Center for Democracy in Deaf America

Mission & Vision

To develop healthy democratic skills and habits in deaf people by fostering disagreement, debate and civic engagement through American Sign Language and English.

We aspire for an American democracy in which deaf people have the knowledge, skills, values, access, and motivation to:

  1. Participate in difficult but productive conversations across diverse identities, communication and language modes, experiences, backgrounds, and viewpoints;
  2. Analyze, articulate, and critique values, beliefs, and perspectives persuasively;
  3. Make a positive difference in their communities and in the country.

About CDDA

The Center for Democracy in Deaf America (CDDA) is a non-profit, non-partisan organization launched at Gallaudet University in Fall 2020. CDDA receives generous support from the President’s Office, the Office of the Provost, and the Dean of Faculty.

Our Targets


Building Inclusive Spaces

At CDDA, we believe that disagreement is an essential component of a healthy democracy. It allows for the correction of power imbalances and the pursuit of a more equal and just society for all.

That’s why one of our main targets is to create diverse and inclusive spaces where deaf individuals can actively participate in difficult conversations across racial, ethnic, cultural, political, religious, ideological and linguistic differences in ASL and English.

We understand that having these types of conversations can be uncomfortable, but it is precisely through constructive engagement with people who look, think or talk differently from us that we can grow and learn. Our vision is for a country where deaf people are open-minded and welcome discomfort in pursuit of growth and understanding.

We strive to empower deaf individuals to engage in difficult conversations and to be active participants in shaping our democracy. We believe that by fostering disagreement, we can create a more inclusive and just society for all.


Enhancing Critical Thinking and Persuasion

At CDDA, we recognize the importance of debate in a democratic society. Debate is the organized contest of ideas where knowledgeable participants research and critically discuss controversial topics with the goal of persuading the audience with logic and emotion that their side is more justified.

That’s why one of our main targets is to enliven critical thinking, intellectual humility, reasoned analysis, decorum, and rhetoric in deaf people through accessible debate programs in ASL and English. By providing these programs, we aim to empower deaf individuals to express themselves persuasively and engage in informed, respectful and productive debate.

We believe that through debate, we can foster an environment where diverse perspectives are heard and where individuals can learn from one another. Our vision is for a country where deaf people are actively engaged in informed and respectful debate, and where their voices are heard in shaping our democracy.

We strive to empower deaf individuals to engage in informed and productive debate, to be active participants in shaping our democracy, and to foster an environment where diverse perspectives are heard.

Civic Engagement

Empowering to Make a Difference

At CDDA, we understand that civic engagement is crucial for the health and vitality of a democratic society. It refers to the actions and attitudes of citizens to participate in the life of their community and country.

That’s why one of our main targets is to foster the knowledge, skills, values, access, and motivation in deaf people to actively participate in the democratic process, advocate for themselves and others, and build inclusive communities.

We believe that by providing the tools and resources necessary for deaf individuals to become informed, active, and responsible citizens, they will be able to make a positive difference in their communities and the country. Our vision is for a country where deaf people are fully engaged and active members of their communities, and where their voices are heard in shaping our democracy.

We strive to empower deaf individuals to be active citizens, to participate in the democratic process, and to make a positive difference in their communities and the country. We believe that by fostering civic engagement, we can build an inclusive and just society for all.

A future where deaf and hard of hearing people, and their schools, programs, workplaces, and communities volunteer, vote, serve, and network with individuals and organizations inside and outside Deaf America to promote the quality of democracy.

Empowering Deaf Americans for Active Participation in Democracy

Gallaudet University is uniquely positioned to foster disagreement, debate, and civic engagement in Deaf America. The duty of the university to promote these values is deeply ingrained in its role as an institution of higher education.


Problem: Deaf America

 Deaf America refers to the unique spaces in the United States of America in which approximately one million deaf people from all races, ethnicities, religions, socioeconomic classes, and political persuasions use American Sign Language (ASL) as the primary language of communication. Deaf America comprises over one hundred K-12 schools and programs and countless voluntary organizations and associations, bound together by the common experience of being deaf and using sign language to communicate.
This is Deaf America.

At the same time, deaf people are among the most marginalized Americans whose ways of life are constantly under threat. Enrollment at deaf institutions and membership of deaf organizations are rapidly declining. The future of the Deaf community – Deaf America – is often said to be at a “crossroads.” Why?
As commonly portrayed, deaf people are deprived from access to civic spaces. And that they are insular, divided, powerless, uninformed, and apathetic. Yet, what is unsaid is that these are not so much unique developments that threaten the well-being of deaf people and the future of “Deaf America” as worrisome trends in the country affecting the quality of life for all Americans and the health of American democracy.

Problem in Context: Democracy in America

As Alexis de Tocqueville observed in “Democracy in America” in 1840: 

”The health of a democratic society may be measured by the quality of functions performed by private citizens.” 

More than 175 years later today, the evidence is clear that American democracy is decaying. The worrisome trends include: 

  • Inaccessibility. “Civic deserts” are on the rise in the country. About 60% of rural youth and 30% of urban and suburban Americans have few to no opportunities to “meet, discuss issues, or address problems.” (Brookings)
  • Self-Righteousness. The majority of Americans consider themselves to be morally virtuous while believing the overall state of moral values in the US is getting worse. (Tappin, 2017; Pew Research/Gibson and Sutherland)
  • Insularity. Americans are increasingly living in “epistemic bubbles” and “echo chambers” where they do not hear or trust outside voices, inhabit different worlds in daily life, and “fear and loathe” people in the outgroup. (Nguyen, 2018/Pew Research/Iyengar and Westwood, 2015) 
  • Fragmentation. Organizations and networks that develop trust and networks and connect people across diverse groups which supported the civil rights movement and “make democracy work” are collapsing. (Putnam, 2000)
  • Hopelessness. More than half of young Americans say they feel powerless and hopeless about the state of politics. (Citation needed)
  • Civic Illiteracy. Only a quarter of Americans can name all three branches of government and nearly a third cannot name a single branch of government. (Annenberg Public Policy Center)
  • Disengagement. In 2020, roughly one in four unregistered voters and 40% of unregistered voters ages 18-24 reported that they had not registered because they didn’t know how to, had forgotten, didn’t have time, were too busy, or had recently moved. (Knight Foundation)

American democracy is in crisis and deaf people are paying the price. The problem is not that deaf people do not hear and speak, but that they do not have the opportunity to listen, talk, learn, and engage across differences in a divided and fragmented country.

The Solution: Democracy in Deaf America

Research indicates practical ways to improve the health of American democracy. In fact, Deaf America is uniquely positioned to make American democracy work. 

If democracy relies on relationship-building, truth-finding, and power-sharing, Deaf America’s racial, linguistic, cultural, political diversity is an untapped resource. Communities and democracies that do not foster disagreement, debate, and civic engagement are more vulnerable to bigotry, orthodoxy, and autocratic leadership, and less likely to produce minority achievement, bridge differences, bring out better arguments, better ideas, and better policies to combat complex problems.

It is fundamental that deaf Americans have the resources and opportunities to disagree, debate, and engage with people who look, think, feel, and talk differently from them. This not only advances their personal well-being and the health of Deaf America, but that of fellow citizens and American democracy. 


Gallaudet University

At Gallaudet, we are committed to furthering the university’s mission of ensuring the intellectual and professional advancement of deaf people in a rapidly changing world by building social capital, promoting conflict resolution, critical thinking, and rhetorical skills.

Equity, Diversity, and Inclusive

We prioritize equity, diversity, and inclusion by fostering active listening, critical self-reflection, and advocacy, and developing skills that empower and elevate students from marginalized backgrounds.

Deaf Gain

Through our emphasis on Deaf Gain, we illustrate the value of deaf people, sign language, and deaf education to humanity by capitalizing on the diversity and networks inherent in deaf communities to foster healthy skills and habits vital to American democracy.

Make Your Sign Count: Join the Gallaudet University Debate Team

Introducing the Gallaudet University debate team – the first of its kind in the university’s 158-year history. Formed during the 2020-2021 academic year, our team of skilled debaters has already made a strong impression in the debate world, having won against George Washington University in an exhibition debate conducted in ASL and English on the topic of “Statehood for Washington, D.C. should be granted.”

April 1, 2022 | NBC4 Washington

April 21, 2021 | Gallaudet University

The debate team is just one of the programs offered under the Center for Democracy in Deaf America, which also conducts educational and outreach programs, including panel discussions, watch parties, voter registration drives. We also provide a youth debate competition for deaf and hard of hearing middle and high school students, learn more about the youth debate bowl here.

Additional Resources

Sign Vote


Civic Health Project

Citizen University Programs