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American Annals of the Deaf

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Alone in the Mainstream: A Deaf Woman Remembers Public School

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Chapter 1: Beginnings

1. Throughout this manuscript, I use the terms deaf and deaf or hard of hearing interchangeably. I have come to believe that for adults, these terms become self-labels, and there is no clear-cut or universal delineation between the two. Audiologists and educators recognize lines of demarcation that generally say that the person who can benefit from amplification provided by a hearing aid or cochlear implant is hard of hearing, and a person who cannot is deaf. One can look in any number of textbooks for such definitions. However, in my more than thirty years at Gallaudet and in my travels, I have met people who define themselves regardless of such textbook prescriptions. I have met people who have moderate hearing losses, use hearing aids quite well, and also use sign language fluently, who identify themselves as deaf. Likewise, I have met individuals with profound hearing losses who use hearing aids with relatively minimal benefit, may or may not use sign language, and identify themselves as hard of hearing. One can meet two individuals with the exact same degree of hearing loss, and even with the same etiology (cause of loss, age of onset, etc.), and one of these will self identify as deaf and the other as hard of hearing. Thus, I reject the idea that there is an exact line of demarcation based on actual hearing loss that would identify a person as deaf or hard of hearing. Although I had “only” a 50-dB loss in elementary school, and thus would be labeled hard of hearing by audiologists, the loss was great enough to render me “deaf” whenever there was more than one person engaged in conversation around me (which was almost always).

2. In March 1988, the Gallaudet University Board of Trustees, against the recommendations of alumni, students, and staff, appointed a hearing person to replace Dr. Edward C. Merrill, the retiring president. When the announcement was made, Gallaudet students began a protest that drew national media attention. It was the week prior to their spring break, and they were prepared to continue their peaceful demonstration for as long as necessary. The “Deaf President Now” protest was joined by alumni and other members of the Deaf community from all over the United States. At the end of the week, the recently appointed president and the chairman of the board resigned, and I. King Jordan was appointed the first deaf president in Gallaudet’s long history. Gallaudet students surely enjoyed a memorable spring break after that.

3. Padden and Humphries, Deaf in America, 115.

4. To give the reader some identifying information about the participants in the Solitary Mainstream Project, I have used the following: F = female and M = male. The number following the gender identification (e.g., “83”) refers to the year that the individual graduated from high school. This is important because it indicates how many of his or her K-12 years were spent after the passage of PL 94 -142, where presumably we would start to see some improvement in the “inclusion” experience.

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