Together with the schools for the deaf, deaf associations formed the foundation of the deaf community, helping pass on the deaf culture, traditions and values from one generation to the next.

It is thought that the first deaf associations were established in France. In the 1830s, a community was founded in Paris, which arranged annual festive dinners that attracted deaf people even from outside France. Gradually, deaf associations began to emerge in the course of the 19th century. In Finland, deaf people set up associations in the late 19th century and an umbrella organisation, the Finnish Association for the Deaf, was founded in 1905.

The goal of these associations was to improve the social situation of their members, but they also served as a place where deaf people could freely communicate in sign language. In the course of its century-long history, the Finnish Association for the Deaf has developed into a strong expert and advocacy organisation. It has carried out important work for equality and strengthening the status of sign language.