Not Deaf Enough, Redux

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Is it necessary for someone to be deaf in the audiometric sense in order to be a leader within the deaf community? Many hearing people do not recognize the distinctions between levels of deafness in the deaf community, such as when using a cell phone on the Gallaudet campus can cause fellow students to look at someone as “less deaf” than those who are profoundly deaf and cannot use the telephone. Although those who study deaf culture insist there is no decibel limit for someone to be culturally deaf, there is a definite class distinction between those who are hard of hearing and those who are profoundly deaf; those who are prelingually deaf and those who are late-deafened; those who are able to interact with the hearing world easily and those who are not.

Gallaudet University must have a culturally deaf president – someone who is not fluent in sign language and who is unfamiliar with the struggles faced by deaf people when they interact with the hearing world would not be able to lead a school for those who use sign language and experience barriers to communication. It is my belief that all future presidents of Gallaudet will be culturally deaf, holding deaf values to their heart. But I foresee trouble when it comes time to choose another president, because the divisions within the deaf community will rise again if someone is chosen who does not fit the politically correct definition of what the president should be. If someone is selected who is postlingually deaf, there will be conflict; if someone is selected who has enough hearing to use the telephone, there will be conflict; if someone with lipreading and speaking skills is selected, there will be conflict. For some, the “perfect” deaf candidate will be someone who shuns speech, cannot hear a jet engine, and so forth.

How are we to find this ideal deaf person? Will Gallaudet be able to continue if we cannot? Given that the chances of finding this person are so slim, what are Gallaudetians willing to sacrifice in exchange for the continuation of the university’s mission? Should we pick someone who is suitable in the deaf sense, but has little administrative background? Or should we pick someone with outstanding administrative experience, but who can speak if they choose to? Will we ever again manage to be happy with our president, or did that possibility fade in 1988 when Deaf President Now changed our world? The wounds of 2006 have not yet fully healed, and there is a definite spark in the air at Gallaudet as the presidential search gears up again. It seems we are just waiting to see who is chosen so we can get on with our lives. I can only hope there is not another protest in our future…I do not envy the job of the Presidential Search Committee or the Board of Trustees.

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One Response to “Not Deaf Enough, Redux”

  1. Mishkazena Says:

    A good post.

    I ponder the same thing. MSCHE had already indicated that a third protest will not be tolerated. If a protest arises, Gallaudet will be facing dire consequences with its accreditation status severely jeopardized.

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