Celebrating Deaf Culture and Civil Rights

As the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) reaches its 25th anniversary, my group in special education read “No Pity” by Joseph Shapiro. The book charts the course of the Disability Civil Rights movement at its height. It also inspired us to create a series of important projects that we would like to share with the general public. While no replacement for the book, it is a great resource. Below is a Deaf Culture and Civil Right Webquest that any Civics teachers is welcome to use in their classroom. For a pdf version, just email me.


Deaf Culture & Civil Rights History Webquest

Designed by Andrew Levin, ahlevin@gmail.com


The 1988 protest by deaf students at Gallaudet University was defining moment for the disability rights movement. It was the closest the movement has come to having a touchstone event, a Selma or a Stonewall…The Gallaudet campus takeover… was a made-for-television solidarity phenomenon, thick with drama. Cameras feasted on the sea of hundreds of outstretched arms signing “Deaf President Now,” over and over, in a rhythmic choreography. A school that prided itself on preparing deaf students for the hearing world had decreed a deaf person not ready to lead a deaf university.

-Joseph Shapiro, “No Pity”, page 74


As Mr. Shapiro points out, the student protests that successfully led to the first deaf president of Gallaudet were an extremely important step for Americans with disabilities. It emphasized a positive culture of disability and increased support for what would become the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In this Webquest, we will learn some background on deaf Americans and about the event itself.


  1. http://www.disabilitymuseum.org/dhm/edu/essay.html?id=38

As hard as it might be to believe today, the first school for the deaf Americans did not open until 1817. What did deaf Americans do prior to this? What drove Mason Fitch Cogswell and Sylvester Gilbert to form the Connecticut Asylum for the Education and Instruction of Deaf and Dumb People? Would any words used in the school name be considered outdated or even offensive today?







  1. http://aam.govst.edu/projects/sdomas/imagetable.htm Alexander Graham Bell was a famous inventor in the 1800s. He was also hard of hearing. Take a look at primary documents from Bell’s life. What links can you find between his inventions and deaf culture?







  1. https://youtu.be/oxiJ02-hpZY

Helen Keller was both deaf and blind. Despite these conditions, she became a well-known and well-liked advocate for Americans with Disabilities. How did she learn to communicate? What were greatest achievements?





  1. http://www.gallaudet.edu/dpn-home/issues/week-of-dpn.html

This timeline of the Deaf President Now (DPN) protest give details of what happened each day during that week. In just eight days, students and their supporters changed Gallaudet University fundamentally. Read through the timeline, how did deaf American embrace their culture? How did they involve politics?







Continuing especially the epilogue. Which reasons seem most likely to be why this protest was so successful, so quickly?







  1. http://www.edline.net/pages/S/About_Us/Sabre_News_Network/Broadcast

Watch this local high school’s newscast. At 1:38, there is a segment called the “Sign of the Week”. Watch the clip and then decide whether such segments are a positive development of deaf Americans. Cite evidence for your answer.






Deaf Culture & Civil Rights History Webquest Exit Slip

How would you define Deaf Culture?







How would describe the Deaf Americans Civil Rights Movement to a friend?





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