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.

Mai Bryant-Kelly.

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.


  1. I think 18 years is way too long for a president to preside on the board. Note the word ‘preside’ instead of ‘serve’.

    1. Yet I.King Jordan gave Gallaudet many wonderful opportunities a hearing president otherwise would not have achieved. Jordan knew what was best for the university itself. The fact that he served Gallaudet for 18 years as its president is impressive; it’s rare for a Deaf person to hold a high-level position for that long.

  2. I am wondering if you know any potential Deaf candidates that would make a good CEO for DCA?

    While I wholeheartedly agree with you that DCA needs a Deaf CEO, to understand deaf culture, give opportunity etc. I am firm believer in merits. The next CEO for DCA must be fully qualified to be CEO and have understanding of Deaf Culture (which often require being Deaf or native sign language user).

    If there are no suitable qualified CEO presently to be found that is Deaf, perhaps it is important to present a plan to develop next generation of Deaf CEOs?

  3. The general concept of merit does not work when it comes to creating opportunities for minority groups, including women. I always balk at the word. Although I realise you are very pro what Sherrie says.

    The reason for this is simply that minority groups are often denied opportunities. It takes longer for many people with a disability to gain qualifications for example … on average four times longer. Women leave the workforce for long periods to raise children, Aboriginal communities face social and economic barriers which hinder their access to training and education, meaning they often start late.

    So you have a whole range issues that are preventing the development of experience and skills. BUT – many actually do develop those skills and are very capable. They are then expected to compete with people that had few issues gaining qualifications, few issues gaining employment, few barriers to gaining promotion. The consequence is that their resume and broadness of opportunities simply is not the same.

    If you expect those minority groups to compete on merit with the mainstream they largely have no hope. SO what they do is use programs that focus on positive discrimination to create opportunities or even suggest quotas. This has occurred for women for many years because people recognised that a whole range of circumstances prevented them from gaining the scope of experience of men and being able to compete solely on merit.

    As a friend said yesterday – if someone suggested that a Women’s organisation only employ a woman CEO, people would see this as perfectly acceptable and we wouldn’t be having the conversation that we are having now.

    Time to think outside the square.

    As for potential candidate … I could real of a list of 20 – I might even throw your name in there – 😀

    As for planning for the future that’s great too but I think we all underestimate the talent we have at our disposal.

  4. I totally agree DCA needs to appoint a deaf CEO. However, I pity the deaf person who takes the job – the minute they do something that someone in the deaf community doesn’t like (which is inevitable because you can’t please everyone all the time), a small but very loud group within the community will start tearing them and DCA down. It happens repeatedly to deaf people working in high level positions in deaf organisations. If we want deaf CEOs / deaf leaders we need to support them. We need to understand that we must look at the whole picture, the whole job they are doing and not just the few things the person might do that we don’t like.

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