BEFORE I. KING JORDAN was deafened in a motorcycle accident as a
young man, he'd never even seen a deaf person, let alone thought
about the disability.
So it's ironic that the Gallaudet University president has
brought unprecedented visibility to what he calls the "hidden"
disability of deafness. Indeed, once you've seen Dr. Jordan's
expressive brown eyes smiling through a graceful blur of sign
language, you can't forget him.
Take his recent trip to Los Angeles, for example. Planning to do
Southern California "right," he rented a convertible. Top down, he
got no farther than the first stoplight before a driver recognized
him and was calling excitedly, "You're from Gallaudet!"
This is not unusual, even though it has been three years since
the Deaf President Now (DPN) student protests. That March 1988 week
of demonstrations won the ouster of a newly appointed hearing
president and the installation of Jordan as the first deaf president
of the university for the deaf.
"DPN is ongoing ... the awareness level of Gallaudet, of
deafness, of what deaf people can do has changed a lot," explains
Jordan orally as well as in sign language. "The name `DPN' has taken
on much more meaning than a week at Gallaudet."
And Jordan's job itself has taken on more meaning than what the
already-weighty title of university president implies. There are
added demands as the symbol of deaf civil rights.
"He is very much aware of his role as a symbol of the deaf and
hard-of-hearing community as well as the broader disabled
community," says Philip Bravin, an IBM Corporation executive, a
Gallaudet alumnus, and chairman of the university's board of
trustees. "He works very much to try to represent all these groups
and ensure that the world down the road is a better place for all of
those people to live in...."
DPN has become a ubiquitous term in the Gallaudet community. It
is used to define different eras, like BC and AD, and to describe
the civil rights of the deaf.
DPN - and Jordan as its symbol - is credited variously with being
a fund-raising and federal-funding bonanza for once-obscure
Gallaudet, blasting open career opportunities for the deaf, giving a
new level of self-esteem to the deaf, and influencing passage last
fall of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
"The food is even better" after DPN and Jordan, quips graduating
senior Deborah Dee.
While Jordan initially thought the DPN movement would fail and
had to be convinced by students to participate in demanding the
school's first deaf president, he clearly has not skipped a beat in
taking advantage of the opportunity for the deaf.
People are hearing a lot more from Gallaudet with a deaf
president than they did during the school's previous 124 years under
Jordan's charm - an unselfconscious liveliness - has become a
handy tool in fund-raising and lobbying. And with the stamina of the
marathon runner that he is, he is constantly touring the country
promoting the university.
Expecting Jordan's travels to begin to pay off, the university
projects $5 million in private support this year. That's a dramatic
increase over pre-DPN years when private support hovered at just $1
million annually because administrators didn't fund-raise for fear
it would decrease federal support, explains Carol Parr, Gallaudet
vice president of development.
JORDAN'S extra legwork in Congress paid off immediately in 1988 when
he won the university a 6 percent increase in federal funding after
his predecessors had begun to face decreases. …