Would You Want a Leader Who’s Not One of You?

As an American Sign Language interpreter, I think I have a perspective of American Deaf culture and the issues at Gallaudet University that few hearing people can grasp — and, unfortunately, the messages the average hearing person gleans from the hearing media don’t seem to be doing much to illuminate the situation. I would like to try my best today to speak as one hearing person to another about my understanding of the issues transpiring at Gallaudet University from the perspective of a person who has a fairly good understanding of both the deaf and hearing worlds.

It seems to me that the only message hearing people are getting about the protests against Jane K. Fernandes (JKF) as the incoming president of Gallaudet is that she is “not deaf enough.” I would like you (my fellow American who can hear) to put yourself in the shoes of those deaf students and ask yourself not “is she deaf enough” but “is she one of us?” And ask yourself, would you want a leader who’s not one of you?

Perhaps we must begin with the understanding that the main criterion for membership in the American Deaf culture is the use of American Sign Language — not one’s degree of hearing loss! There are plenty of people — particular senior citizens — who are stone deaf, but they do not use American Sign Language, and they do not identify themselves with the Deaf culture. In light of the imperative that one reach out to other users of American Sign Language and make themselves understood in that language, my opinion as someone who has been trained for many years at communicating fluently in ASL is that JKF fails this primary criterion.