Blind and Deaf Together: Cross-Disability Community at Virginia's Residential School for Black Disabled Youth


  • G. Jasper Conner Harrison Ruffin Tyler Department of History, William & Mary



African American, blind, cross-disability, deaf, residential school, sign language


Disability history has embraced the cultural model of Deafness which argues that residential schools fostered a common identity unified around the use of sign language. This article argues that this model was built on examinations of primarily (and exclusively) white institutions, resulting in scholarship that erases the distinct experiences of deaf African Americans. Cross-disability experiences were central to the lives of Black children at the Virginia State School, a residential school for deaf and blind African American youth. Far from a statistical outlier, the majority of Southern states used this cost saving measure to educate blind and deaf African Americans. Though not exclusively utilized for African Americans, the disproportionate use of combined schools reflects a Jim Crow approach to disability designed to reduce state expenditures at the cost of services rendered to the Black community. Relying on previously unused sources of the Virginia State School, including surviving records of administrators and a school bulletin with student contributors, this article explores a community where nearly every aspect of life involved cross-disability relationships. Oral histories with former students add to this narrative, revealing how young people who came to identify as culturally Deaf, communicated with partially blind students through sign language and with fully blind students through spoken English. This approach to deaf and blind education regularized cross-disability interactions among African Americans in Virginia, producing a community at the school defined by their categorization as disabled and Black, more so than by specific disabilities.




How to Cite

Conner, G. J. (2023). Blind and Deaf Together: Cross-Disability Community at Virginia’s Residential School for Black Disabled Youth. Disability Studies Quarterly, 43(1).



Section II: Revisitations, Revisions