Since its founding in the mid-19th century, Gallaudet University has been an academic and cultural hub for the Deaf community. But until 1988, the university never had a deaf president. Twenty-five years ago this week, students launched a protest on the Northeast D.C. campus, dubbed the “Deaf President Now” movement. The protest resulted in the school’s first deaf president, and helped spur passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act two years later. Kojo explores the legacy of student protests at Gallaudet.


  • Gregory Hlibok Former Gallaudet University Student Body President and student leader of the Deaf President Now movement in 1988; Chief of the Disability Rights Division in the Bureau of Consumer and Governmental Affairs at the Federal Communications Commission
  • T. Alan Hurwitz President, Gallaudet University
  • Fred Weiner Interim Assistant Vice President, Gallaudet University; Member, Gallaudet University Class of 1983
  • Sen. Tom Harkin D-Iowa; Sponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990)

Video: Inside The Studio


  • 12:06:44

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. For more than a century, Gallaudet University in Washington has been an academic and cultural hub for the deaf community, but until 1988, it never had a deaf president. Twenty-five years ago this week, Gallaudet trustees chose yet another hearing person to lead the school, sparking a weeklong campus protest that made national headlines and put deaf rights on the national agenda.

  • 12:07:31

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIIn a huge victory for the students, the trustees backed down and installed the school's first deaf president. Two years later, the coattails of Gallaudet's student movement helped the Americans with Disabilities Act win passage on Capitol Hill. A quarter century later, veterans of the protests reflect on life for a new generation of deaf students and the ongoing legacy of the Deaf President Now movement.

  • 12:07:59

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining us in studio to talk about this is Alan Hurwitz, president of Gallaudet University. Fred Weiner is interim assistant vice president for administration at Gallaudet. He's a member of the Gallaudet Class of 1983. And Greg Hlibok is former Gallaudet University student body president and member of the Class of 1989. He's currently chief of the disability rights office in the Bureau of Consumer and Governmental Affairs at the Federal Communications Commission.

  • 12:08:30

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIWe'd like to ask if you'd like to join the conversation you can call us at 800-433-8850, or you can send email to You can send us a tweet at kojoshow, using the #DPN, or simply go to our website, and join the conversation there. What do you remember about the Gallaudet protest, and what your own thoughts on communities being led by one of their own.

  • 12:08:58

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIYou can follow today's conversation in a number of ways. We have a live transcript and a live video stream on our website, You can call us at 800-433-8850 or by, as I said, sending us a tweet. During the course of the conversation, the voices you hear will be those of our studio, our in-studio interpreters. Want to start the conversation by talking with Fred Weiner. Let's turn back the clock to 1987, when Gallaudet's seventh president, Jerry Lee, announced his upcoming resignation.

  • 12:09:37

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIYou were part of a group of young alumni who began talking about the possibility of choosing a deaf successor. What were your concerns at the time, and how were you involved in what eventually became the student protest movement?

  • 12:09:59

    MR. FRED WEINERWell, there was actually the time a lot of young alumni at the time who were very much ready and ripe for a deaf president to be at Gallaudet University. And when Dr. Lee had announced his resignation, we were determined to organize and get the word out and broaden community support, supporting the idea of having a deaf president at Gallaudet University. We began with petitions, letter writings, a campaign spreading awareness.

  • 12:10:29

    MR. FRED WEINERI would say about six or seven months we were doing that in the process so that we were building a ground swell of getting people on Capitol Hill involved as well. And then by the time the time had come, we were ready, and it happened.

  • 12:10:43

    NNAMDIWell, Gregory Hlibok, you had just been elected president of the student body in early 1988 when the board of trustees announced the selection of a new hearing president. How did you become the chief spokesperson for this protest, and how did it feel to be suddenly in the national spotlight?

  • 12:11:05

    MR. GREGORY HLIBOKWell, I was basically pushed into the water, a sink-or-swim situation, as you may. And fortunately I had some very strong support from the community. The disability leaders, the deaf leaders on campus, the young alumni group, like Fred Weiner mentioned. My older brother, Steven, was a part of that group as well. And so a strong coalition of support and when Dr. Lee announced his resignation through the campus newsletter at the time, the immediate thought came to us that the next president of the university should be deaf.

  • 12:11:50

    MR. GREGORY HLIBOKBut there were at that time many students and alumni who didn't really give it much more than that passing thought. They hadn't had the opportunity to really think about what the potential impact of having a deaf president of the university would be and what it would have an impact on the deaf world, really. And through help from this young alumni group that Fred is a member of and others and discussions that took place, the students, very diverse backgrounds and the diversity that's still at Gallaudet today, many of these students didn't grow up with deaf families or deaf parents or in deaf schools, and so there was a lot of diversity to gather that support for a deaf president at the university.

  • 12:12:34

    NNAMDIPresident Hurwitz, the Deaf President Now movement made headlines across the country. You were a professor at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf in Rochester, New York, at the time. You had a trip to Washington the week of the protest, so you went to the campus to join in. What was the reaction in Rochester, and what was your own experience at Gallaudet that week?

  • 12:13:02

    MR. T. ALAN HURWITZThat's right. I was in Rochester at that time. And all the students, faculty and staff members were watching the whole process take place. Like Fred mentioned, there was that young alumni group that started the whole process, and then student leaders started to get involved. And our students in Rochester were watching everything. We had old technology at that time. So we were using computers with email that was very slow-moving technology at that time.

  • 12:13:34

    MR. T. ALAN HURWITZBut we did find a way to keep in touch with our friends at Gallaudet University. And then over time, as the rally was prepared and the march on Capitol Hill, the National Technical Institute for the Deaf decided to send two busloads of students, faculty and staff members to join in on the march to the Capitol and ended staying for several days to support the important cause that later that week actually my wife flew in to Washington D.C. and joined in as well.

  • 12:14:12

    MR. T. ALAN HURWITZAnd it really was an awesome experience, because it felt like everyone was united, and we all had the same core message. And that was the purpose that we're trying to accomplish. And so it was amazing and a wonderful experience at that time.

  • 12:14:31

    NNAMDIIn case you're just joining the conversation, it's been 25 years since the Deaf President Now movement started here in Washington at Gallaudet University. We're having a conversation about it and about its significance, a conversation we're inviting you to join by calling 800-433-8850. What do you remember about the Deaf President Now movement? 800-433-8850. You can send us a tweet at kojoshow using the #kojodpn or go to our website, and join the conversation.

  • 12:15:03

    NNAMDIThe voices you hear are the voices of our in-studio interpreters. You can also find a live stream of this conversation at our website, Fred Weiner, you have said the student protest and the selection of I. King Jordan as Gallaudet's first deaf president calls what you call a paradigm shift first among the deaf community. How so?

  • 12:15:30

    WEINERWe really have to consider the context at that time because back then deaf people were really out of the loop in many ways as far as society went for a number of reasons, including lack of access to media, to technology and things along those lines. And at the same time, the opportunities for deaf people in terms of work, in order to be even part of society was extremely limited.

  • 12:16:01

    WEINERSo really we began to question ourselves as people. We internalized this -- that kind of thinking, you know, and saw ourselves in some ways as second-class citizens or at least less than other people I think you might understand what I'm saying. And I remember I was 25 when the protest came to be, and I was really hopeful of having a deaf president come in, and I wanted to see a deaf president in my lifetime.

  • 12:16:27

    WEINERSo I thought I'd have a long life hopefully to make that happen. But the symbolism of that was critical. It represented how deaf people could in fact succeed. And since Dr. Jordan has been president, I think the young post-generation of deaf and hard-of-hearing people who have lived in this world, for example, my two daughters now are students at Gallaudet University, and there was a moment I think that really sort of encapsulates for me the shift that occurred.

  • 12:17:01

    WEINERWe were on campus one day, she and I, and my daughter was I would say about 8 or 9 at the time, and she and I were walking by. There's a statue on campus of the first president of Gallaudet University. And that was back in the 1800s. So as we walked by, I pointed to the statue, and I told her, you know, I said that's the first president of Gallaudet. And she looked at it, and she turned around and said: So, was it a deaf or hearing person?

  • 12:17:31

    WEINERThe fact that she could even ask that question was probably the biggest shift of all because it's great now that young people who's always been part of society, have always had access to media, have always had dreams and now are daring to dream other things as well. And I think that for us, when we were young, we didn't have the same kinds of opportunities we saw happen as a result of DPN.

  • 12:17:55

    NNAMDIGreg Hlibok, what was the reaction on campus after the protest succeeded and a new president was selected?

  • 12:18:07

    HLIBOKWow, you really can't imagine the euphoria that existed. There were a lot of young children actually who came to be a part of the protest who then started to say I want to be a doctor, I want to be a lawyer. The opportunities that they saw just broadened almost instantly, and it was an immediate positive impact on campus. People walked around lighter in their shoes. And there was a significant moment that really took place the day after the board selected Dr. Jordan to be the president of the university.

  • 12:18:44

    HURWITZAnd Phil Braven, who's a deaf gentleman, was chosen to be the chairman of the board of trustees. The next day, the three of us met. Me as the student body president, Phil Braven, Dr. Jordan and I met to discuss a few remaining issues about how to meet the third demand that we had of the board to increase their membership on the board to 51 percent being deaf people on the board.

  • 12:19:12

    HURWITZAnd that was one of the demands. We wanted 51 percent of the board of trustees to be deaf. So we met to discuss that. And while we were in that meeting, we stopped for a moment. We looked around the room. And there was a moment of silence when we looked and realized it was just the three of us. There was no interpreter necessary for the first time in the history of Gallaudet University we met without an interpreter as the leadership of the university. And that really says it all.

  • 12:19:38

    NNAMDIUnderlines the historic occasion that was taking place at that time. We're talking about the legacy of the Deaf President Now movement, and Alan Hurwitz, the president of Gallaudet University, is one of our guests. President Hurwitz, how did the victory at Gallaudet change the thinking in the deaf community across the country and indeed around the world?

  • 12:20:05

    HURWITZLet me start by talking about what was happening in Rochester at that time. and the accomplishment that happened at Gallaudet University. Our students at that time decided to have four demands, which were very similar to what the students were demanding at that time at Gallaudet University.

  • 12:20:25

    HURWITZSo they were asking that the Rochester Institute of Technology become more aware about deaf culture and the ability of deaf people and how to provide opportunities for deaf people so that they can become more engaged in a variety of activities because a regular -- at a regular university like Rochester Institute of Technology. So the students ended up being successful with those four demands, and they were able to establish ASL classes for the teachers and professors.

  • 12:20:58

    HURWITZAnd there was the establishment of technology to be able to support the ability for deaf people to be able to make phone calls to their peers. So those were part of the four demands that the students established. And that was because of the inspiration that they got from Gallaudet University. Also at the same time, I was functioning as one of the associate deans.

  • 12:21:25

    HURWITZAnd I never thought that I would ever become dean or even president of the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at that time. That was never even a dream that I had. But because of the Rochester DPN, those things could happen, and I could become dean, and eventually, I did become the president of the college before I moved on to my position here at Gallaudet University.

  • 12:21:51

    HURWITZSo I think that did have a profound impact on the thinking not just about deaf people around the country and around the world but also young children like Fred mentioned about the experience that he had with his daughter. So young children in different schools now have the opportunity to be exposed to role models who are successful like. Greg was saying, people were now talking about becoming doctors and attorneys.

  • 12:22:20

    HURWITZAnd, for example, there's actually a deaf woman who's an MD who delivered my grandson. So anything is possible nowadays. And Greg is also an attorney, and so lots of people have become attorneys, physicians, entrepreneurs, among other things.

  • 12:22:40

    NNAMDIBut not many of them started out by attending a protest on a campus and then moving on to become president of a university at which he was himself protesting. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we will continue this conversation on the legacy of the Deaf President Now movement. You can still call us at 800-433-8850. What do feel are the biggest challenges still facing the deaf community?

  • 12:23:05

    NNAMDIYou can send us a tweet, @kojoshow, using the #KojoDPN. Send us an email to, or simply go to our website,, and ask a question or make a comment there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:24:59

    NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation on the legacy of Deaf President Now movement where we're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. What do you remember about that Deaf President Now movement? Joining us in studio is Alan Hurwitz, president of Gallaudet University. Fred Weiner is interim assistant vice president for administration at Gallaudet. He is a member of the Gallaudet Class of 1983. And Greg Hlibok is a former Gallaudet University student body president and member of the Class of '89.

  • 12:25:29

    NNAMDIHe's currently chief of the disability rights office in the Bureau of Consumer and Governmental Affairs at the Federal Communications Commission. In just one generation, there has been a huge change in the way deaf children can communicate with family and friends and interact with the world. Can you compare your own early experiences with those of deaf children today? How have new technology and changes in attitudes made their lives different? I'll start with you, Alan Hurwitz.

  • 12:26:02

    HURWITZWell, talking about new technology, as I described earlier, in 1988, even with the old technology, we were able to maintain communication with our friends in Washington, D.C. And right now, deaf people have access to technology, and so they're able to communicate with anyone. For example, I have an iPhone, and so when I travel around the world -- I've been to China, Russia and other parts of the world -- I'm able to communicate with my family.

  • 12:26:39

    HURWITZI'm able to communicate with my colleagues at Gallaudet University. And so, really, technology has been a boon for deaf and hard of hearing people. And nowadays, with the expansion of video technology and broadband technology, we're able to do a lot more than we ever have been able to do before. So we're seeing a lot more online learning take place by deaf and hard of hearing students. They're able to use that technology at the university to do that. And so there's a lot available with technology.

  • 12:27:16

    NNAMDIYou know, Fred Weiner, most of today's Gallaudet undergraduates were not born yet when the Deaf President Now movement took place. How is their experience of being college students in 2013 different from yours in the 1980s in terms of technology, in terms of instruction, in terms of opportunity?

  • 12:27:42

    WEINERI think the change is probably comparable to what the students experienced back in the '80s and what they're experiencing now. Now, you have access to information on the Web. I've seen students actually correct their professors in the writing and having conversations while they're writing text because they're reading and writing so much more. So sometimes, they put their professors little on the defensive.

  • 12:28:08

    WEINERProbably what's most different, I think, in terms of technology is providing our students today opportunities to get internships and to participate and communicate with others in the workplace in ways that I couldn't. We had a lot more limitations at the time when I was around, and we had to fight a lot to get access just to get into any kind of internship.

  • 12:28:30

    WEINERAnd now, they can speak and communicate with students from other universities, as Dr. Hurwitz was talking about pagers, people are able to text each other, tweet with each other, communicate in any number of ways along with interpreters. And there's, of course, always paper and pen that's always been around.

  • 12:28:50

    WEINERI think, one thing, well, just to side street, I think then when I was thinking about captioning on TV, I remember we used to get together in the lounge and watch whatever TV program's happen to be captioned, and there weren't many at the time. So, for example, we'd watch "Dynasty", some of the larger TV shows like that.

  • 12:29:09

    WEINERThat was big deal for us or maybe you all remember that as well. And the students now can choose whatever they want to be able to see. So I think that those are sort of the nature of the changes that I've seen.

  • 12:29:21

    NNAMDIGreg Hlibok, compare the career options for deaf college graduates today with the choices you faced when you graduated from Gallaudet.

  • 12:29:36

    HLIBOKWell, let me say that my personal experience when I was 9 years old, my parents are both deaf. My brothers and sisters are deaf. And so, you know, every kid at that age at 9 years old gets the question of, what do you want to be when you grow up, right? When I was 9, I said, want to be a lawyer. And at the time, many of the deaf adults in my life -- parents, friends, their friends and stuff -- were not encouraging to that dream.

  • 12:30:04

    HLIBOKThey say, well, you know, you're bright, but I don't know that you can be a lawyer. I don't know. How would you make an argument in court? How would you communicate on the phone with people? At that time, there was no relay service for deaf people to call a hearing person through a relay service. So I experienced a lot of pushback as a 9-year-old, but I didn't care as a 9-year-old.

  • 12:30:24

    HLIBOKAnd then I went into majoring in engineering at Gallaudet, and I saw so much encouragement especially after the protest. I changed my major to government and then went to my original dream of being a lawyer again. And that's what I am today. And I think what's interesting is that the technology before and after has completely changed the landscape. I'm in a position now where I oversee relay services that allow access to communication for people.

  • 12:30:52

    HLIBOKThere's a video relay service that we have now that's probably one of the best or if not the best thing to allow deaf people to communicate in their native language through video communication, and it's created so many opportunities for people. And I oversee that program now. It's so interesting to see the changes that have taken place just in my lifetime.

  • 12:31:11

    NNAMDISo if a 9-year-old deaf child says to members of his or her deaf community today, I want to be a lawyer, I want to be an astronaut, what is likely to be the response compared to the responses that you got when you were 9 years old but didn't care about?

  • 12:31:28

    HLIBOKGo for it. Go for it is the response they get. It's just so positive nowadays. I don't think there's a single negative that would hinder somebody from achieving their dreams as a deaf child.

  • 12:31:38

    NNAMDIAnd you wanted to chime in, Fred Weiner?

  • 12:31:41

    HLIBOKWell, this is Greg. If I could just continue to...

  • 12:31:43


  • 12:31:43

    HLIBOK...mention that deaf people really can do anything except hear that's a mantra that came out of the Deaf President Now movement, and it's really true. And it became a mantra of Deaf PN that deaf people can do anything except hear. We can accomplish whatever we want.

  • 12:31:59

    HURWITZAnd there's even, actually, a national organization for deaf people who are pilots, so deaf people do fly airplanes. So anything is possible.

  • 12:32:12

    NNAMDIThat was Alan Hurwitz speaking. And you wanted to chime in, Fred Weiner?

  • 12:32:18

    WEINERI think, also, one of the game changers was Web technology. For example, entrepreneurs now had access to able to sell online, things that before -- and reach an audience that before, they would not be able to do. You would have to do a phone call. And if you were using a phone back in the day as a deaf person, that would be difficult. But now, everything can be the same. There is a level playing field, then pricing can be a level playing field as a result.

  • 12:32:40

    HURWITZI also would like to add that in Rochester, there are actually seven deaf people that are medical doctors. And there is one deaf dentist and two deaf veterinarians.

  • 12:32:53

    NNAMDIWell, that just about says it all. Two years, Alan Hurwitz, after the Deaf President Now movement, Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act, and President George H. W. Bush signed it into law. What role did the student protest movement play in getting the Americans with Disabilities Act passed?

  • 12:33:17

    HLIBOKWell, I could respond to this.

  • 12:33:18


  • 12:33:20

    HLIBOKI guess I wanna start by giving credit to Justin Dart, who was a disabilities rights activist, a lifelong activist, a gentleman in a wheelchair. He's known as the father of the ADA. And he had been pushing for many years before that to have civil rights legislation, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to be translated into a disability legislation to promote the civil rights of people with disabilities. But until the Deaf President Now protest happened, they were really struggling, and it changed things.

  • 12:33:55

    HLIBOKAnd ever after that, he would always express his gratitude to those who lead that protest and made it easier then to move that legislation forward in Congress and get the ADA passed. And what I'd like to say is that the Deaf President Now movement really got Congress' attention, I think. I remember very well when Dr. Jordan became president. He went to Capitol Hill very soon after that and he gave a speech. And he gave a speech about budget appropriations.

  • 12:34:25

    HLIBOKBut congressmen stood up and gave him a standing ovation for a budget speech because they were thrilled to see that Gallaudet had come out on top with a deaf president after 124 years of investment, that deaf people had reached that level of achievement.

  • 12:34:40

    HURWITZI also wanted to add that we're very grateful for Sen. Tom Harkin because he's been the champion on the disability movement. And as you know, he has a deaf brother. And he was really the one who made things possible for Congress to be able to take action on it.

  • 12:35:05

    NNAMDIYou mentioned Sen. Tom Harkin. Like any good politician, he knows when he hears his name to show up. No. Actually, we invited Sen. Harkin on the show. He joins us -- he's a Democrat from Iowa, and he is the author of the Americans with Disabilities Act. He joins us from studios at the U.S. Senate. Sen. Harkin, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:35:24

    SEN. TOM HARKINHey, Kojo. Nice to have me on. I've been listening to the discussion, and I wanna say hi to my friends who are there. I guess Greg is there.

  • 12:35:32


  • 12:35:32

    HARKINIs Fred there also? I guess President Hurwitz is there.

  • 12:35:34

    NNAMDIYup. They're all...

  • 12:35:35

    HARKINLong-time friends. Great leaders.

  • 12:35:37

    NNAMDIThey're all here.

  • 12:35:38

    HARKINGreat leaders.

  • 12:35:39

    NNAMDIAnd, Mr. Senator, you have a long history of supporting equal rights, but what motivated you to sponsor this particular bill?

  • 12:35:48

    HARKINWell, I had started out in the House as -- I think Greg just mentioned my brother was deaf, and so I had seen how he'd been discriminated against to how he'd been told to limit what he could dream about, what he could do. So I started out in the House, first, working just on deaf-related issues, on getting captioning and the National Captioning Institute going, things like that. But then I became -- and I was also involved in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in the House.

  • 12:36:21

    HARKINAnd then when I went to the Senate -- about the time I went to the Senate in 1985, there was this huge movement that was broader than just the deaf community. It encompassed a move towards a civil rights bill that would cover all people with disabilities. And so then I became a member of that subcommittee. The chair was Lowell Weicker, a Republican from Connecticut.

  • 12:36:48


  • 12:36:49

    HARKINA what -- great, great human being, wonderful person. But then he got defeated, and so -- then it fell to me to take over the chairmanship of that subcommittee. And Sen. Kennedy tasked me at that time to then develop this legislation and see if we could get it through. And it took a long time, but we did it. And in 1990…

  • 12:37:15

    NNAMDIHow did the Deaf President Now movement help? How did it affect your ability to win public support and to win congressional votes for the Americans with Disabilities Act, Sen. Harkin?

  • 12:37:27

    HARKINWell, Kojo, I heard you ask that question earlier, and I tell you, the Deaf President Now movement just illuminated the whole issue. It became a global focus on what was happening in Washington. All of a sudden, one group of people with disabilities were demanding that people quit patronizing them and that they would have equal footing with everyone else. And it was sort of a patronizing attitude. I can tell you from my own family experience, that sort of patronizing attitude.

  • 12:38:08

    HARKINWell, what the Deaf President Now movement did is it illuminated this, and it also encouraged other people with other types of disabilities to also say, yes, I don't want to be patronized anymore. I wanna have my civil rights. You know, we had civil rights, again, for women, for race, religion, national origin but nothing that covered people with disabilities. And so the Deaf President Now movement was just like a sparkplug.

  • 12:38:41

    NNAMDIAnd you have said...

  • 12:38:42

    HARKINIt just -- I'm telling you, it just moved things immediately.

  • 12:38:46

    NNAMDIAnd you've said the Americans with Disabilities Act has changed America in ways that are largely invisible to most people but profoundly transformative for tens of millions of Americans with disabilities. What do you mean by that?

  • 12:39:03

    HARKINWell, what I mean by that is -- I mean, how often do you notice when you get on a bus that it has a lift?

  • 12:39:08

    NNAMDINot anymore.

  • 12:39:08

    HARKINYeah, you don't even...

  • 12:39:09

    NNAMDII don't notice.

  • 12:39:10

    HARKINYou don't even notice that anymore. Do you notice when you go into a movie theater that certain sections are set aside for families with people with disability? You go to the ballpark. You go to a ball field. You go into a building and the doors are wider, the restrooms are accessible. You don't even -- think about those. You walk across the street. Do you think about the curb cuts anymore?

  • 12:39:31

    NNAMDINot anymore.

  • 12:39:32

    HARKINYou don't even think about it anymore. And you turn on your TV and you punch your little mute button, and all of a sudden you see the closed captioning go across the screen. You don't even think about it anymore. And I'm telling you, it -- again, as I've often said, Kojo, the Americans with Disabilities Act not only opened up a whole new world for people with disabilities, it made life a lot better for people without disabilities.

  • 12:39:59

    NNAMDIIndeed because...

  • 12:40:00

    HARKINI mean, think about curb cuts.

  • 12:40:02

    NNAMDII was about to say we use the curb cuts as much as people with disabilities do, if not more so.

  • 12:40:06

    HARKINOf course.

  • 12:40:07


  • 12:40:07

    HARKINOf course. Mothers with the strollers, older people with walkers. I mean, everybody uses them now, sure.

  • 12:40:13

    NNAMDIBicyclists. Here is Shawn in Greenbelt, Md. Shawn, you are on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:40:18

    SHAWNWell, I have a story that I think is a bit of a parable for the deaf community in this technical age that we're now living in. When I was in college, I played water polo at the University of Rochester. And there was one day -- we scrimmaged RIT all the time, and there was one day in particular I will always remember. There was one guy that was playing for RIT that was always a step ahead of us.

  • 12:40:39

    SHAWNHe was always on fast break. He always knew what was gonna happen, and I couldn't figure it out. So I got out of the pool, and I just sat and watched him. And I figured out that what was going on was that the player was deaf. And in water polo, you have to hear the referee to understand what's going on. One whistle means one thing, two whistles means another and three whistles means a third thing.

  • 12:41:01

    SHAWNAnd because he could not hear the referee's whistle, he actually trained himself to be the referee. So as the referee was making a judgment call, he was making that same call and acting on it, whereas myself and the other players in the pool were waiting for the referee's signal and then acting upon the signal, but he was already acting by that point.

  • 12:41:19

    SHAWNAnd I think that's a great example for how people that are deaf in today's day and age, by compensating for that, by being good in the technical realm and being good at some of these new technologies that are coming online, are actually getting better at things that are more efficient means of communication. And I just wanted to get that across it. In some cases, things that other people think are disabilities, the human spirit can turn into an advantage.

  • 12:41:46

    NNAMDIAnd to think, Shawn, that we had the nerve or, as my mother used to say, the unmitigated gall to patronize deaf people and people with disabilities some time ago. It makes us seem really stupid on our part right now. We've got to take a short break. When we come back, we will continue this conversation. I'm gonna ask all of our guests to hold on. And if you have called on the phone, we'll try to get to your call. The number is 800-433-8850.

  • 12:42:09

    NNAMDIYou can shoot us an email to Send us a tweet, @kojoshow, using the #KojoDPN, or simply go to our website,, and join the conversation there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:43:58

    NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation on the legacy of the Deaf President Now movement. We're talking with Sen. Tom Harkin. He's a Democrat from Iowa who is the author of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Greg Hlibok is a former Gallaudet student body president and member of the class of 1989, currently chief of the Disability Rights Office in the Bureau of Consumer and Governmental Affairs at the Federal Communications Commission.

  • 12:44:21

    NNAMDIFred Weiner is interim assistant vice president for administration at Gallaudet University and a member of the Gallaudet class of 1983. And Alan Hurwitz is president of Gallaudet University. Fred Weiner, you wanted to add to some of the comments we got from our caller Shawn on the line about what might be at the centerpiece of deaf culture.

  • 12:44:43

    WEINERYeah, I did want to respond to Shawn's comments when he was talking about water polo and the idea that the deaf player was somehow ahead of the game. And I think the concept at Gallaudet is that we've been shifting away -- well, there is a paradigm shift that has been looking at the perception of deaf people as having a hearing loss, as there being something subtractive. We see it as deaf gain, something additive.

  • 12:45:02

    WEINERThere are things that deaf people do, in many ways, that people think of as compensating or due to -- rather than look at how we contribute, for example, sign to babies. We know for a fact that if you expose any infant, deaf or hearing, to language as early as possible, it helps with their literacy, if they're exposed earlier to sign, even, as opposed to speech. So that's one example of how, in fact, we as deaf people contribute to society, and it is about deaf again, and this is how we give back, by just being.

  • 12:45:38

    NNAMDIWe got an -- tweet from Jessica, who said, "I love the show. It's an important topic and the first time I've heard an all-deaf panel on radio or TV. It's training me to hear differently. And I can tell you that when we spoke about DeafSpace with architects from Gallaudet, we learned about a professor who is studying how deaf people survey urban landscapes, finding that they are more attuned to certain aspects of the landscape than hearing people."

  • 12:46:04

    NNAMDIBut I wanted to get back to you, President Hurwitz. What do you see as the greatest legacy of the Deaf President Now movement, and are there any issues in the deaf community today that have the potential, if you will, to spark another protest?

  • 12:46:19

    HURWITZWell, the greatest legacy of the Deaf President Now movement is that deaf people now know that they can do anything they want, that there is no limitation upon them. And I think what's more critical is that young deaf children have role models now, and they're now exposed to these people and these ideas. For example, at Gallaudet University, we've got many outstanding programs, and we have an outstanding athletic program whereby our students are able to play football, basketball, volleyball, and we play against other regular universities in the Northeast region.

  • 12:47:03

    HURWITZAnd our students do very well, and they compete on an equal basis with their hearing peers. Also, we've just established a new degree program in pre-med, pre-law, pre-business as well as pre-architecture. And so we're thinking a lot about the future, and that is a result of Deaf President Now and that movement.

  • 12:47:30

    HURWITZIt's making it possible for us to think bigger and to think about the ability of deaf people to be able to do whatever they want to do and to aspire to whatever they would like to become in the future. So I think that's the greatest legacy of the Deaf President Now protest.

  • 12:47:45

    NNAMDISen. Harkin, what do you see as the next challenge for improving the lives of people with disabilities?

  • 12:47:53

    HARKINFirst of all, Kojo, I just wanna follow up on Alan when he said about the legacy.

  • 12:47:57


  • 12:47:58

    HARKINYou know, we just dedicated a statue to Rosa Parks here in the capital. I'd like to say that the Deaf President Now movement was sort of the Rosa Parks moment for the disability community. That's what crystallized it. That's what just focused the attention first on the deaf community, but then it broadened out into the whole disability community. So the legacy continues. I wanna point out what's next. Another point of this legacy is something called the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.

  • 12:48:36

    HARKINWhat that is, Kojo, is that the United Nations, back about 10 years ago, decided that they wanted to promulgate a treaty, a convention, on the rights of people with disability. So they came to us because we were the best. We had done this. We had experience with it. And so they fashioned this convention after ours, after our ADA. It's now been promulgated. I think over 100 countries have signed on.

  • 12:49:04

    HARKINSad to say, we brought it up in the Senate in December. It did not pass. As you know, it needs two-thirds vote for a treaty. I can tell you that we'll be bringing it up, probably within the next 30 to 60 days, and I think we have the votes to pass it this time. So the legacy of the -- DPN as I called it -- Deaf President Now movement was not just confined to this country, it was worldwide, and it continues to evolve and grow.

  • 12:49:32

    HARKINAnd now other countries are saying, how do we change our laws so that people with disabilities can have more entree into the workplace and into the rest of society?

  • 12:49:48

    NNAMDISpeaking of the workplace, Greg Hlibok, you're on professional career has evolved in parallel, if you will, with the Americans with Disabilities Act. You talked about how you made your decision to go to law school and just a little bit about your role as chief of the FCC's Disability Rights Office. But if you can talk a little bit more about that, how do you ensure that communication services and equipment are accessible for people with disabilities?

  • 12:50:16

    HLIBOKThank you, Kojo. I think right now at the FCC, we're in the middle of implementing one of the largest legislative legacy systems with the Video Communications Act to be able to get that passed and signed by President Obama in October of 2010. That was a major effort that took place. It assures access to Internet-based video communication services in a broad scope.

  • 12:50:44

    HLIBOKIt's gonna benefit people with sensory loss, for people who are blind or deaf by having captioning on the Internet now, and we're moving towards a point where IP-based systems out there now in the -- are currently protected under older technology and older legislation. But captioning on the Internet now won't have full access because of those old legacy systems so we are working on implementing that to make sure that people can access that content on mobile phones, on tablets.

  • 12:51:22

    HLIBOKThey can have emergency notifications come up and all of the access that's necessary there. So we're making progress on that. And going back to what Sen. Harkin's point about the international impact on us. For example, we have -- we get requests from countries throughout the world at the FCC.

  • 12:51:40

    HLIBOKThey want to come to the FCC and learn about our laws, learn about our requirements and the things that we do and how we manage and implement these programs, so that they, as a country, can then take these and make them the law of their lands and make them a part of the society for their people so that equality can be further pushed out to the people. So I think it's part of doing the laws and changing the way people think.

  • 12:52:09

    HLIBOKWe're doing that so that we get to a point to where we can reach a day when we can say that any product, any service can be used by any one. And the answer should be that we get to that point quickly. And so that's our goal is that things can be use by anyone regardless of whatever disability or ability they may have as an individual.

  • 12:52:30

    NNAMDIBack to the telephones. Here is Omar in Washington, D.C. Omar, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:52:36

    OMARHow are you doing, Mr. Nnamdi?

  • 12:52:38

    NNAMDII'm doing well, Omar. Go right ahead.

  • 12:52:41

    OMARYes. I was born and raised here in Washington, D.C., and I want to say the huge change Gallaudet has brought to D.C. just in my short 30 years on this Earth. And, you know, being a huge patron of H Street, which is kind of a pub area that's just couple blocks south of Gallaudet University, it's great to see, you know, bartenders who are, you know, using sign language and -- like more bartenders, more servers.

  • 12:53:12

    OMARAnd just people in general who come around and to see them fully integrated into this, you know, it's more of -- yeah, communicate -- a form of communication. So a real eye opener in the changes that's going on in D.C., you know? And now with this new president, I look forward to more and further change coming to, you know, my city.

  • 12:53:34

    NNAMDIOK. Omar, thank you very much for your call. President Hurwitz, at one time, deaf high school students didn't have a lot of choices if they wanted to go to college but now they do. Who does Gallaudet see as its competitors today, and what does that mean for your efforts to recruit students?

  • 12:53:52

    HURWITZGallaudet University has been around for a long time, and next year, we're gonna be celebrating our sesquicentennial celebration. And so at one time Gallaudet was the only university in the world that served deaf and hard of hearing people. But now we have a proliferation of lots of colleges and universities that have programs and services for deaf and hard of hearing students. But at the same time when you think about going to a college, it's supposed to be the best time of your life.

  • 12:54:35

    HURWITZAnd we're talking about only a short four or five years over your lifetime, and it's supposed to be the best time of your life. So when you think about going to college, you think about not only getting a high quality education but also having a really meaningful college life experience. So where else can a deaf person become the captain of the football team? Or where else can a deaf person become the captain of the women's volleyball team?

  • 12:55:07

    HURWITZOr where else can a deaf person become the president of the student body government? Or where else can a deaf person become a leader -- have a lead role in the student play or become the editor of the school newspaper? So those are the things that helped deaf people to become a whole person and better prepared for the world of work. And so, yes, deaf people do have more options, and they can go anywhere.

  • 12:55:38

    HURWITZThey could go to Ohio State University if they'd like or to Harvard or to Berkeley, but at the same time, it's important to think about that real meaningful college life experience.

  • 12:55:52

    NNAMDISen. Harkin, we got an email from Zahara, (sp?) who says, "An apartment building in Alexandria has used the ADA to say that they could not put in a wheelchair ramp during a recent renovation. They said the law require that if they put in one wheelchair ramp, they'd have to do additional extensive renovations in other parts of the building. It seems to go against the spirit of the law," says Zahara.

  • 12:56:14

    NNAMDI"My brother-in-law lives there, and this problem had severely restricted his ability to get around in his wheelchair. What resources are there to help people when the ADA is used against them? What are the current efforts to fix loopholes in the ADA?" Sen. Harkin, can you respond to Zahara?

  • 12:56:35

    HARKINWe have available to people online or by voice, either one, for people who questions on this to be able to get those answer. We set that up. I'm sorry I don't have the numbers right now. I told this person...

  • 12:56:52

    NNAMDIOh, but I'm sure Sahara can find that.

  • 12:56:55

    HARKINIf they get a hold of my office, believe me, I can get this straightened out. Just call my office and we have technical experts to help settle this. I can tell you right now, again, we had these technical assistance centers to help people that have those kinds of questions.

  • 12:57:15

    NNAMDIAnd I'm sure that Sahara can find that number.

  • 12:57:17

    HARKINAnd it's -- I will. Sad to say, Kojo, that there are still people who are resisting these changes even though there are tax credits available for changing structures to be ADA compliant.

  • 12:57:34

    NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's...

  • 12:57:34

    HARKINAnd a lot of time...

  • 12:57:35

    NNAMDIThat's all the time we have. I'm sorry, Sen. Harkin. Sen. Tom Harkin is a Democrat from Iowa. He is the author of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Greg Hlibok is a former Gallaudet Student Body president and member of the Class of 1989. Fred Weiner is interim assistant vice president for administration at Gallaudet University and a member of the Gallaudet Class of 1983. And Alan Hurwitz is president of Gallaudet University.

  • 12:57:59

    NNAMDIWe'd like to thank the people from Gallaudet University who helped with today's show, the in-studio interpreters, Joe Lucas, Jeff Hardison and Billy Kendrick, and Kaitlin Luna, coordinator of media and public relations. We'd also like to thank Courtroom Connect and Captions Unlimited where Denise Phips has been providing our live transcription. And thanks to WAMU's Monica Arpino for providing the live video stream today. And thanks to all of you for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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