The Deaf President Movement

Senator Tom HarkinDear ABILITY readers,

Twenty-five years ago, Gallaudet University, the premier institution of higher education for deaf Americans, passed over two qualified deaf candidates to appoint a hearing person as the school’s new president.

The students at the Washington, DC based institution were driven to act. They marched, called on Congress, and protested not only the appointment of the new hearing president, but also the implication that deaf people were not suited for such a prestigious and challenging position. The students demanded a Deaf President Now (DPN). Their outcry grew into a movement.

Just one week after the first student protest march, Gallaudet reversed course and appointed Dr. I. King Jordan to be the first deaf president of the school. It was a victory for Gallaudet students, of course, but also for Americans with disabilities who continue to benefit from the courage those students displayed.

In his acceptance speech Jordan said, “We can no longer accept limits on what we can achieve.” His presidency showed hearing people what individuals who are deaf are capable of, while bringing the rights of the this community to the forefront.

The dispute at Gallaudet attracted worldwide attention to the struggle for civil rights being championed by people with disabilities, and laid important groundwork for the subsequent passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which I authored. I believe that DPN was a “Rosa Parks” moment for the disability movement. It was a high profile testament to the power of individuals to put an end to longstanding practices of discrimination.

I recently introduced two bills—timed to coincide with this momentous 25th anniversary—that will further the work started by those brave students at Gallaudet. First, the CINEMA Act would require movie theaters with two or more screens to make captioning and video description available for all movies, upon request. The second bill, the Air Carrier Access Amendments Act, would require that captioning and video description be made available for all in-flight entertainment, given that access to news and entertainment are important facets of our lives.

There is still much work to be done to move disability rights forward. For instance, five times more Americans with disabilities lost their jobs during the recent recession than workers without disabilities.

We have a long way to go

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both to eliminate discrimination and to promote employment for people with disabilities in jobs that are equal to their talents and skills. I continue to look at what states are doing to comply with their obligations to offer long term support and services in integrated settings, while examining what we can do to promote strategies that help individuals with disabilities receive critical services in their communities.

As we continue this struggle together, I am inspired by the memory of the DPN movement and committed to ensuring that all Americans enjoy equal rights.

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Senator Harkin

Senator Tom Harkin

Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) is Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee

Articles in the Andy Madadian Issue; Senator Harkin — The Deaf President Movemen; Ashley Fiolek — From Pigging Out to Nutrition Classes; Humor — Part II of the “Greek Geek” Adventure; Candida — The Hands She Was Dealt; Derek Paravicini — He’s Got the Keys to the World; Geri Jewell — Next Exit, Joy; Seizure Dog — She Nose When; Long Haul Paul — What the Farkle?; China — Wang Kun Overcoming Obstacles for Art; Sharjah’s — Sheikha Jameela bint Mohammed Al Qasimi; Accountability — Employing People with Disabilities; ANDY — Music + Charity = Millions of Fans; QJMC — Team Quincy Jones Spreading Music’s Roots; Morgan’s Wonderland — An Accessible Fun-der-land; DRLC — The Blame Game in Gun Control ; ABILITY’s Crossword Puzzle; Events and Conferences…

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