Loud and Clear on Deaf Rights I. King Jordan, Gallaudet's First Deaf President, Symbolizes Progress for the Hearing Disabled
Clara Germani, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
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 hearing leadership.
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. …