Jump to main content

Deaf History Month

Deaf History Month

March 27, 2023

Introduced in 1997 by The National Association of the Deaf (NAD), National Deaf History Month recognizes the accomplishments of people who are deaf and hard of hearing. In 2022, NAD’s Deaf Culture and History Section (DCHS) and organizations representing marginalized communities, recommended the change in dates of observance to April 1-30 to be inclusive of experiences of BIPOC Deaf People and celebrate all Deaf persons in the US. The original dates of observance, March 13 – April 15, were established to recognize three key developments for the Deaf community which included the opening of the first public school for the deaf on April 15, 1817, now the American School for the Deaf, the founding of the first institution dedicated to advanced education for the deaf and hard of hearing, Gallaudet University, on April 8, 1864, and the third event was the hiring of the first deaf president of Gallaudet University, I. King Jordan on March 13, 1988.

Research shows that deaf persons often experience educational attainment and employment gaps compared to hearing people. In a root cause analysis conducted by the National Deaf Center on Postsecondary Outcomes (NDC), they found four primary root causes that affect postsecondary outcomes for deaf people. These causes include limited access to language and communication, reduced social opportunities, negative attitudes and biases, and lack of qualified and experienced professionals. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau showed that not only fewer deaf people (21.4%) completed a bachelor’s degrees or higher than their hearing peers (36.9%) in 2021 overall, there were also attainment gaps within the deaf community itself. While 22.8% of white deaf people have a bachelor’s degree or higher, only 16.8% of Black deaf persons, 16.3% of Latinx deaf persons, and 9.7% of Native American deaf persons have the same.

In an effort to improve experiences of deaf college students across the country, the National Deaf Center (NDC) is currently gathering data in their 2022-2023 Deaf Student Postsecondary Access and Inclusion Survey.  In the NDC report, Deaf People and Employment in the United States: 2019, data shows an employment gap of 22.5%. While 53.3% of deaf people in the U.S. were employed compared to 75.8% of hearing persons, the data also shows that deaf persons are actively looking for work to a greater extent than hearing persons and that employment rates for deaf persons have not increased from 2008 to 2017. Another key finding in this report shows that educational attainment appears to narrow employment gaps.

UNC is actively contributing to efforts to improve employment opportunities for Deaf people by offering one of only two MA programs in the U.S. that prepares students to be American Sign Language teachers. In fact, the Teaching ASL MA program at UNC is the only program that also offers K12 teacher licensure. This summer UNC welcomes its 10th cohort of students who will begin their journey to earn this degree. To date, more than 200 students, the majority of whom are Deaf, have graduated from the program and are working as ASL teachers in high schools, colleges, and universities across the United States.

UNC also has a history of preparing Deaf people to work as specialized interpreters in legal settings and currently is training interpreters in rural communities. The Improving Rural Interpreting Skills (IRIS) Project is a $2.1 million, five-year interpreter training grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Education Rehabilitation Services Administration to UNC’s ASL & Interpreting Studies Department and envisions increasing the quantity and quality of interpreters working and living in rural settings, including interpreters who are Deaf themselves.

UNC’s Disability Resource Center (DRC) provides D(d)eaf/Hard of Hearing services including American sign language interpreting, Computer-Aided Real Time Transcription (CART), and Closed Captioning. Services are provided for students, staff, faculty and University sponsored events in an effort to make events inclusive and accessible to everyone in attendance. The DRC provides an events planning guide, Inclusive Events A Guide to Planning an Accessible Event, to help you plan inclusive events.

Take Action:

For additional education and personal development related to diversity, equity and inclusion, as well as ASL English interpretation, the following resources are available: DEI Education and Resources, DEI & Antiracism Resources from the UNC Libraries, the Education Equity Toolkit from the Colorado Department of Higher Education, the UNITE workshops for faculty, staff, and students, Resources for Legal Interpreting, Project CLIMB, and the ASL Legal Dictionary for Deaf and Hearing Interpreters, the ASL English Interpretation BA program, and the Teaching ASL MA program. Those wishing to learn ASL are invited to consider taking an ASL course, or the ASL Minor, which are offered both online and on the Greeley campus. Additonally, UNC's Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology Clinic serves students, faculty, staff, as well as the greater community.