Celebrating Deaf History
April is Deaf History Month! It is a time to recognize and celebrate the achievements and contributions of Deaf individuals throughout history. From inventors to artists, Deaf individuals have made significant contributions to society, despite facing numerous barriers and obstacles. It is important to recognize these achievements not only to honor the accomplishments of Deaf individuals but also to challenge societal perceptions and prejudices towards Deafness.
It is essential to acknowledge that Deaf individuals are still making history today, as their achievements and contributions should continue to be celebrated and recognized. These ten Deaf individuals have overcome barriers and made history in America in their respective fields.
Still Making History…
Derrick Coleman became the first Deaf offensive player in the NFL when he signed with the Minnesota Vikings in 2012. He has now played for several teams, including the Seattle Seahawks, Atlanta Falcons, and Arizona Cardinals. Coleman communicates with his teammates during games using sign language and lip-reading.
Haben Girma became the first DeafBlind person to graduate from Harvard Law School in 2013. Today she advocates for disability rights and accessibility in technology and education.
Clayton Valli became the first person ever to achieve a doctorate in ASL poetry in 1993. He is the Deaf linguist and ASL poet who identified ASL poetry as a literary genre, paving the way for future Deaf poets to express themselves in their native language.
Claudia L. Gordon
Claudia L. Gordon made history in 2000 when she became the first female Deaf Black attorney in the United States. She has worked as a senior policy advisor for the Department of Homeland Security, Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, advocating for civil rights for all individuals, including those who are Deaf or hard-of-hearing.
Vint Cerf, known as one of the “fathers of the internet,” co-invented the TCP/IP protocol, which paved the way for the invention of the internet we use today. He has worked at NASA and served as the Chief Internet Evangelist at Google, winning countless awards in fields such as technology and engineering.
Marlee Matlin became the first Deaf individual to win an Oscar when she won best actress for Children of a Lesser God in 1986, breaking barriers in the entertainment industry. In 2022 she won a Screen Actor’s Guild award for the widely-popular film, CODA.
Troy Kotsur became the first Deaf man to win an Oscar when he won best supporting actor in 2022. He was awarded for his role in CODA, the first film with a primarily Deaf cast to win Best Picture.
Roberta Cordano became the first Deaf woman and the first openly LGBTQ individual to become president of Gallaudet University, the world’s only university for Deaf and hard-of-hearing people. She was also recognized as one of USA Today’s Women of the Year in 2023.
Nyle DiMarco became the first Deaf contestant to win America’s Next Top Model in 2015. The following year, he became the first Deaf contestant to win Dancing with the Stars.
Justina Miles made history as the first Deaf woman to perform ASL at the Super Bowl pre-game and halftime shows in 2023, showcasing the beauty and expressiveness of ASL on a national stage.
These ten individuals are just a few examples of the many Deaf individuals who have made history in America, proving that Deafness does not limit one’s potential for achievement and success. By breaking barriers and paving the way for future generations, they have left an indelible mark on American history and continue to inspire others to pursue their dreams.