Gallaudet University: A Higher Education

What will school look like for my Deaf child? Is a higher education possible for them if I choose American Sign Language (ASL) as their primary modality of communication? Will they be singled out as the only Deaf person in the class? Is there a school where my bilingual/bicultural (ASL/English and Deaf/hearing) child can thrive and be respected?

These were some of the questions that I pondered with regards to my daughter’s education in the future, even when she was just an infant who was newly identified as Deaf. Yes, it was still years away, but I am certain most parents start to think about this early on, regardless of whether their child is Deaf or hearing.

Teanna was born with bilateral, sensorineural hearing loss in the severe to profound range. She was identified late, at 18 months of age. She wears a cochlear implant in her right ear and her first language is American Sign Language. She identifies as culturally Deaf, has attended the Provincial School for the Deaf since Kindergarten, and is currently 15 years old and about to enter Grade 11 in the upcoming school year. At home we use ASL and also speak English. She freely chooses when she wants to use her voice, and with whom. I raised her with the intention of learning as much as we could about Deaf culture and immersing ourselves in the Deaf Community. Through doing this I learned about Gallaudet University, the only university for Deaf students in the world. Instruction is entirely in American Sign Language and it is located in Washington, DC.

Gallaudet University became a dream realized in 1816 when two individuals, Laurent Clerc and Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, met and traveled from Paris, France to the United States and wanted to open the country’s first school for deaf education. In 1864 President Abraham Lincoln signed Gallaudet University’s charter, The Enabling Act, which is an Act of Congress that allowed the university to issue degrees, thus enabling Deaf people to pursue a higher education. President Lincoln played an important role in the founding of Gallaudet University, and since then it has opened up a multitude of opportunities for Deaf/Hoh individuals globally. To this day Gallaudet is the only accredited liberal arts university for Deaf students in the world.

The university’s mission is to empower Deaf and Hard of Hearing (Hoh) Communities around the globe. Since the charter was signed, Gallaudet and its alumni have made various contributions to society and the Deaf Community such as:

  • The discovery and validation of American Sign Language as a language. Researchers have also recognized that there are over 120 sign languages throughout the world, and potentially another 200+ to be discovered and studied.
  • The conclusion that the Deaf Community has culture.
  • The declaration that the Deaf have political and civil rights.
  • Research that helps us understand how the brain acquires language.
  • It was a Gallaudet research team that created and patented the technology that currently allows us to text in real-time on our smartphones.
  • Gallaudet played an integral role in providing access in television and movies for Deaf/Hoh individuals through captioning.

Earlier this summer, Teanna had the incredible opportunity to visit Gallaudet University and participate in one of their week-long summer camps. She chose to attend the camp called DC2, which stands for Discover Colleges and Careers. It was an intensive camp where the participants explored their learning styles, interests, strengths and possible career options. They also learned about important skills such as financial literacy. I, too, had the opportunity to visit the university and take a guided tour. It was here that I learned about the highlights of its history and met students and staff. Gallaudet aims for students to “Connect. Discover. Influence.” as stated by their tagline. This means that students are able to connect with leading professors and other students, discover opportunities and influence the world around them.  

As a parent, it was so endearing to have my child return from camp feeling inspired and empowered, confident in her identity as a Deaf person, excited about the new friendships she made, equipped with new skills and knowledge and keen to plan her future education. I’d say, though she had only spent a short time there, Gallaudet had certainly accomplished their mission of empowering a Deaf individual! It’s difficult for me to articulate my emotions upon learning about Gallaudet and taking a tour. I could best describe it as a mixture of relief, giddiness and pride that such a place exists!

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