Today’s Doodle celebrates Deaf French educator and intellectual Ferdinand Berthier. He was one of the first advocates for Deaf culture in a time when those who had hearing differences were outcast by society. The artwork was designed by Paris-based Deaf guest artist Nicolas Combes.
Berthier was born in Saône-et-Loire, France on this day in 1803. As an eight-year old Deaf child, he started attending the National Institute for the Deaf in Paris. His parents hoped he would learn basic vocational and literacy skills to prepare him for a job as a tradesman. However, Berthier thrived in school and drew inspiration from his teachers (such as Laurent Clerc) to pursue a career in education. After further schooling, he returned to teach at the National Institute for the Deaf. By age 27, he became one of the school’s most senior professors.
In 1834, Berthier organized the first silent banquet for Deaf Frenchmen. In the following years, women, journalists, and government officials began to attend the annual event. Berthier also successfully petitioned the French government to create an organization that represented the Deaf community's interests. The Société Centrale des Sourds-muets was born. The first formalized group of its kind, it helped organize adult education classes and mutual aid efforts for people with Deafness.
After becoming a public figure through those initiatives, Berthier used his newfound fame to spotlight other inspiring Deaf people and teachings. He wrote books about the history of sign language and biographies about those who fought for Deaf rights, often referencing sign-language poets as authors in his work. Meanwhile, he pushed Société Centrale des Sourds-muets to become a global organization. In 1849, Berthier received the Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur — the first Deaf person to be awarded France’s highest honor.
Berthier remains one of the key activists for Deaf rights, and his efforts advanced education and perception of the deaf and hard-of-hearing community across Europe and America. Today, silent banquets are still held around the world.
Berthier's work also helped to raise awareness of the importance of sign language and Deaf culture, and to promote the use of sign language in Deaf education. As a result of the hard work and advocacy of Berthier, Deaf and hard of hearing people are now able to enjoy more of their human rights than ever before including access to medical care, and the right to drive vehicles.
Happy Birthday, Ferdinand Berthier!