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Obituary: Emeritus Professor Desmond J. Power AM

From: Sign Language Studies
Volume 14, Number 1, Fall 2013
pp. 132-136 | 10.1353/sls.2013.0024

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Deafness is a part of the natural human condition.

—Des Power, Signs of Life

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Emeritus Professor Des Power AM, who was known to many Deaf people, academics and researchers in Australia and around the world, died on April 3, 2013, after respiratory complications following heart surgery. He was born in Cobden, Victoria, on March 23, 1936, and was trained as a teacher at the Geelong Teachers’ College and the Training Centre for Teachers of the Deaf in Melbourne. He later completed a BA in psychology and an MA at the University of Melbourne. After winning a Harkness Fellowship he completed a PhD at the University of Illinois. He began work in Deaf education in the late 1950s at the Victorian School for Deaf Children and Glendonald School for Deaf Children, and he is remembered fondly by many Deaf adults who were students at these schools. Des lectured at the Training Centre for Teachers of the Deaf in Victoria until he moved to the Mt Gravatt Teachers’ College (later part of Brisbane College of Advanced Education and then the Education Faculty of Griffith University) in Brisbane in 1979.

Des Power was not only an educator and academic in the field of Deaf education but also a long-time supporter of Deaf people and their aspirations for more access and opportunity. This was most evident to the Deaf community in his support for the recognition of signed languages and his belief that Deaf people should be able to access higher education. He did much practical advocacy for these two goals at a time when very few other people believed they were important.

Up to the mid-1980s, it was virtually impossible for a Deaf person to become a teacher of deaf children in Australia. Deaf people were told that such a thing was simply not possible, that there had never before been any deaf teachers of the deaf, that deaf people should be satisfied with a job in the public service, and that deaf people were silly to aspire to something like teaching. Des, on the other hand, had long wanted to see deaf teachers in Australia and hoped to make teacher-training courses accessible to them. Most of Des’s colleagues would have been skeptical if not downright dismissive. But Des Power was always ahead of his time, and he followed through on his wish to see deaf teachers in Australia. In 1985 the Mt Gravatt campus of the Brisbane College of Advanced Education began its innovative bachelor of teaching program by supporting five deaf students. Few people remember how precarious this program was: The Australian Disability Discrimination Act had not yet been passed, and most schools for deaf students at that time provided education only up to year 10. It was a challenge to recruit and retain the deaf students and a battle to persuade local schools to accept them for practice teaching, and for several years the money for interpreters, notetakers, and tutors was scrabbled together from small one-time grants from Quota clubs and other similar sources. Nonetheless, the program was a success, and after the merger with Griffith University the program was able to expand; as the Deaf Student Support Program (DSSP), it enabled deaf students to study in all departments. Scores of today’s professional deaf people in Australia are alumni of Griffith University. The DSSP has since been regarded as a model for other Australian universities, especially after the Disability Discrimination Act was ratified in 1992.

Through the Centre for Deafness Studies and Research, which Des established at Griffith, he supported the production of educational video projects such as Signs of Life (1989), the development of teaching materials for Deaf studies in schools, and many other innovative programs. He worked with Deaf researchers and supported many Deaf people in their studies. Breda Carty is one such grateful colleague who was able to work with Des on a range of projects and to complete her PhD at Griffith with his support.

Des Power was a consistent ally of Deaf Australia (known until 2007 as the Australian Association of the Deaf, or AAD) and always showed great interest in the lobbying activities of...

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