tongue!
Another important figure around that time was Juan Pablo Martin Bonet. Bonet was the first to publish a method for educating the Deaf. According to this method, the Deaf were taught to read, write, and use the one-handed manual alphabet system.
The impact of the work of these great Spanish pioneers was felt throughout Europe, including the UK.