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'You can succeed no matter what'

Former Galludet president urges focus on what you can do

Former Galludet president urges focus on what you can do

November 11, 2007|By MARIE GILBERT

HAGERSTOWN - In literature and film, the deaf experience often has been portrayed as isolated and tragic.

I. King Jordan believes nothing is further from the truth.

"Deaf people lead very rich and positive lives," he said. "I often say that deaf people can do anything, except hear. Any dream can become a reality."

He should know. In 1988, Jordan became the first deaf president of Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., the nation's premier school for the deaf and hard of hearing.

Many people in the deaf community remember where they were that year, when protests by students, faculty, administration and advocates resulted in the naming of Jordan as the school's president.

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The struggle became known as the Deaf President Now movement, with some believing the protests carried a similar moral message as the legendary civil rights marches.

Jordan went on to lead Gallaudet for almost 19 years, raising its profile and becoming a powerful symbol for the rights, abilities and strengths of deaf people. He also championed The Americans with Disabilities Act, which protects individuals with impairments from discrimination on the job.

Saturday night, the man who made history spoke before a large crowd at the Four Points Sheraton.

His appearance was part of the 20th anniversary celebration of Deafnet, a local organization serving the deaf and those who are hard of hearing.

Jordan said he was born and raised in a small town outside of Philadelphia, where he never met a person without hearing.

"My life was pretty normal," he said. "I graduated from high school, enlisted in the Navy and eventually was assigned to the Pentagon."

It was during those years that his life changed. Driving his motorcycle in downtown Washington, D.C., he was involved in an accident that left him profoundly deaf.

The doctors told him his hearing might someday return, "so inside my head and my heart, I told myself I was not a deaf man," he said. "I kept hoping my hearing would come back."

When a friend suggested he consider enrolling at Gallaudet University, Jordan said he decided to visit the campus.

"I saw deaf students, deaf faculty, but I didn't see myself as one of them," he said. "I didn't want to accept that I was one of them. If you're deaf, you can't hear the radio, you can't play the guitar. It took me one year at Gallaudet to focus on all the things I could do. At Gallaudet, I learned to become a deaf man."

Jordan eventually became a member of the faculty at Gallaudet and began working to provide the necessary support services on campus for both students and faculty.

His advocacy work continued when he became university president and continues today in retirement.

"Advocacy is my kind of word," he told the audience. "I will always work for the rights and abilities of all people with disabilities because I believe you can succeed no matter what. I encourage people to set high goals and work hard to achieve the goals they've set."

Jordan said that while he's one person and Deafnet is a small organization, "each individual we influence will influence someone else. Know that your activities on behalf of the deaf and hard of hearing make a huge difference."

With its office in Hagers-town, Deafnet serves parts of Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia and Pennsylvania. The organization offers such services as interpreter referrals, sign language classes, telecommunication devices and closed-captioning decoders.

The evening also included entertainment by Patricia "Trix" Bruce, awards and an ongoing slide show of Deafnet's first 20 years.

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