Center for Democracy in Deaf America

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Shaping the Future of Deaf America through Dialogue and Civic Action

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.


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

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Disagreement is inevitable in a free and multilingual, multiethnic, and multiracial society of over 320 million people. It is also necessary to correct power imbalances, develop better ideas and policies, and achieve a more equal and just society. The trademark of a healthy liberal democracy is that people get to disagree, criticize, and even maybe change their minds, which requires citizens to welcome diverse perspectives and engage across differences.

To create diverse and inclusive spaces in which deaf people participate in difficult conversations across racial, ethnic, cultural, political, religious, ideological, and linguistic differences in ASL.
A country of open-minded deaf people who welcome discomfort and seek growth by constructively interacting with people across differences.


Debate is the organized contest of ideas in which knowledgeable participants thoroughly research and critically discuss a controversial topic from two opposing sides to persuade the audience with logic and emotion that their side is more justified. Open, honest, and informed debate is the bedrock of liberal democracies. It is also fundamental to minority achievement and social progress.

To enliven critical thinking, intellectual humility, reasoned analysis, decorum, and rhetoric in deaf people through access to competitive debate in ASL.

A country in which every deaf school, program, and organization promotes debate as an effective way to empower minority achievement, clarify and solve problems, and persuade for change with full, direct access to debate events, programs, and activities.

Civic Engagement

Civic engagement is defined as making a difference in the civic life of our communities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values and motivation to make that difference through both political and non-political processes. Knowledgeable, deliberative, and engaged citizenship is at the heart of successful civil rights movements and the foundation of a democratic society.

To inspire deaf and hard of hearing people to make a difference on local and national levels by developing the combination of civic knowledge, skills, cohesion, and motivation through ASL to make that difference through political and non-political processes.

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.


By participating in intramural and intercollegiate competitions, the Gallaudet Debate program provides college students with opportunities to expand their minds and practice intellectual humility.

This program empowers middle school and high school students to develop critical thinking and public speaking skills through an annual competition.

To honor the late Dr. Isaac Agboola’s legacy of welcoming difficult conversations, the program brings together diverse individuals to talk about a controversial issue.

The program is to inform and engage deaf communities throughout elections by developing and sharing resources in ASL.

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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, ideas, and perspectives persuasively; and (3) make a positive difference in their communities and the country.

What We Do

To tackle serious problems facing American democracy, the country must connect people across differences by empowering disagreement, debate, and civic engagement. The time is right to invest in democracy in Deaf America through education, practice, and culture building.

CDDA has the resources, experience, passion, and commitment to develop tools, events, programs, and partnerships through ASL and English that are designed to enable deaf people to practice democratic skills with those who look, think, or talk differently from them; and cultivate deliberative and engaged communities in Deaf America.

Youth debate finals
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Problem and Solution


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. It has over one hundred K-12 schools, programs, and countless voluntary organizations and associations, each of which is bound together by people who share 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 in 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 in the media and academia, deaf people are deprived of 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 that affect the quality of life for all Americans and the health of American democracy.


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

If democracy relies on relationship-building, truth-finding, and power-sharing, the racial, linguistic, cultural, and 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 vital that deaf Americans have the resources and opportunities to disagree, debate, and engage productively with people who look, think, feel, and talk differently. This advances the well-being and the health of not only Deaf Americans, but also that of fellow citizens and American democracy.

Meet the Team

The CDDA team is composed of deaf and hearing faculty, staff, students, and alumni affiliated with Gallaudet University who share a commitment to constructive disagreement, debate, and civic engagement:



CDDA partners with organizations that share common goals of fostering disagreement, debate, and civic engagement for a healthier democracy. We are honored and committed to collaborating resources, activities, and skills with the following strategic partners:

National Archives Foundation

National Archives Foundation

Fall 2021

Civic Debate Consortium

Civic Debate Conference

Spring 2021

Register! Educate! Vote! User your Power! Rev UP! Make the Disability Vote Count


Fall 2022

Students Learn, Students Vote (SLSV) Coalition

Spring 2023

Teaching for Democracy Alliance

Teaching for Democracy Alliance

Spring 2023

Why Gallaudet?

Gallaudet University, the world’s only four-year liberal arts university serving deaf and hard-of-hearing students, serves as the educational, social, and political engine of Deaf America. The duty of the university to foster disagreement, debate, and civic engagement is embedded in its role as a higher education institution.

Contact Us

Center for Democracy in Deaf America (CDDA)

8:00 am-4:30 pm
8:00 am-4:30 pm
8:00 am-4:30 pm
8:00 am-4:30 pm
8:00 am-4:30 pm

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The CDDA Logo

Our logo of a gray hand, rapt eye, and red-striped heart is designed to be visually and metaphorically resonant for a center housed at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., the only liberal arts university in the world for deaf people using ASL. Effective communication across differences for deaf people is first achieved by opening our hearts and listening with our eyes, as we attempt to understand the world not in primary colors but in shades of gray. Then, we sign with our hands to be understood in our pursuit of a more perfect union.


Disagreement Targets

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Debate Targets

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Civic Engagement

Civic Engagement Targets

3 Videos