By Daniel J. Vance
In March 1988 I began a new job and daily commute from Baltimore to Washington D.C., little realizing that my eyes soon would be exposed to a vastly different world.
One day in on New York Avenue I noticed movement out my window. The driver and passenger next lane over were gesturing vigorously with arms and hands. They were deaf persons "signing," and seeing them would become a regular occurrence.
As I would learn, my new job in Washington D.C. was but blocks from 2,000-student Gallaudet University, which today defines itself as "the world's only university in which all programs and services are specifically designed to accommodate deaf and hard of hearing students."
The campus was in an uproar that March. The nation's media had swooped in. The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) was helping fuel a Gallaudet student protest called "Deaf President Now" to pressure the university's board into hiring a deaf president—instead of a "hearing" one.
Later reminiscing in an NAD newsletter about that protest, NAD executive Fred Weiner said, "This selection was bigger than just Gallaudet. Indeed, the choosing of a Gallaudet president had repercussions for all deaf Americans. The symbolism of a deaf person in that office would do more than anything to improve the lives of deaf people."
The board chose a "hearing" president instead, but she resigned following a week of student rebellion. That paved the way for the hiring of Dr. I. Jordan King, Gallaudet's first and only deaf president in 124 years. It was a turning point worldwide for deaf and hard of hearing people. One of their own had been entrusted with power.
Recently on the fifteenth anniversary of "Deaf President Now," I corresponded with Kelby N. Brick, NAD associate executive director. He said, "NAD played a critical role in "Deaf President Now," including issuing a call for a deaf president the year before. In the big picture, it was just one step in the disability civil rights movement—however, it was an important step in raising awareness of societal prejudice and discrimination. NAD has and always will work towards full participation in society for all deaf and hard of hearing individuals."
NAD is the nation's oldest and largest nonprofit representing the accessibility and civil rights of the nation's 28 million deaf and hard of hearing people.
[Contact Mr. Vance through www.danieljvance.com]