The history of deaf and hard of hearing Virginians encompasses a diversity of experiences. Some people are deaf or hard of hearing at birth; others become so later in life. The lives of deaf Virginians have been shaped by race, gender, class, enslaved status, and shifting norms around Deaf education and identity. This guide uses "deaf and hard of hearing" as a general term for people with hearing loss and "Deaf" for those who identify as members of Deaf communities.
The first school for deaf people in the United States was founded in Virginia. The Bolling family were white landowners with a history of congenital deafness. In 1812, they hired John Braidwood to tutor their deaf children, and from 1815 to 1816, Braidwood operated a Deaf school, the Cobbs school, on the Bolling's estate (known as Cobb Plantation) in what is now Chesterfield County.
After Braidwood's school closed, state-supported residential schools for deaf children began to open in United States. In 1839, the "Virginia Institution for the Deaf, Dumb, and Blind" opened in Staunton, enrolling white children who were deaf and/or blind. Racial integration of the Staunton school began in 1964 and was complete by the early 1970s. This school still operates as the Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind.
In 1909, a second residential school, the "Virginia State School for Colored Deaf and Blind Children" (also known as the "Virginia State School for the Negro Deaf and the Negro Blind"), opened to serve Black deaf and/or blind children in Hampton. After the school's racial integration in the early 1970s, it operated as the Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind at Hampton, and then later as the Virginia School for the Deaf, Blind and Multi-Disabled. This school closed in 2008.
Other organizations that have historically served deaf Virginians include the National Association of the Deaf, founded in 1880; the Virginia Association for the Deaf, founded in 1884; and the Virginia Council for the Deaf (later the Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing), a state agency established in 1972.
The following guides and collections can be used to research the history of institutions that have served deaf and hard of hearing people in Virginia, as well as laws that have affected services to deaf people.