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Deaf Students Victory Could Be a Defeat for Deaf Community


During the student protest at Gallaudet University, in Washington, DC -- the world's only university for deaf and hard of hearing student -- two visions of leadership were debated. The student protestors wanted a leader who would fight for society's acceptance and accommodation of the deaf. The incoming president advocated integration of the deaf into society through lip-reading and the use of technology to help the deaf hear.

The student protest at Gallaudet University, a prestigious school for the deaf and hard of hearing, is now over. On October 5th, student protesters shut down the university for a few days and continued their demonstrations even after police arrested those blocking the entrance to the school. In the end, the students got what they wanted. The incoming president, Jane Fernandez, has been fired. The students were opposed to Fernandez for a number of reasons.

Michael Deland, President of the National Organization on Disability, says the protest exposed a common dispute within the disabled community between equal rights advocates and those looking for a cure. He says the protesters see the university as a deaf sanctuary and sign language a symbol of their equality. And he says Fernandez, who advocated more integration into society and new technologies, like cochlear implants, to help the deaf hear, threatened that view.

"Those who sign, that's the signature aspect of being deaf just as if you are in a wheelchair, that is your form of identity. I happen to feel that she was interested in technological developments in the new research and feel strongly that could have added a much-needed dimension to Gallaudet."

While the students may have succeeded in preventing Fernandez from becoming president of Gallaudet University, the debate continues between those demanding respect and those searching for a cure.