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Before the ADA, there was Deaf President Now

Danica Rice is an archives technician at the National Archives at Seattle, is partially Deaf, and considers herself a member of the Deaf culture and community.

During our celebration of the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), it’s worth reflecting on an event two years earlier that served as a catalyst for the Deaf community and may well have pushed passage of the legislation forward. The eight-day event I refer to is called Deaf President Now, and it happened in Washington, DC, on the Gallaudet University campus and involved marches in nearby areas as well.

The charter for Galluadet University: April 8, 1864, Public Law 43: An Act to authorize the Columbia Institution for the Deaf & Dumb and the Blind to confer degrees.

The charter for Gallaudet University, signed by Abraham Lincoln, April 8, 1864, Public Law 43: An Act to authorize the Columbia Institution for the Deaf & Dumb and the Blind to confer degrees. (National Archives)

In March of 1988, Gallaudet’s Board of Trustees was responsible for choosing between three deaf and one hearing candidate for the presidency of the only fully Deaf university in the country. After hasty deliberation, they chose the hearing candidate.

The resulting uproar among the students and faculty led to marches protesting the decision, which were nationally recognized by the media. Protesters associated themselves with the civil rights movement by stating “we still have a dream,” making it easier for people to understand where the Deaf as a culture and identity were coming from in their desire for someone who spoke their language to lead their university.

On the second day of the protest, four students organized those around them to devise and present four demands to the Board of Trustees that morning. They demanded that:

  • Elisabeth Zinser (the hearing president-elect chosen by the Board of Trustees) must resign, and a deaf president be selected.
  • Jane Spilman must resign from the Board of Trustees (This was the result of a rather uncouth comment she made, which she later denied, defending her decision to elect Zinser: “Deaf people are not able to function in a hearing world.” Needless to say, this angered many.)
  • The percentage of deaf members on the Board of Trustees must be increased to at least 51 percent. (At the time, there were few or no Deaf members on the board.)
  • There must not be reprisals against any of the protesters for exercising their rights under the First Amendment.

Eventually, after eight days of ongoing protests, marches, boycotts by students of their classes, and much more (even deflating tires of school buses in front of the University gates!), the board finally gave in—a huge civil rights movement victory for the Deaf.

At long last, the first Deaf president of Gallaudet University became Dr. I. King Jordan, and during his acceptance speech, he said, “A Deaf person can do anything a hearing person can, except hear.” This became the mantra for Deaf people worldwide.

The media focus that this week-long event elicited made the world sit up and take notice. Due to the focus from the media and the widespread support in the form of letters or interviews from many public figures as well as members of Congress, this movement became, in Deaf history, a culmination of who they were as a culture, giving profound strength to the Deaf community as a whole.

How does this relate to the ADA, you may ask? When I consider the freedoms we have today, the two most important events I consider crucial in our history are the signing of the ADA and Deaf President Now.

There are still many ways in which the world can improve on working with the Deaf and other disabilities, but the signing of the ADA made enormous strides for all disabilities. Without these two remarkable events, the Deaf would have considerably fewer rights—but through their existence, our culture solidified and unified as a culture with a history.

For further information on Deaf President Now, go to: http://www.gallaudet.edu/dpn_home/issues/week_of_dpn.html


The Archivist’s Favorite Pancakes

Some might say the best part of sleeping over at the National Archives is snoozing the night away beneath the Constitution, but we know the best part is having the Archivist of the United States make you pancakes for breakfast!

Enjoying pancakes made by the Archivist.

Enjoying pancakes made by the Archivist.

Three times a year, kids and their parents can stay overnight at the National Archives. And the next morning, David S. Ferriero is there, taking a break from his job as head of the agency to flip pancakes for our guests.

We asked him to share his favorite recipe that he uses when he makes pancakes at home–and now you can make pancakes just like the Archivist!

The Archivist’s Pancakes

Yield: 30 pancakes—depending on size

Ingredients:

2 cups all purpose flour
4 tsp baking powder
4 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
2 cups milk
4 tbsp melted butter
2 large eggs

Directions:

1.  Mix together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt

2. Separately mix together milk, butter and eggs

3.  Add dry ingredients to wet and mix—don’t overmix

4.  Spoon or pour batter (amount dependent upon how big you want them) onto griddle or frying pan

5. Sprinkle on chocolate chips or berries and cook for a couple of minutes until underside is brown

6. Flip and cook another couple of minutes

 

Southpaws at work! Patrick Madden, director of the Foundation for the National Archives, and David Ferriero, the Archivist of the United States, flip pancakes.

Southpaws at work! Patrick Madden, director of the Foundation for the National Archives, and David Ferriero, the Archivist of the United States, flip pancakes for our Archivist Sleepover guests.


On Exhibit: Voting Rights Act of 1965

Today’s post comes from Alex Nieuwsma, an intern in the National Archives History Office in Washington, DC.

The Voting Rights Act, August 6, 1965 (signature page). (General Records of the U.S. Government, National Archives)

The Voting Rights Act, August 6, 1965 (signature page). (General Records of the U.S. Government, National Archives Identifier 299909)

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is a milestone in American history. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed it on August 6, 1965, marking the culmination of decades of efforts toward African American equality.

The 15th Amendment, passed in 1870, clearly stated that “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

In response, many southern states issued voting tests to African Americans that all but guaranteed they would fail and be unable to vote. Furthermore, the Supreme Court ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), upheld the “separate but equal” doctrine permitting racial segregation. While African Americans were legally citizens of the United States, they commonly had separate drinking fountains, stores, bus seats, and schools.

The civil rights movement grew immensely after the Supreme Court’s Brown v. The Board of Education ruling in 1954, which struck down the Plessy v. Ferguson decision and deemed the segregation of schools to be unconstitutional.

The leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr., further propelled the movement.

A Baptist preacher in Alabama, King became a national face of the civil rights movement following his nonviolent marches and protests in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Photograph of President Lyndon Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act as Martin Luther King, Jr., and other Civil Rights Leaders in the Capitol Rotunda, Washington, DC, April 6, 1965. (National Archives Identifier 2803443).

Photograph of President Lyndon Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act as Martin Luther King, Jr., and other civil rights leaders look on, Washington, DC, April 6, 1965. (National Archives Identifier 2803443).

It was during one of these marches, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963, that King gave his famous “I Have A Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

Two years later, King was back in Washington, DC, to watch President Lyndon Johnson sign the Voting Rights Act into law. The bill passed in the House of Representatives by a 328-74 vote and in the Senate by a vote of 79-18.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 immediately changed the political landscape of America. 250,000 new voters were registered by the end of 1965. More than half of all African American citizens were registered by 1967.

The Voting Rights Act will be on display at the National Archives from July 31 to September 16, 2015. It will be featured in the Landmark Document display of the Rubenstein Gallery.

 


On Exhibit: Bloody Sunday

Between 1961 and 1964, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) held a voting registration campaign in Selma, Alabama, a town known to suppress African American voting.

When their efforts were stymied by local enforcement officials, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), led by Martin Luther King, Jr., pushed Selma into the national spotlight.

On March 7, 1965, 600 civil rights protesters attempted a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, the state capital, to draw attention to the voting rights issue.

Led by Hosea Williams of SCLC and John Lewis of SNCC, the marchers crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge over the Alabama River on their way to Montgomery. There they encountered Alabama state troopers and local police officers who gave them a two-minute warning to stop and turn back. When the protesters refused, the officers tear-gassed and beat them. Over 50 people were hospitalized.

Photograph of the Two Minute Warning on Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965. (National Archives Identifier 16899041)

Photograph of the two-minute warning on Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965. (National Archives Identifier 16899041)

The events became known as “Bloody Sunday” and were televised worldwide.

A few weeks later a march from Selma to Montgomery was completed under federal protection.

Later than year, on August 6, 1965—partly due to the efforts of civil rights activists in Selma and around the nation—President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Voting Rights Act. This act attempted to remove barriers faced by African Americans in exercising their constitutional right to vote.

The statement made to the FBI by activists John Lewis and Stella Davis, who were both injured during the events of Bloody Sunday, are on display in the East Rotunda Gallery of the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C. from July 30 through August 26, 2015.

Statement of John Lewis regarding Selma's "Bloody Sunday," March 8, 1965. (Records of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Archives)

Statement of John Lewis regarding Selma’s “Bloody Sunday,” March 8, 1965. (Records of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Archives)

A group of an estimated 3,200 Civil Rights demonstrators crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, March 21, 1965. (Records of the United States Information Agency, National Archives)

A group of an estimated 3,200 Civil Rights demonstrators crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, March 21, 1965. (Records of the United States Information Agency, National Archives)


Towards Freedom and Equality: The Americans With Disabilities Act

Today’s post comes from Rebecca Brenner, an intern in the National Archives History Office in Washington, D.C.

Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, July 26, 1990, page 1. (National Archives Identifier 6037488)

Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, July 26, 1990, page 1. (National Archives Identifier 6037488)

July marks the 25th anniversary of the historic moment when President George H. W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The ADA prohibits employers, the government, and transportation, among other agencies and institutions, from discriminating against people with disabilities on the basis of their disabilities.

On July 26, 1990, a White House press release stated: “The American people have once again given clear expression to our most basic ideals of freedom and equality.”

Like other movements for freedom and equality, the disability community endured years of discrimination before the ADA established their equality under the law.

However, even before 1990, 1973 marked a turning point, when Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act banned discrimination against people with disabilities in the allocation of Federal funds. Previous antidiscrimination laws regarding race, ethnicity, and gender influenced this new legislation.

This law helped to build solidarity among people with different disabilities, and from 1973 through 1990, the disability community battled against trends of general deregulation across the government.

Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, July 26, 1990, signature page. (National Archives Identifier 6037488)

Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, July 26, 1990, signature page. (National Archives Identifier 6037488)

Finally, on July 26, 1990, the ADA established “a clear and comprehensive prohibition of discrimination on the basis of disability.”

U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who championed the final version of the ADA, delivered part of his speech in support of the bill in sign language for his deaf brother to understand.

According to records held by the Center for Legislative Archives at the National Archives in Washington, DC, Senator Harkin argued: “The American dream is the dream of opportunity for all. And when any American is denied the opportunity to contribute, we all lose.”

The ADA introduced a legal framework for an ongoing conversation about accessibility and a mission to accomplish it.

Still, the journey continues towards freedom and equality.

According to a 2014 accessibility intern working in Washington, DC, the balance between accessibility and aesthetics is delicate. Many building components are built for grandeur, including long, stone staircases. For example, she explained: “When they were first put in, no one was thinking of including an accessible ramp with a slope of 1:12. That means that if a staircase goes one foot up, it has to go twelve feet out.”

She also addressed the accessibility of public events: “For most visitors, the two-inch drop between the flooring in the tents and the grass on the National Mall is no big deal. For anyone in a wheelchair or scooter, however, those two inches are the difference between being stuck outside and getting something to eat or drink.”

Between 2001 and 2005 the National Archives in Washington, D.C. underwent a major renovation which made the building more accessible to visitors with disabilities.

Today, the National Archives accommodates all visitors in both the archives and the exhibits. Accommodations include wheelchair accessibility, properly constructed and displayed signage, and alarm systems with audio and visual warnings.

The Americans with Disabilities Act is on display at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. from March 16, 2015, to July 30, 2015, in the Landmark Document display of the Rubenstein Gallery.

A nurse pushes a person in a wheelchair up the ramp at the entrance on the Pennsylvania Avenue side of the National Archives Building, c. 1969. (Records of the National Archives)

A nurse pushes a person in a wheelchair up the ramp at the entrance on the Pennsylvania Avenue side of the National Archives Building, ca. 1969. (Records of the National Archives)

Permanent ramp at the entrance on the Pennsylvania Avenue side of the National Archives Building, July 28, 2015 (Photo by Jeff Reed, National Archives)

Permanent ramp at the entrance on the Pennsylvania Avenue side of the National Archives Building, July 28, 2015. (Photo by Jeff Reed, National Archives)