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Dec 9, 2022
Manuscripts – The Alfred Sonnenstrahl Papers, 1946-1995
King Jordan Student Academic Center 1255
Sonnenstrahl, Alfred, 1935-
The Alfred Sonnenstrahl Papers, 1946-1995
Gallaudet University Archives
Repository: Gallaudet University Archives
Call No.: MSS 210
Creator: Sonnenstrahl, Alfred, 1935-
Title: The Alfred Sonnenstrahl Papers, 1946-1995
Quantity: 6 ½ boxes (3.5 linear feet)
Abstract: Papers of Alfred Sonnenstrahl, deaf engineer and advocate in the fields of telecommunications, employment, mental health, and gerontology. Bulk of collection is correspondence, clippings, reports and papers, and photographs.
Note: This document last updated December 2015.
Acquisition Information: Donated to the Archives by Alfred Sonnenstrahl, 1997.
Processed By: Christopher Shea, December 2015.
Conditions on Use and Access: This collection is open to the public with no restrictions. Photocopies may be made for scholarly research.
Related Material in Archives
Born 1935 in New York City to deaf parents, Alfred Sonnenstrahl was educated at the New York School for the Deaf and at the hearing Stuyvesant School, an advanced college preparatory institution. This training helped him enter New York University in 1954 and graduate with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 1958. During this time he married a Gallaudet student, Deborah Belle Meranski, and after graduation they had two children, Samuel and Beth.
Sonnenstrahl spent his early career as a civilian engineer in the Department of the Navy, helping to design ventilation, piping, and propulsion systems for ships and submarines. From 1964 to 1968, he served on the National Association of the Deaf Civil Service Committee, where his work helped thousands of deaf people find jobs in the postal service. In 1968, he attended the Leadership Training Program at San Fernando Valley State College (now California State University at Northridge), graduating with a master’s degree in administration and supervision. Leaving engineering behind, he focused his work on the rights of the deaf, particularly in employment and support.
Through the 1970s, he worked in several different positions, including serving as a placement consultant on the Michigan Employment Security Commission, the state coordinator of deaf programs on the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission, and the director of the Petra Howard House, an institution for mentally ill deaf in Minneapolis. His work led to the creation of agencies such as the Massachusetts Office of Deafness, the Massachusetts State Association of the Deaf, and AT&T’s Operator Services for the Deaf. He also worked with institutions such as the US Postal Service and Chrysler Corporation to find jobs for the deaf.
During the late 1980s and 1990s, the field of telecommunications was changing swiftly due to new developments in telecommunications technology, the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the breakup of monolithic telephone companies and ensuing deregulation. Sonnenstrahl became executive director of Telecommunications for the Deaf Inc. (TDI) in 1987, and was deeply involved in making sure that the deaf had access to these new developments. He was involved in drafting Title II and Title IV of the ADA, which provided for equal access to emergency services for the deaf and the creation of nationwide relay services. He went on to found the task force that was the predecessor of the FDA’s Disability Rights Office.
For his efforts on behalf of the deaf, Sonnenstrahl received the Gallaudet University Alumni Association’s Laurent Clerc Award in 2014.
Scope and Content
This collection mostly covers two parts of Sonnenstrahl’s life: his work at various deaf-related agencies and institutions during the late 1960s and 1970s, and his work as TDI executive director from the late 1980s through the early 1990s. There is nothing from his earlier life.
The bulk of the material present consists of professional correspondence, articles and reports (by Sonnenstrahl and by others), brochures and programs, and newspaper and magazine clippings. The last covers activities of groups Sonnenstrahl was part of, or general issues related to the deaf.
Series 1. Papers from work on deafness issues, 1966-1980 /p>
This series includes papers from Sonnenstrahl’s work with various deaf-related organizations, both governmental and private, in Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, and elsewhere. The most common types of papers here are correspondence, reports, grant proposals, and workshop records.
Series 2. Papers from TDI tenure, 1946-1995
This series includes both material produced during Sonnenstrahl’s early term as TDI executive director (1987-1995) and older material that he used for research and reference during this period. The bulk consists of Sonnenstrahl’s correspondence and newspaper and magazine clippings or brochures.
Of particular interest is a file of correspondence and photographs from Andrea Saks (daughter of Andrew Saks, who helped finance the first commercially available teletypewriters), which includes some historical photographs of the inventors of the teletypewriter with their creations.
Also of interest are some early TDD number directories published by TDI, including the first two directories from 1968 and 1969.
See series 3 for photos from TDI events.
Series 3. Photographs and other items, 1975-1990
Most of this series is unlabeled photographs, the majority of which are snapshots taken at TDI and other professional events. The series also includes some nameplates, signs, and a certificate of appreciation intended for Senator John McCain, which was withdrawn due to a typographical error.
Gallaudet University, chartered in 1864, is a private university for deaf and hard of hearing students.
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