MSS 210

Sonnenstrahl, Alfred, 1935-

The Alfred Sonnenstrahl Papers, 1946-1995

Gallaudet University Archives

Descriptive Summary

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.

Administrative Information

Acquisition Information: Donated to the Archives by Alfred Sonnenstrahl, 1997.

Processed By: Christopher Shea, December 2015.

Processing Note:

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


  • Half figure pose of Alfred Sonnenstrahl [photograph]. Gallaudet University Archives, call number: Portraits
  • Head and shoulder pose of Alfred Sonnenstrahl [photograph]. Gallaudet University Archives, call number: Portraits

Vertical Files

  • Sonnenstrahl, Alfred. Gallaudet University Archives, call number: Deaf Biographical

Biographical Sketch

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 Descriptions

Series 1. Papers from work on deafness issues, 1966-1980 /p>

Boxes 1-5

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

Boxes 5-6

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

Box 7

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.

Box Folder Title Year(s)
1 1 Brochures for Petra Howard House Undated
1 2 Catalogs and correspondence on devices for the deaf 1977-1980
1 3 Clippings and proposals for Massachusetts Office of Deafness 1974-1979
1 4 Collection of articles on therapy and education 1960s-1970s
1 5 Correspondence and articles on oral education 1967
1 6 Correspondence and outlines for workshop on interpreters 1967-1969
1 7 Correspondence and papers from workshop on interpreting for the deaf in civil service 1977-1979
1 8 Correspondence for Minnesota Council of Organizations Serving the Deaf 1978-1980
1 9 Correspondence on continuing education and Elderhostel 1985-1987
2 1 Correspondence on state plans for the deaf 1975-1977
2 2 Correspondence with DC government on employment 1985-1987
2 3 Correspondence with Northwestern Bell 1979-1980
2 4 General Aptitude Test Battery tests and results for Michigan School 1966-1970
2 5 General Aptitude Test Battery tests and results for Michigan School 1966-1970
2 6 Maryland Association of the Deaf correspondence 1968-1972
2 7 Maryland Association of the Deaf correspondence on adult education 1966-1969
2 8 Maryland Association of the Deaf correspondence on incorporation 1966
3 1 Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission report 1974
3 2 MSAD constitution and bylaws 1977-1978
3 3 MSAD newsletters and correspondence 1975-1980
3 4 MSAD newsletters and correspondence 1975-1980
3 5 Newsletters and correspondence on Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf 1969-1970
3 6 Notes and articles for the Center for Education for Non-Traditional Students (CENTS) 1978-1980
3 7 Papers and clippings on mental health and the deaf 1969-1979
3 8 Papers and grant applications for vocational rehabilitation center 1976
4 1 Proposals and memos for Comprehensive Evaluation Training Center 1976-1977
4 2 Proposals and memos for Comprehensive Evaluation Training Center 1976-1977
4 3 Recommendations and agreements for coordination of deaf services 1977-1980
4 4 Reports and participation lists for Leadership Training Program 1969
4 5 Reports and workshop records on mental health programs for the deaf 1976-1978
4 6 Reports and workshop records on mental health programs for the deaf 1976-1978
4 7 Speeches on the employment of the deaf 1972-1973
5 1 Surveys and reports on hearing impaired population of Minnesota 1974-1979
5 2 Clippings and articles on deafness 1946-1976
5 3 Contact sheets of TDI board visit to fiber optic community 1991
5 4 Correspondence and brochures on international TDD issues 1991-1995
5 5 Correspondence and clippings 1970-1987
5 6 Correspondence and clippings 1986-1988
5 7 Correspondence and clippings 1988-1989
6 1 Correspondence and photos from Andrea Saks 1992-1995
6 2 Proceedings of 1st national TDI conference 1971
6 3 TDI national directories 1986-1989
6 4 “Teletypewriters Made Easy!” 1974
6 TDI directory 1973
6 TDI directory 1976-1977
7 1 Certificate of appreciation for Senator John McCain 1990
7 2 Name plaques and signs Undated
7 Photographs Undated
7 Photographs Undated
7 3 Postcards and patches from 7th World Winter Games for the Deaf 1975

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