Marking the 25th anniversary of Deaf President Now (DPN)

Dr. Tom Humphries, associate professor in the Department of Education Studies and the Department of Communication at the University of California at San Diego and a Gallaudet trustee, presented “Our Time: The Legacy of the 20th Century” on April 2 in the Andrew Foster Auditorium. The event was part of Gallaudet’s recognition of the 25th anniversary of Deaf President Now (DPN).

Humphries is co-author of Inside Deaf Culture and Deaf in America: Voices From a Culture with his wife, Dr. Carol Padden, a celebrated linguist at the University of California at San Diego and a Gallaudet trustee emerita.

DPN, said Humphries, was “a moment in history that you cannot ignore, because that was when our voice became amplified. People were compelled to listen. … Moments like that do not happen often.”

DPN 25 special assistant, Johanna Katz, ’12, from Buenos Aires, Argentina, who introduced Humphries to the audience, shared her story about coming to Gallaudet. She added, “One of the things I learned here is audism. That word explains what I’ve experienced in life.”

The term “audism,” which the DPN movement rebelled against, was coined by Humphries in 1975. Humphries recalled that the senior editor of American Heritage Dictionary contacted him to help address objections from the deaf community to the dictionary’s definition of the word as “discrimination against deaf people”. Humphries responded that audism is not merely discrimination but the ideology, or belief system, that causes the discrimination. Furthermore, Humphries said the meaning of audism may vary from country to country in different deaf cultures.

He also spoke about how in the last century, deaf people often had citizenship without benefits. Although deaf people paid taxes and voted, the benefits that deaf people received during this time came from the social welfare system instead of from full participation in public life. He mentioned that in the past, many hearing people had exotic concepts of deaf people. “People used to think that deaf people think without language…and that their brains were actually physically different,” he said.

Humphries also brought up a historical view of “teacher of the deaf” as a hearing person. Even today he sees a preference in hiring hearing teachers for deaf students. “In my city, deaf teachers are often not hired because the school believes that the teachers of children with cochlear implants must be hearing.” Even when reminded that the Americans with Disabilities Act forbids discrimination against deaf people in hiring, the schools still are reluctant to hire deaf teachers. He added that even though there are laws to prevent discrimination, they are often not enforced.

However, Humphries pointed out a critical advancement for the deaf community since the mid-1960s-the growing industry around American Sign Language (ASL). “[Today], imagine how many jobs there are with ASL requirements,” Humphries said. The same is true of a growing appreciation for deaf culture, he added.

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