Areas of Study

Advocating for the Rights of the Deaf Community on the International Scene

Gallaudet closed its lecture series in recognition of the 25th anniversary of Deaf President Now (DPN) with “International Perspectives of Human Rights,” a presentation by The Hon. Wilma Newhoudt-Druchen, ’92 & G-’05, and her husband, Bruno Druchen, of Cape Town, South Africa on April 9 in Andrew Foster Auditorium.

Dr. Newhoudt-Druchen gained the world’s attention in 1999 when she became the first deaf woman to be elected to the South African Parliament with the African National Congress. She is now in her third term as an elected member of Parliament, and also serves as vice president of the World Federation for the Deaf (WFD). To prepare herself for these prominent positions, she enrolled at Gallaudet in 1988 at the age of 24. “Gallaudet is the cream of the crop. You should cherish your education,” she said, particularly in light of the fact that education continues to be woefully lacking in many countries.

Only 17 percent of the estimated 72 million deaf people in the world today receive any type of education, said Newhoudt-Druchen. “I continue to work hard to elevate education for deaf children,” she said, adding that her driving vision is for deaf people to achieve equal rights. One step toward achieving this goal came several years ago when she led a committee on improving life for youth and people with disabilities.

Newhoudt-Druchen discussed the role of the WFD in advancing rights for deaf people through its cooperation with the United Nations and its agencies. One of the roles of the WFD is to explain to government officials why it is important for deaf children to receive an education and to be able to communicate in sign language, she said. Newhoudt-Druchen also chaired the parliamentary committee that processed the ratification in 2007 of the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in South Africa. This convention has policies that change the world’s view of people with disabilities from a group that needs “care” to empowered individuals who have many talents to benefit society. She lamented that the U.S. Senate in December rejected a United Nations disability rights treaty. “Please have America ratify to the convention, so that other countries can look up to America …” Newhoudt-Druchen implored the audience. “Maybe America will ratify the convention during Gallaudet’s 150th Anniversary (in 2014).”

Newhoudt-Druchen said that DPN remains a relevant cause for the deaf community. “It’s still important, although it happened 25 years ago. People still remember. The spirit of DPN must continue.”

Bruno Druchen, national director of the Deaf Federation of South Africa, added that DPN had ramifications for deaf people outside the U.S. “DPN was a movement that shook the world,” said Druchen, who learned about DPN from television reports in 1988. In South Africa, the popular attitude was that deaf people weren’t capable of doing the jobs of hearing people, and that deaf people couldn’t be leaders-even in their own organizations. Druchen explained that traditionally there were no deaf members on the South Africa National Council for the Deaf. Then came DPN, and the first deaf chairperson on the council was named in 1990, then the second in 1991. “By 1999, 80 percent of the members on that council were deaf,” he said.

Druchen added that DPN improved deaf education in South Africa. Students from South Africa and other developing countries who attend Gallaudet are eligible for scholarships from the World Deaf Leadership Fund, funded by the Nippon Foundation in Tokyo, Japan, he explained.

Druchen inspired the audience to chant “VIVA,” which means long live. “VIVA Gallaudet, VIVA First Lady, VIVA President Hurwitz, VIVA sign language. Why? Because DPN is in me,” he said. “You Americans must honor the deaf people who protested.”

Sarah Hanvey, a junior from New Jersey, commented on the presentations. “I learned how Gallaudet had influence on other countries for deaf advocacy,” Hanvey said. “It’s nice to see how deaf people are connected worldwide.” Bryan Davis, a junior from Washington State, shared his impressions. “It’s very inspiring to see an international respect for Gallaudet’s impact on the world. As a hearing person, I know the rights of deaf people are not equal. Therefore, hearing people have the responsibility to be allies with deaf people and accept who they are.” Hanvey and Davis, who are both majoring in interpreting, said they realize that interpreters not only helped deaf people to be heard during DPN, they also helped hearing people to understand deaf people.

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