President Hurwitz, in his September 7 welcome back address to the campus community, emphasized that Gallaudet must strike a balance between maintaining its traditions and making changes that are necessary to ensure the University's survival. To illustrate his point, Dr. Hurwitz called attention to a pivotal moment in the education of deaf people that took place this summer after 130 oppressive years: the rejection of a resolution passed by the International Congress on the Education of the Deaf (ICED) at its Milan Congress of 1880 denying the inclusion of sign language in the education of deaf students.
The ICED's Statement of Principle, entitled "A New Era: Deaf Participation and Collaboration," adopted July 19 at the 21st ICED in Vancouver, British Columbia, acknowledges "with regret the detrimental effects of the Milan Congress" and issues a global call to "accept and respect all languages and all forms of communication" in the education of deaf people. The statement also aims to end a "disability mindset" among the general population that "contributes directly towards the exclusion and devaluation of all people who are considered 'different' including those who are deaf."
According to an ICED press release, the statement was joyously received by both deaf and hearing people in the audience. "History has been made today and the words of the Vancouver Statement can replace the hurt caused by the Milan decision," said Joe McLaughlin, chair of the subcommittee that helped develop the statement, in the release.
Hurwitz called the ICED's action "a triumph. For me, it was an historic and humbling moment."
News of the ICED statement was enthusiastically embraced by other deaf educators and representatives of organizations for deaf people, as well.
Dr. Cynthia Neese Bailes, a professor in the Department of Education, attended the 21st ICED conference and was in the audience when the resolution was announced. "...as it was happening, I began to think about the enormous impact the conference of Milan had on my life as well as that of every deaf individual in the room," Bailes recalled. "For the first time ever I wondered what our lives may have been like if that conference had never happened-if signing hadn't been deemed detrimental to the development of deaf children. I saw with this resolution hope for the future of deaf children and it brought tears to my eyes. It seems strange that, after years of reading about the conference of Milan, only now with this resolution did I really feel the enormousness of its impact."
"The faculty in the Department of Education is glad to see the ICED resolution rejecting the 1880 Milan Conference and believe it was long overdue," said Dr. Helen Thumann, department chair. "Though we try not to dwell on what could have been, it is hard not to think about how so many lives could have been different. This thought, along with our core belief in the right of all deaf and hard of hearing individuals to be bilingual, motivates us as a faculty to continue to work for change in the field."
"My initial reaction to the rejection was, "Great, but what action will be undertaken?" How do we forgive a 130-years-old 'crime'?" said Dr. Arlene Blumenthal Kelly, chair of the Department of ASL and Deaf Studies. "Aside from these sentiments, I was equally delighted by the rejection, because now we should be able to push ASL forward ... especially for hearing parents with newly diagnosed deaf babies. Mainstreamed programs should pick up the ASL ball too now that ASL is not a 'dirty word.'" Kelly added that Gallaudet "should now be more able to move forward with innovative ASL curricula that would engender more respect for the language-not only the curricula, but also to improve the general attitude towards ASL."
" ...We are grateful and proud to see the ICED take this important and very appropriate step towards reconciliation," said Bobbie Beth Scoggins, National Association of the Deaf (NAD) president, in a July 21 news release. "The formal rejection of the 1880 resolutions made in Milan by the ICED realizes a dream that we have had for 130 years. Together with the ICED we have taken the first steps towards a beautiful, bilingual future of cooperation and mutual respect."
The World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) website quotes Markku Jokinen, WFD president and executive director of the Finnish Association, in an article on the 21st ICED as saying "...The tremendous support for the New Era Accord shown at this Congress is inspiring. However, our work has only just begun. It will take time, patience, and wisdom to sustain permeating change. ..." According to the article, as a token of appreciation for creating the new Statement of Principle, Jokinen gave reindeer sculptures to the ICED Organizing Committee and to the British Columbia Deaf Community. "In Finland, from where I hail, reindeer are small but powerful animals which depend on each other in the pack to survive," he said. "Like reindeer, we need and value each other."