As reported by The Guardian,  it's been known for some time that Bell stole the idea for the telephone from Antonio Meucci. And theft was far from the only sin on his docket. 

With the profits generated from his misbegotten invention, Bell became one of the earliest supporters of the oralism movement. First popularized in the United States around the late 1800s, oralism sought to throw sign language out the window and instead force D/deaf people to communicate in the same manner as hearing individuals. Instead of using sign language, D/deaf people were expected to communicate through a combination of lip reading, breathing exercises, and mimicry.

Per the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, this was profoundly harmful for a few reasons

  • It was based on false assumptions about hearing loss. Bell's mother developed age-related hearing loss, and because she was still able to speak, he simply assumed all D/deaf people could do the same. 
  • Bell himself believed D/deaf individuals to be 'defective' and even made forays into eugenics through his paper Memoir upon the Formation of a Deaf Variety of the Human Race
  • Oralism is based on an ableist ideal and ignores the fact that some D/deaf individuals simply cannot communicate through spoken language. 
  • Oralism itself was one of the factors that laid the groundwork for the audiocentric society we have today, contributing to attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that include: 
    • A severe lack of accessibility for the hard of hearing spans up to the highest levels of government.
    • The belief that sign language is inferior to speech. 
    • Schools that either force deaf children to learn through speech and/or hearing assistance devices. 
    • Treating hearing impaired individuals as a homogenous group, rather than acknowledging the vast spectrum of hearing disorders and the different levels of hearing loss. 
    • The notion that if a D/deaf person is unable to speak as a hearing person would, they simply aren't trying hard enough. 

For decades, Alexander Graham Bell was held up as a brilliant inventor, a genius without peer. While he may indeed have been intelligent, he was ultimately shortsighted, arrogant, and underhanded. From his theft of the telephone to his harmful beliefs about deafness, he was arguably the forefather of modern audiocentrism. 

It's only by recognizing Bell's misdeeds and the harm he caused that we can start to move forward. It's only by acknowledging the fact that oralism is an outdated, fundamentally ableist ideology that we can begin to tear down audiocentrism. And it's only by understanding the unique perspective and struggles of the hearing impaired that we can create a better, more inclusive society.