The “Deaf President Now” Movement
When they hear “civil rights advocacy,” most people think of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his peaceful protests for African American equality. However, the civil rights struggle extends to all marginalized groups, including disabled people’s communities. The Deaf community has a long history of advocacy work, such as its late-1980s activities referred to as the “Deaf President Now” movement. Throughout such efforts, interpreters for the Deaf have played a vital role.
Organizations and individuals in and around Washington, DC, can turn to HIS Sign Interpreting for affordable rates on qualified and experienced interpreting services. We offer onsite and virtual ASL interpreting, TypeWell, and CART services to schools, government agencies, commercial businesses, and more. Additionally, we work with nationwide movements to empower the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (HoH) communities. To request an interpreter, visit our website or call (877) 458-7408 today.
Below, we discuss the “Deaf President Now” movement and its lasting impact on the disability rights movement:
The History Behind Gallaudet
Gallaudet University is the world’s only university with all programs and services designed specifically for Deaf and Hard of Hearing communities. Yet from its inception in 1864 until 1988, the University’s presidents were all Hearing individuals. This situation called for rectification to fulfill a need for representation of marginalized communities and stimulate their growth and feelings of solidarity.
In 1988, a new University president was to be selected. Gallaudet’s board of trustees nominated three people for the role: I. King Jordan, Harvey Corson, and Elisabeth Zinser. Significantly, Zinser was the only Hearing candidate; also, she lacked proficiency in sign language and knowledge about Deaf culture. Regardless, the board appointed Zinser to the presidency on March 6 of that year.
The “Deaf President Now” Movement
After their initial confusion and opposition, Gallaudet students reacted to Zinser’s appointment by marching to the Mayflower Hotel in DC—where the University board was holding a press conference—and then the United States Capitol. They brought a list of demands to both places:
- No reprisals
- The resignation of Zinser
- The resignation of Jane Bassett Spilman, the Hearing chair of the Board of Trustees
- The creation of a new board of trustees with a majority Deaf population
- The appointment of a Deaf president
They campaigned on this platform with weeks of rallies, marches, speeches, and media coverage. At last, the board capitulated to their demands, appointing I. King Jordan as the new president of Gallaudet University and leader of the disability rights movement. These events culminated in the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
The Impact Today
This series of events became what is now known as the “Deaf President Now” movement. Today, it testifies to the Deaf community’s power to enact change and establish its rights. Moreover, the movement mobilized activists to fight the stigma against the Deaf community.
The campaign to appoint the first Deaf president in higher education was not just about university leadership but also about claiming a spot at the table for Deaf people. It was a conquest over ignorance and prejudice. The “Deaf President Now” movement isn’t just a disability rights movement—it’s an American Civil Rights story that should be shared and remembered.
Discover Affordable Interpreters for the Deaf in Washington, DC
Through HIS Sign, residents in and around Washington, DC, can benefit from our wide range of interpreters for the Deaf and CART services. We see the “Deaf President Now” movement as a stellar example of a marginalized community taking control of its story and effecting change. Moreover, we work with the disability rights movement to continue building bridges for the Deaf community. To learn more about our ASL services, contact us at (877) 458-7408.