The ‘Deaf President Now’ Movement

36 years ago, the ‘Deaf President Now’ movement ignited a revolution. Feels like just yesterday this amazing organization was born. What began as a fight for the first Deaf president at Gallaudet University blossomed into an international conversation about representation. 

Deaf President Now paved the way for future generations to embrace their gifts with pride. Even decades later, the story brings a smile. It reminds us how positive change can happen when we come together.

Signs Seen Around the World

The historic Gallaudet Chapel building on the Washington D.C campus.
The historic Gallaudet Chapel building on the Washington D.C campus.
Photo by Rons Cogswell on Flickr

The year is 1988. We find ourselves at Gallaudet University, the world’s only liberal arts university designed specifically for Deaf and hard-of-hearing students. For over a century, Gallaudet has been a beacon of Deaf culture and education. But in all those years, the university has never had a Deaf president. 

On March 6th 1988, the campus was alight with excitement. After a search process involving four candidates – two of whom were Deaf – the Board of Trustees was ready to announce their selection. The community awaited the decision, hopeful that the time for a Deaf president had finally come. 

But when the board appointed Elizabeth Zinser, the only hearing candidate, shock and disappointment reverberated across campus. 

Students, faculty, and staff were deeply frustrated. How could a hearing person with minimal experience with the Deaf community effectively lead a Deaf university? 

For a community ready for change, this felt like a step backwards. The students refused to accept this decision quietly – they were prepared to take a stand for what they deserved. After over 100 years of hearing presidents, it was time for Deaf leadership at Gallaudet. The community rallied together, knowing that their voice could not be ignored. 

The campus was energized with purpose. History was about to be made.

The ‘Deaf President Now’ Protest

The Deaf community had put up with the status quo for too long. Their frustrations simmered below the surface until a coalition of advocates brought them together, bonded by a common dream – a leader who truly understood them. 

The Deaf President Now movement caught fire rapidly as passions were ignited. Their ask was straightforward but groundbreaking – a Deaf president who could relate to the community’s distinctive struggles and triumphs. Though the path forward would not be easy, their voices could no longer be ignored. The time had come for change.

What followed was a historic protest.

Deaf and hearing people came together by the thousands, flooding the streets of Washington D.C. to stand up for their rights. Chants of “Deaf President Now!” rang out as the crowd marched on, their voices blending in a powerful chorus calling for change. The Deaf community and its allies were united and determined, coming together to make history in a peaceful yet passionate demand to be heard.

The Gallaudet protest was a watershed moment in the Deaf rights movement.

When those students took to the streets demanding a Deaf university president, they sparked a worldwide conversation about access and inclusion that still resonates today. Their steadfast activism paid off – Dr. I. King Jordan became the first Deaf president in Gallaudet’s history! 

This was a monumental achievement, opening doors for Deaf scholars and administrators to break long-standing barriers. The Gallaudet community finally had one of their own leading the university. 

The students’ impassioned stand for representation not only made history, but paved the way for future generations of Deaf leaders. Their vision and determination turned protest into progress. 

The Gallaudet protests showed the power of a community united for change.

Today and The Future

The big-time impact of Deaf President Now was nothing short of revelatory. It started a revolution that resonated far beyond Gallaudet, sparking a fire in the hearts of change-makers everywhere. These brave souls challenged the status quo and fought for what’s right, empowered by DPN’s message of unity and solidarity. 

Gallaudet became a beacon of hope, that when we join voices aka signing hands, we can change the world.

DPN showed us the power we possess when we stand together. Its enduring legacy continues to inspire and unite generations in the ongoing quest for equality.

As we mark the 36th anniversary, let’s take a second to shout out all the bold pioneers who got us here. Their vision and drive sparked a movement that keeps spreading light today. Because they had the courage to stand up and speak out, we’re that much closer to the just and inclusive future we all dream of.

To the audacious trailblazers, the tireless advocates, the united allies – you inspire us. Thank you for your grit. For your passion. For your voice.

The future is bright when we stand united and unstoppable. Here’s to many more years of breaking barriers and uplifting each other. We got this! Now let’s keep on keeping on with heads held high. The best is yet to come!

Until next time, ta ta! 😄🤟🏻

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