DISCLAIMER: These are my opinions and my opinions only. In no way do I represent any organisations within the Deaf community.
In 1988, a large group of Gallaudet students rallied for a Deaf President to be elected because they thought it was time after many years of hearing presidents representing the university. The Board of Trustees ignored them, and elected a hearing person to be the university president. This decision was not acceptable for the student body;
they delivered four demands to the Board, and organised a large rally that shut down the campus for an entire week. The Deaf community came to Washington, DC to participate. Senators gave their support for the notion of a Deaf President for Gallaudet University. Marlee Matlin was interviewed by ABC Nightline. Numerous media outlets picked up on the decision, although the Washington Post gave constant updates.
In the end, the Board gave in to the demands and Elizabeth Zinser resigned as the President. I. King Jordan was elected as Gallaudet’s first Deaf President, which he served for eighteen years.
This election was known as Deaf President Now! – a Deaf social movement. It changed the lives of the American Deaf community forever. It was a stepping-stone to the establishment of the Americans with Disabilities Act 1990.
In Australia, the time has come for such a social movement like DPN.
Deaf Children Australia is currently in the progress of selecting a new CEO. The thing is, they’ve never had a Deaf CEO.
It’s an organisation that strives to improve the lives of families with deaf and hard of hearing children. Yet it’s quite a hearing-centric organisation. The majority of staff there are hearing, and (apparently) not fluent in Auslan. They do not understand the issues we face throughout our lives.
Deaf Children Australia.
Ironic, isn’t it? The word ‘Deaf’ is the first word you see/hear when people talk about the said organisation. Yet, it’s primarily run by hearing people.
Deaf people have often found that their opinions are neither valued nor encouraged in decisions affecting their welfare (Jankowski, 1997).
This is the case with DCA. They do not value opinions from their Deaf staff and clients. They don’t connect with the Deaf community from a grassroots approach.
Simply put, DCA is not a Deaf-friendly organisation.
It’s high time for change.
“It takes a village to raise a child.” (African Proverb)
As a hearing parent of a Deaf child, I am so grateful and fortunate to have the Deaf community provide for my daughter in the areas that I simply cannot. Having Deaf role models that she can identify with, that she recognises are like her is just one of the ways the Deaf community acts as the village. My daughter and all Deaf children need more Deaf role models. They need role models from all walks of life, working in a multitude of areas and levels of responsibility. They desperately need Deaf role models in positions of leadership. Why? It shows them that it is possible; despite all the barriers they may have already faced in everyday life. It shows them that it IS possible.
To start with, they must select a Deaf person as a CEO.
If a Deaf person were selected for the CEO position, they would do an amazing job. They would give DCA the change it desperately needs. They would take DCA to new places. They would ensure that DCA reconnects with the Deaf community in Australia. Essentially, a Deaf CEO would provide a vision in align with the Deaf community.
Slowly, yet timely, Deaf organisations in Australia are recognising the need for a Deaf CEO. They’ve also recognised the need for Deaf people in high-level leadership positions.
A fantastic example from Jankowski (1997) about why it’s important to have Deaf people in power:
By declaring that Deaf people had more experience in being Deaf than did hearing people, Smith placed Deaf people in a position superior to hearing people. In so doing, he reversed the structural hierarchy, thus granting power to Deaf people.
Reversing the structural hierarchy will only work in Deaf organisations such as Deaf Children Australia. A number of Deaf organisations in Australia and around the world have adopted this approach, so why can’t DCA do the same?
Let’s get together and tell Deaf Children Australia that it’s time they elected a Deaf person as their new CEO. Tell them that it’s time for change.
Most importantly, if you are a parent of a Deaf child/ren or a young Deaf person, you are their stakeholder and this means you hold the power to tell DCA that change needs to happen, starting with appointing a Deaf CEO. There is no better time than now.
Deaf CEO Now!
Jankowski, Katherine A. (1997). Deaf Empowerment: Emergence, Struggle, & Rhetoric. Gallaudet University Press: Washington, D.C.