Fort Monroe Revisited
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Fort Monroe Revisited

Many deaf and hard of hearing adults today are experiencing great difficulty passing professional certification and licensing examinations—what we call "high stakes" tests. This situation is most unfortunate considering their great strides in achieving professional status in recent decades in many fields. Today there are deaf and hard of hearing K–12 teachers, university professors, social workers, clinical and school psychologists, certified public accountants, investment brokers, leisure services providers, linguists, lawyers, biologists, chemists, mathematicians, writers, historians, computer programmers, web designers, and even some doctors. This list would have astonished deaf and hard of hearing people as recently as the 1950s.

How did this happen? In his 1987 book, Meeting the Challenge: Hearing-impaired Professionals in the Workplace, deaf scholar Alan B. Crammatte describes the period between 1960 and 1982 as an era in which "a humanitarian revolution . . . brought many hearing- impaired citizens out of the closet of meek isolation into the active arena of competition for training, jobs, and recognition" (p. 1). Crammatte lists many events that, in his opinion, collectively led to growing assertiveness among deaf people to seek changes beneficial to all deaf and hard of hearing Americans. One such event, probably forgotten now by all but a few people, was a 1961 meeting in Hampton, Virginia, called "Fort Monroe Workshop #2." This meeting, Crammatte states, [End Page 364]

brought local and national deaf leaders and hearing professionals from across the nation to develop organizations and programs that would meet the needs of hearing-impaired people. The workshop was sponsored by the [U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare's] Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR) but was administered by deaf persons; it proved to be a watershed for hearing-impaired people. Many of the recommended actions became actualities in subsequent years. More importantly, a ferment grew among deaf leaders which led many a printer and craftsperson to aspire to more challenging roles as full-time professionals or administrators.

(pp. 3–4)

In light of all that has happened since, it is fascinating to read this brief summary of an apparently seminal meeting that occurred forty- five years ago, during which deaf leaders were charting their vision of the kinds of organizations and programs needed to enable deaf and hard of hearing people to reach higher than had previously seemed realistic. Equally interesting in a different way is the following description of the preceding year's meeting, "Fort Monroe Workshop #1": "an OVR-sponsored conference on research [that] involved mainly hearing school administrators (an ancient paternalistic pattern). However, the two deaf participants so impressed OVR officials that plans began soon after for a gathering of hearing-impaired leaders the next year" (p. 3).

My point in mentioning the Fort Monroe Workshop #1, which consisted "mainly of hearing administrators," is not to compare the participants to a group so infamously paternalistic as, say, the hearing delegates at the 1880 Conference of Milan but to contrast them to that group. Thinking, no doubt, of the Civil Rights movement, which focused national attention so unflinchingly on the plight of segregated black people, Crammatte states that the period that began in the 1950s "constituted an era of humanitarian concern for minorities." Such concern obviously affected the hearing delegates at the first workshop, who paid attention to the two deaf attendees, recognized their mistake in not inviting a sufficient number of deaf people, and took action immediately to correct this error by arranging for a follow-up conference that would be led by deaf participants. Crammatte describes the second Fort Monroe Workshop as a defining moment, in other words, not only because many of the ideas presented [End Page 365] led to genuine progress for deaf people but also because deaf leadership was recognized and appreciated at the meeting.

In the conclusion of Meeting the Challenge, Crammatte comments on how promising it was that, by that time, many deaf people had attained leadership roles at their own institutions, becoming superintendents of residential schools, coordinators of special programs in community colleges, college vice presidents, and deans. He added, "In time, we shall probably see a university provost or president." Crammatte did not have to wait long...