Our Lives – Our Stories: Life Experiences of Elderly Deaf People

Sign languages are non-written languages. Given that the use of digital media and video recordings in documenting sign languages started only some 30 years ago, the life stories of Deaf elderly signers born in the 1930s-1940s have – except for a few scattered fragments in film – not been documented and are therefore under serious threat of being lost. The chapters compiled in this volume document important aspects of past and present experiences of elderly Deaf signers across Europe, as well as in Israel and the United States. Issues addressed include (i) historical events and how they were experienced by Deaf people, (ii) issues of identity and independence, (iii) aspects of language change, (iv) experiences of suppression and discrimination. The stories shared by elderly signers reveal intriguing, yet hidden, aspects of Deaf life. On the negative side, these include experiences of the Deaf in Nazi Germany and occupied countries and harsh practices in educational settings, to name a few. On the positive side, there are stories of resilience and vivid memories of school years and social and professional life. In this way, the volume contributes in a significant way to the preservation of the cultural and linguistic heritage of Deaf communities and sheds light on lesser known aspects against an otherwise familiar background.


Roland Pfau, Aslı Göksel, and Jana Hosemann: Much more than a treasure: the life stories of elderly Deaf people

Part I: “For this experience, I am grateful to the elderly Deaf people”: Collecting and disseminating life stories

Jens-Michael Cramer and Markus Steinbach: Conducting interviews with elderly Deaf people: opportunities and challenges

Jana Hosemann and Markus Steinbach: Making the life stories of Deaf seniors visible: a students’ exhibition

Part II: “I found out that deaf people could do many things”: Issues of culture and identity

Luca Des Dorides and Rita Sala: Once upon a time: history and memory of Italian Deaf elderly signers

Aslı Göksel, Süleyman S. Taşçı, Buket Ela Demirel, Elvan Tamyürek Özparlak, Burcu Saral, and Hasan Dikyuva: Deafness in Turkey 1930–2020: administrative, social, and cultural aspects

Roland Pfau, Annemieke van Kampen, and Menno Harterink: Pink sign: identity challenges, choices, and changes among elderly Deaf homosexuals in the Netherlands

Part III: “Apparently, one could hear airplanes, but we knew nothing”: Deaf lives in times of conflict and oppression

Annika Mittelstädt and Jana Hosemann: Impairment vs. disability: The paradoxical situation of deaf people during the German Nazi Regime

Elisabeth Brockmann and Elena Kozelka: Forced sterilization of deaf people during the German Nazi Regime – a trauma and its compensations after 1945

Lisa Rombouts and Myriam Vermeerbergen: Surviving a war of silence: Deaf people in Flanders during the Second World War

Jordina Sánchez-Amat, Raquel Veiga Busto, Xavi Álvarez, Santiago Frigola, Delfina Aliaga, Miguel Ángel Sampedro, Gemma Barberà, and Josep Quer: The Francoist dictatorship through the Deaf lens

Part IV: “He signs like me, we are the same”: Linguistic and educational perspectives

Jami Fisher, Julie A. Hochgesang, Meredith Tamminga, and Robyn Miller: Uncovering the lived experiences of elderly Deaf Philadelphians

Rose Stamp, Svetlana Dachkovsky, and Wendy Sandler: Time will tell: time and discourse as ‘motion through space’ in early Israeli Sign Language (ISL)

Part V: “Goodbye, hearing world!”: Creating a safe environment for the elderly Deaf

Judith Reiff-de Groen and Peter van Veen: De Gelderhorst: a home full of signs

Anja Hiddinga and Research Collective ‘Beyond Hearing: Cultures Overlooked’ Growing old together: aging deaf people and the politics of belonging