Sonnenstrahl, Alfred, 1935-
The Alfred Sonnenstrahl Papers, 1946-1995
Gallaudet University Archives
Repository: Gallaudet University Archives
Call No.: MSS 210
Creator: Sonnenstrahl, Alfred, 1935-
Title: The Alfred Sonnenstrahl Papers, 1946-1995
Quantity: 6 ½ boxes (3.5 linear feet)
Abstract: Papers of Alfred Sonnenstrahl, deaf engineer and advocate in the fields of telecommunications, employment, mental health, and gerontology. Bulk of collection is correspondence, clippings, reports and papers, and photographs.
Note: This document last updated December 2015.
Acquisition Information: Donated to the Archives by Alfred Sonnenstrahl, 1997.
Processed By: Christopher Shea, December 2015.
Conditions on Use and Access: This collection is open to the public with no restrictions. Photocopies may be made for scholarly research.
Related Material in Archives
• Half figure pose of Alfred Sonnenstrahl [photograph]. Gallaudet University Archives, call number: Portraits
• Head and shoulder pose of Alfred Sonnenstrahl [photograph]. Gallaudet University Archives, call number: Portraits
· Sonnenstrahl, Alfred. Gallaudet University Archives, call number: Deaf Biographical
Born 1935 in New York City to deaf parents, Alfred Sonnenstrahl was educated at the New York School for the Deaf and at the hearing Stuyvesant School, an advanced college preparatory institution. This training helped him enter New York University in 1954 and graduate with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering in 1958. During this time he married a Gallaudet student, Deborah Belle Meranski, and after graduation they had two children, Samuel and Beth.
Sonnenstrahl spent his early career as a civilian engineer in the Department of the Navy, helping to design ventilation, piping, and propulsion systems for ships and submarines. From 1964 to 1968, he served on the National Association of the Deaf Civil Service Committee, where his work helped thousands of deaf people find jobs in the postal service. In 1968, he attended the Leadership Training Program at San Fernando Valley State College (now California State University at Northridge), graduating with a master's degree in administration and supervision. Leaving engineering behind, he focused his work on the rights of the deaf, particularly in employment and support.
Through the 1970s, he worked in several different positions, including serving as a placement consultant on the Michigan Employment Security Commission, the state coordinator of deaf programs on the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission, and the director of the Petra Howard House, an institution for mentally ill deaf in Minneapolis. His work led to the creation of agencies such as the Massachusetts Office of Deafness, the Massachusetts State Association of the Deaf, and AT&T's Operator Services for the Deaf. He also worked with institutions such as the US Postal Service and Chrysler Corporation to find jobs for the deaf.
During the late 1980s and 1990s, the field of telecommunications was changing swiftly due to new developments in telecommunications technology, the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the breakup of monolithic telephone companies and ensuing deregulation. Sonnenstrahl became executive director of Telecommunications for the Deaf Inc. (TDI) in 1987, and was deeply involved in making sure that the deaf had access to these new developments. He was involved in drafting Title II and Title IV of the ADA, which provided for equal access to emergency services for the deaf and the creation of nationwide relay services. He went on to found the task force that was the predecessor of the FDA's Disability Rights Office.
For his efforts on behalf of the deaf, Sonnenstrahl received the Gallaudet University Alumni Association's Laurent Clerc Award in 2014.
Scope and Content
This collection mostly covers two parts of Sonnenstrahl's life: his work at various deaf-related agencies and institutions during the late 1960s and 1970s, and his work as TDI executive director from the late 1980s through the early 1990s. There is nothing from his earlier life.
The bulk of the material present consists of professional correspondence, articles and reports (by Sonnenstrahl and by others), brochures and programs, and newspaper and magazine clippings. The last covers activities of groups Sonnenstrahl was part of, or general issues related to the deaf.
Series 1. Papers from work on deafness issues, 1966-1980
This series includes papers from Sonnenstrahl's work with various deaf-related organizations, both governmental and private, in Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, and elsewhere. The most common types of papers here are correspondence, reports, grant proposals, and workshop records.
Series 2. Papers from TDI tenure, 1946-1995
This series includes both material produced during Sonnenstrahl's early term as TDI executive director (1987-1995) and older material that he used for research and reference during this period. The bulk consists of Sonnenstrahl's correspondence and newspaper and magazine clippings or brochures.
Of particular interest is a file of correspondence and photographs from Andrea Saks (daughter of Andrew Saks, who helped finance the first commercially available teletypewriters), which includes some historical photographs of the inventors of the teletypewriter with their creations.
Also of interest are some early TDD number directories published by TDI, including the first two directories from 1968 and 1969.
See series 3 for photos from TDI events.
Series 3. Photographs and other items, 1975-1990
Most of this series is unlabeled photographs, the majority of which are snapshots taken at TDI and other professional events. The series also includes some nameplates, signs, and a certificate of appreciation intended for Senator John McCain, which was withdrawn due to a typographical error.
|1||1||Brochures for Petra Howard House||Undated|
|1||2||Catalogs and correspondence on devices for the deaf||1977-1980|
|1||3||Clippings and proposals for Massachusetts Office of Deafness||1974-1979|
|1||4||Collection of articles on therapy and education||1960s-1970s|
|1||5||Correspondence and articles on oral education||1967|
|1||6||Correspondence and outlines for workshop on interpreters||1967-1969|
|1||7||Correspondence and papers from workshop on interpreting for the deaf in civil service||1977-1979|
|1||8||Correspondence for Minnesota Council of Organizations Serving the Deaf||1978-1980|
|1||9||Correspondence on continuing education and Elderhostel||1985-1987|
|2||1||Correspondence on state plans for the deaf||1975-1977|
|2||2||Correspondence with DC government on employment||1985-1987|
|2||3||Correspondence with Northwestern Bell||1979-1980|
|2||4||General Aptitude Test Battery tests and results for Michigan School||1966-1970|
|2||5||General Aptitude Test Battery tests and results for Michigan School||1966-1970|
|2||6||Maryland Association of the Deaf correspondence||1968-1972|
|2||7||Maryland Association of the Deaf correspondence on adult education||1966-1969|
|2||8||Maryland Association of the Deaf correspondence on incorporation||1966|
|3||1||Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission report||1974|
|3||2||MSAD constitution and bylaws||1977-1978|
|3||3||MSAD newsletters and correspondence||1975-1980|
|3||4||MSAD newsletters and correspondence||1975-1980|
|3||5||Newsletters and correspondence on Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf||1969-1970|
|3||6||Notes and articles for the Center for Education for Non-Traditional Students (CENTS)||1978-1980|
|3||7||Papers and clippings on mental health and the deaf||1969-1979|
|3||8||Papers and grant applications for vocational rehabilitation center||1976|
|4||1||Proposals and memos for Comprehensive Evaluation Training Center||1976-1977|
|4||2||Proposals and memos for Comprehensive Evaluation Training Center||1976-1977|
|4||3||Recommendations and agreements for coordination of deaf services||1977-1980|
|4||4||Reports and participation lists for Leadership Training Program||1969|
|4||5||Reports and workshop records on mental health programs for the deaf||1976-1978|
|4||6||Reports and workshop records on mental health programs for the deaf||1976-1978|
|4||7||Speeches on the employment of the deaf||1972-1973|
|5||1||Surveys and reports on hearing impaired population of Minnesota||1974-1979|
|5||2||Clippings and articles on deafness||1946-1976|
|5||3||Contact sheets of TDI board visit to fiber optic community||1991|
|5||4||Correspondence and brochures on international TDD issues||1991-1995|
|5||5||Correspondence and clippings||1970-1987|
|5||6||Correspondence and clippings||1986-1988|
|5||7||Correspondence and clippings||1988-1989|
|6||1||Correspondence and photos from Andrea Saks||1992-1995|
|6||2||Proceedings of 1st national TDI conference||1971|
|6||3||TDI national directories||1986-1989|
|6||4||"Teletypewriters Made Easy!"||1974|
|7||1||Certificate of appreciation for Senator John McCain||1990|
|7||2||Name plaques and signs||Undated|
|7||3||Postcards and patches from 7th World Winter Games for the Deaf||1975|