Deaf Awareness: Week 2


Martha’s Vineyard – A Deaf Utopia

At one time Deaf Utopia did exist. It was an isolated island off the Massachusetts coast - Martha's Vineyard. Some early Vineyard settlers carried a gene for deafness (the first known deaf one was Jonathan Lambert, 1694), and over years of marriage, generation after generation was born with hearing loss. At one point, one in four children was born deaf! There were so many deaf people on the Vineyard (most deaf lived in Chilmark) that residents developed a sign language, Martha's Vineyard Sign Language (MVSL).

Martha's Vineyard Sign Language (MVSL) was a village sign language once widely used on the island of Martha's Vineyard by both deaf and hearing people in the community; consequently, deafness did not become a barrier to participation in public life. Sign language was so accepted on the Vineyard that a newspaper marveled in 1895 at the way the spoken and signed languages were used so freely and easily by both deaf and hearing residents. People moving to Chilmark had to learn sign language in order to live in the community. Deafness was so common that it was never considered to be a handicap. In Martha’s Vineyard, the deaf were considered equals, not second-class citizens, as many Deaf people today feel. No one considered deafness a disability, which is contrary to how deafness has historically been viewed throughout the world.

Martha's Vineyard Sign Language is mostly dead today, but it has an important legacy. In the early 19th century, children from the island brought their language to America's first school for the deaf, where it mingled with French Sign Language and other colloquial home sign traditions creating much of the uniquely beautiful American Sign Language that exists today.

Deaf History: Martha’s Vineyard                                                                                    

Martha's Vineyard: Birthplace of American Deaf culture

Martha’s Vineyard: A History of Deaf Equality on a Little Island

Martha’s Vineyard – Utopian Society


 ASD_school _graphic _V2

 The Beginning of Deaf Education

American School for the Deaf, the oldest existing school for the deaf in America opened in Bennett's City Hotel in Connecticut on April 15, 1817.  The reason behind its founding was the fact that Alice Cogswell, the daughter of a wealthy local surgeon, was deafened in childhood by fever.  One day, Gallaudet observed Alice's attempts to communicate with her siblings and the neighborhood children at play. Although not trained to teach deaf children, Gallaudet convincingly demonstrated that Alice could learn and should be afforded the opportunity to attend school.

Alice’s father prevailed upon the young Gallaudet to help. Cogswell and nine other citizens decided that the known 84 deaf children in New England needed appropriate facilities. However, competent teachers could not be found, so they sent Gallaudet in 1815 on a tour of Europe, where deaf education was a much more developed there. In Paris, at the famous school for the Deaf in Paris, Gallaudet successfully recruited Laurent Clerc.  

Laurent Clerc worked closely with Gallaudet, but there was not sufficient time for Gallaudet to master all of the techniques and manual communication skills before his diminishing funds forced him to return to America. Gallaudet convinced Laurent Clerc to accompany him on the return trip to America to establish an American School. In the fifty-five days of the return voyage, Gallaudet learned the language of signs from Clerc, and Clerc learned English from Gallaudet.

On the strength of Clerc's reputation, the ASD was incorporated as the "American Asylum for Deaf-mutes" in May 1816. When it opened in 1817, there were seven students enrolled: Alice Cogswell, George Loring, Wilson Whiton, Abigail Dillingham, Otis Waters, John Brewster, and Nancy Orr. The original name of the school was: The Connecticut Asylum (at Hartford) for the Education and Instruction of Deaf and Dumb Persons.

Gallaudet was principal until 1830. His son followed in his legacy, establishing Gallaudet University, which followed the ASD's lead and taught students primarily in American Sign Language (derived from the methodical signs and Parisian sign language of the French Institute for the Deaf).

As a result of its pivotal role in American deaf history, it also hosts a museum containing numerous rare and old items. While it is situated on a 54-acre campus, the ASD has a small enrollment — in its history; more than four thousand alumni have claimed this historic school as their alma mater.

American School for the Deaf: A Brief History of ASD

Wikipedia: American School for the Deaf



Deaf President Now

In March 1988, Gallaudet University experienced a watershed event that led to the appointment of the 124-year-old university's first deaf president. Since then, Deaf President Now (DPN), a student-led protest, has become synonymous with self-determination and empowerment for deaf and hard of hearing people everywhere. DPN was more than a protest. It also was a unique coming together of Gallaudet students, faculty and staff with the national deaf community—all bound by clear and defined goals.

It was believed that the time had come for a deaf person to run the world's only university for deaf and hard of hearing students. When this didn't happen, the result was a protest whose effects are still reverberating around the world today. DPN was remarkable not only for its clear sense of purpose, cohesiveness, speed, and depth of feeling, but also for its ability to remove the barriers and erase the lines that previously separated the deaf and hearing communities. In addition, it raised the nation's consciousness of the rights and abilities of deaf and hard of hearing people.

March 1, 1988 was a crucial date in the history of DPN. It was the day of the first fully organized rally, the event that inspired many students to join the movement. For some, it was the first time they had even learned what the protest was all about and what it would mean for them to have a deaf president. In their flyers, organizers likened the protest to a civil rights movement, drawing parallels between the deaf community and other minority groups.

More than 1,000 University students, elementary and high school students from the University's Pre-College Programs, staff, faculty, alumni, and members from the local deaf community participated in the rally. It was a traveling rally, moving from the football field, to the elementary school, the largest classroom building, president's home, and ending at the statue of the first president of the University, Edward Miner Gallaudet. Those in attendance were treated to motivating and mobilizing speeches by various deaf leaders.

During the next four days, a flurry of activity occurred. Students began camping out in tents on the lawn of the president's home, the president of the Student Body Government, Greg Hlibok, wrote Zinser a letter asking her to withdraw her candidacy, and the NAD and the GUAA sent information out to their constituents about the successful rally. Also, a television reporter and crew arrived on campus after learning about the students camping out and about the several hundred students who briefly blocked traffic on Florida Avenue, the main street that borders the south side of the campus.

On Saturday, March 5, 1988, the Gallaudet Board of Trustees met at a hotel downtown to interview both Zinser and Jordan. Corson was interviewed on Sunday morning. The Board was scheduled to vote and announce their selection of the next president of the university at eight o'clock on Sunday evening. However, things didn't quite go as they had been planned...

The spark that ignited DPN was the announcement on March 6, 1988, by the University's Board of Trustees that a hearing person had been selected as Gallaudet's seventh president. In the months—or by some accounts, the years—leading up this date, many in the deaf community and on campus had advocated for a deaf person to be named to the presidency. After all, by then there were more than 100 deaf people with doctorates, and many more that held administrative positions. Because of this, and because two of the three finalists for the position were deaf, many people were confident that the next president of Gallaudet would be a deaf person.

However, in spite of all the evidence and support, the Board chose the lone hearing candidate, Elisabeth A. Zinser. Unhappy with this decision, Gallaudet students, backed by a number of alumni, staff, and faculty, shut down the campus.

The students and their backers then presented the Board of Trustees with four demands:

  1. Elisabeth Zinser must resign and a deaf person selected president;
  2. Jane Spilman must step down as chairperson of the Board of Trustees;
  3. Deaf people must constitute a 51% majority on the Board; and
  4. There would no reprisals against any student or employee involved in the protest.

By the end of the week, the students ended their protest and proclaimed victory. All of their demands had been met and Dr. I. King Jordan was named the Gallaudet's eighth—and first—deaf president.

Gallaudet: Deaf President Now

Deaf President Now: The Week of DPN...

The History Behind DPN: What Happened...

DPN: The Issues



The Implementation of the ADA

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990(ADA) is a law that was enacted by the U.S. Congress in 1990. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) authored the bill and was its chief sponsor in the Senate. Harkin delivered part of his introduction speech in sign language so his deaf brother could understand. It was signed into law on July 26, 1990, by President George H. W. Bush, and later amended with changes effective January 1, 2009

The ADA is a wide-ranging civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability. It affords similar protections against discrimination to Americans with disabilities as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which made discrimination based on race, religion, sex, national origin, and other characteristics illegal. However, unlike the Civil Rights Act, the ADA also requires covered employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities, and imposes accessibility requirements on public accommodations.Disability is defined by the ADA as "...a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity." The determination of whether any particular condition is considered a disability is made on a case by case basis. Certain specific conditions are excluded as disabilities.

On September 25, 2008, President George W. Bush signed the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) into law. The amendment broadened the definition of "disability," thereby extending the ADA's protections to a greater number of people.

There are five titles under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA): 

Title I – Employment

Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to private employers and state or local governments as employers.  ADA Title I prohibit employers, employment agencies, labor unions and joint labor-management committees from discriminating against persons with disabilities.  Title I applies only to employers with 15 or more employees.

Title II – State and Local Governments

Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires state and local governments to make their programs, services, and activities accessible to individuals with disabilities, including individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.

  •  courts, schools, social service agencies,  hospitals, legislatures, commissions and councils, recreational facilities, libraries, and state/county/city departments and agencies of all kinds.
  • health care providers, hospitals and other health care facilities, police and law enforcement, state and local courts, and jails and prisons.

Title III – Public Accommodations (Businesses)

Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires businesses open to the public to ensure that individuals with a disability have equal access to all that the businesses have to offer.  It covers both profit and non-profit organizations.  Unlike the employment section of the ADA,  Title III applies to all businesses, regardless of size.

  •  Retail stores and the wide range of  service businesses such as hotels, theaters, restaurants, doctors' and lawyers' offices, optometrists, dentists, banks, insurance agencies,  museums, parks, libraries, day care centers, recreational programs, social service agencies, and private schools.      

Title IV – Telecommunications Relay Services

Title IV of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 mandated a nationwide system of telecommunications relay services to make the telephone network accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing or who have speech impairments. Title IV of the ADA added Section 225 to the Communications Act of 1934.

Title V – Miscellaneous Provisions

Title V of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) contains provisions that are not covered in other parts of the ADA. 

Wikipedia: American with Disabilities Act of 1990