How many deaf people are there in Alabama?

I was reading American Profile magazine and they had a short blip about Louise Fletcher who played Nurse Ratched in the movie “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”.

Nothing that I was overly interested in until I read this (bolding mine):

Fletcher’s father founded more than 40 churches for the deaf in Alabama.
Are there that many deaf people in Alabama alone that they need that many churches for them all? That seems like a lot to me.

What’s the straight dope?

According to this website:

there are 199,230 deaf people in Alabama out of a total population of 4,574,185, giving a deaf percentage of 4.36%, compared to a national average of 3.48%.

That works out to almost 5,000 deaf people for each of the 40 churches.

Of course, the numbers would have probably been a little smaller when the churches were founded. But yes, there are many more than enough deaf people for all those churches.

And yes, I am surprised at how many deaf people there are. Note, however, that these numbers are estimates, and they include people who are only mildly hearing impaired, so not all of them would find a “deaf church” necessary or appropriate.

Before hearing aids were common, hard of hearing kids were counted as “deaf” and would often attend Deaf Schools. So that boosts up the numbers a bit.

No kidding, that’s a lot of deaf people. I know lots of people who are hard of hearing because of too much loud rock and roll, but I don’t know anyone who is deaf.

I suspect that each of those churches is not one just for deaf people. I suspect that what is actually meant is that they each have a Sunday service where the entire service (including the sermon) is interpreted by a sign language interpreter standing next to the minister. This allows a family (or a group of friends) to all attend the same service when one of them is deaf or hard of hearing.

That doesn’t mean much. Many deaf people end up mostly making friends with other deaf people, and end up getting jobs within the deaf community. It’s partly because of self-selection, and partly because hearing people feel uncomfortable interacting with deaf people. It’s just *easier *for a deaf person to make friends with other deaf people: they understand what it’s like, they know sign language, they don’t get frustrated because they can’t talk to you when your back is turned, and they don’t ask you stupid questions like “How do you get up in the morning if you can’t hear the alarm clock!?”

That’s startling. That would mean that in this town of (roughly) 100,000 people, there are 3,480 deaf people. Assume that 30% of them are church-going Christians (a safe assumption 'round here, I think), that means that there are 1,044 deaf Christians in Springfield. I’ve been to services in at least a dozen churches in this city, and I’ve never seen one that had any [visible] accommodations for the deaf (such as an interpreter). Mine certainly doesn’t.

I would not assume this. We are talking about a couple generations ago, when founding a church basically meant gathering enough funds for a very basic building (no HVAC, no plumbing, maybe no electricity) and not much else. Churches were often tiny ,and the minister a guy with a job that paid the bills. The churches-per-capita in Alabama, especially 50 years ago, is shockingly high. These tiny little churches would only have one service. You could found 40 churches for the deaf and not a one of them serve more than 50 people.

I now find something suspicious about this whole story. Louise Fletcher’s father, Robert Fletcher, was an Episcopalian priest (and was deaf himself). I had assumed that maybe he was a deaf activist who helped other people start deaf congregations and/or deaf services of various denominations. But if he was an Episcopalian priest, he would have presumably been starting only Episcopalian ones. Forty or so such churches would have presumably meant that he spent his entire career on one-year assignments consisting of starting one congregation, getting it up to speed so that other people could then take over, and immediately moving on to the next congregation.

This is a little hard to believe. You know, news stories about movie people often contain exaggerations. These exaggerations don’t get examined because people writing about Hollywood often have a loose attitude towards facts. Can anyone give me a citation for Robert Fletcher having started more than forty congregations or services for deaf people that’s not from movie news sources (or something like Wikipedia, which might copy a movie news source without checking)? A list of the churches he founded would be nice, for instance. Look, I’ve read the news stories I can find by Googling. Really I have. I’d like a citation that’s closer to the source.

Deaf Culture. :slight_smile:
Arkansas has a higher percentage of deaf people than Alabama, I see.

I don’t know what the percentage is, but many of the students at the Deaf School here are not totally deaf.

For those of you who are surprised at the number of the deaf in Alabama, keep in mind that the 199,230 appears to include all age groups, so that a substantial percentage of the deaf are going to be elderly people who have lost their hearing with age and do not consider themselves to be culturally deaf. In my experience, the majority of old folks who become severely hard of hearing do not learn sign language (however, it’s certainly nice for them to have the option, and maybe more churches or programs for seniors should offer classes or something).