By whose authority

Dictionaries define the term, authority, as: power, right, influence, clout and importantly, who should “say-so” and have the “last word”?

After seeing this definition, I now see why women, African Americans, Hispanics and other minority groups have been struggling for years to obtain their autonomous authority. Although the struggle continues, some members seem to have made significant progress. To me it appears that even the federal, state and local governments acknowledge and respect the ability of these minority groups to lead themselves and make their own decisions. These groups have been able to increase opportunities for their members.

As a linguistic and cultural minority group, deaf people have also been struggling. We not only lag behind the hearing majority, but also behind other minority groups. The historically black university, Howard University, had its first black president in 1926, 60 years after it was founded. Compare that to the selection of the first deaf president in 1988 at Gallaudet, a historically deaf university. Deaf people had to wait 120 years for the first deaf university president and that occurred only because the Gallaudet students lead a successful protest after the board of directors selected another hearing person as president.

While women, African Americans, Hispanics, Asians and other groups are still significantly underrepresented in positions of authority in political, educational and economic institutions, people that grow up deaf or hard of hearing have even less representation in positions of authority. As a minority group, we have yet to see culturally deaf people elected to state or federal offices. People that grow up deaf and hard of hearing still lack significant representation as professionals and in positions of authority in deaf education, early intervention, deaf mental health and other deaf services.

For years, the deaf professionals have proven that they have the knowledge, experience and skills to handle positions of authority as they did prior to 1880. The deaf people obviously want the same authority, opportunities and advantages for which other groups have struggled. We are hollering for the governments to protect our rights to self-determination just as the other groups did. Why not???

It seems that the governments thought that the key obstacle was the communication difference between them and the deaf people, which I must say is not true, and gravely mistaken. With all the advances in technology and qualified/trusted ASL/English translators, we can bridge our communication differences. The work of translating both languages, English and ASL is fantastic and awesome.

In the early 1800s, deaf teachers and professionals ran the deaf schools and attained positions of authority in other areas. After 1880 however, deaf schools became oral schools and many of the deaf teachers and professionals lost their jobs. Since then, deaf professionals have been a minority in the field of deaf education. It has only been in the last few decades that deaf schools once again have begun using ASL, teaching deaf history and culture and hiring deaf superintendents and teachers.

Abolishing ASL and instead using only listening, oral speech and signed English feels to me like an attempt to make deaf people into hearing people. From a culturally deaf perspective, this is analogous to trying to make African Americans into white people.

Of the Deaf People, By the Deaf People, For the Deaf People


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