Today is Election Day in the United States. I know that many people have already voted, and I encourage everyone else to vote today, recognizing that some people may choose to remain neutral due to their religious beliefs. As with all elections, there will be a range of opinions and feelings about the outcome. I encourage everyone to be respectful and civil with one another.
This year is the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America.
“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”
The centennial of the 19th Amendment makes this election especially poignant for me, both because I know that I would not have been able to vote prior to 1920, and because I recognize that it took many more years for other constituencies to receive equal access to voting. Even today, there are still barriers to voting in many localities and for many groups of people, including those who are deaf and hard of hearing. We must surmount these barriers — and we will.
There are many ways in our society to express ourselves to the government: communicating directly with elected leaders, organizing, marching, etc. We have seen increased levels of civic engagement this year, with the novel coronavirus pandemic, racial injustice, economic challenges, natural disasters, and all the other events of 2020. Today is an opportunity to vote, one of the most powerful tools we have to share our opinions with our leaders.
There is one area in which I believe we can all agree. We need elected leaders who are themselves deaf at all levels of our government. Our ten-year vision, The Gallaudet Promise: Excellence in Learning and Discovery, calls on us to recognize the value of deaf people across the spectrum of identities. One of the ways we can achieve this is through deaf representation in all ranks of government. When we have deaf representation in government, we are demonstrating our value for the world to see.
Over the years, there have been several deaf elected officials in the United States and abroad. A few examples are deaf elected leaders at the local level in California, Delaware, and right here in Washington, D.C. Wilma Newhoudt-Druchen, a proud Gallaudet alumna and member of our Board of Trustees, is a member of the Parliament of the Republic of South Africa. If we are to truly be represented in government, we need to become involved in politics and join the ranks of elected government officials at city, county, state, and federal levels. Our society needs the deaf perspective — not only to enhance society for deaf people, but because the tools and innovations deaf people create benefit everyone.
One way to become more involved is through the newly-established Center for Democracy in Deaf America. CDDA is a non-partisan organization committed to developing healthy democratic skills and habits of deaf individuals by fostering civic engagement through American Sign Language and English. CDDA and other units and organizations are hosting several election-related events this week and next. Details are in last Friday’s Hi5 and yesterday’s Gallaudet Digest. I encourage you to participate.
In closing, thank you for exercising your right to vote. Our democracy exists because we make ourselves and our wishes known through the electoral process.
Roberta J. Cordano