We're speaking with Dr. Richard Hurtig, professor in the Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology in the University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. We'll be talking about the "History Through Deaf Eyes" exhibit, which is on display through Feb. 23 at the Hardin Library for the Health Sciences on the UI campus.
Q: Dr. Hurtig perhaps you can start out by telling us a little bit about the "History Through Deaf Eyes" exhibit.
Hurtig: The exhibit is brought to us from Gallaudet University. It was a collaborative project with help from the Smithsonian, which was an attempt to basically provide, both with images and with text, an understanding of one of the sort of unseen minorities in our society, namely deaf Americans.
This exhibit chronicles the history from the beginning of the first school for the deaf in Hartford, Conn., and it takes us through the '90s with issues of access and civil rights. It's a very interesting exhibit that has an Iowa connection in that Professor Doug Baynton from the history department and the American Sign Language program was one of the researchers who worked on pulling together the materials for this exhibition.
Q: Who would benefit from visiting this exhibit?
Hurtig: This exhibit is one that really both members of the University community, the Iowa community in general and the Iowa deaf community can get something from. It speaks to sort of all of the generations. The images are very strong images that portray life in the schools for the deaf around the country. It gives you a nice view that they were engaged in activities from sports to theater to drama to the regular educational curricula. It speaks to the debate between oralism and sign language. It speaks to issues of integration, and I think that people who have come to the exhibit have been everything from young children to people in their 80s.
For each of them it's a different thing so that for the older individual seeing images of earlier periods that they may have been part of. There's a section, for example, on the war years, namely World War II, the many people who have visited could connect with that. We have one image that comes from the Iowa School for the Deaf that is really one had a number of visitors taken in. It was an image of primary school class at the Iowa School for the Deaf, and one of the visitors said to another visitor, "That's your mother." We discovered that we had visitors who basically represented four generations of people who had attended the Iowa School for the Deaf.
Q: How does the exhibit highlight the deaf community and deaf education in Iowa?
Hurtig: When this exhibit was set out for doing its national tours, they wanted each of the sites to basically supplement that national exhibit with local materials. Here in Iowa we were very fortunate to have the assistance of the Iowa School for the Deaf that was able to contribute a lot of materials. So as you walk through the exhibit, what we've done is we've basically tried to find Iowa images to match some of the national issues. So there pictures showing dormitory life, classroom life. There are images relating to sports, there are images relating to some of the instructional methods.
This happens to be the 150th anniversary of the Iowa School for the Deaf. So we've been able to highlight the history of the school from its origins in Iowa City to its current home in Council Bluffs.
Q: What role does the University of Iowa play in deaf education?
Hurtig; A number of years ago there was a group of faculty who wanted to see the University play a larger role. You have to understand it wasn't so long ago that American Sign Language (ASL) was not considered an official language. It took quite a lot of work on the part of concerned faculty to first get American Sign Language accepted as meeting the language requirement of students entering into the University. Then about 11 years ago the University started to offer American Sign Language as a language, and it started with a single section with a plan to offer four semesters of ASL. Well, that was incredibly successful, and the waiting list was huge. Now, last year we celebrated the 10th anniversary of the ASL program, and we now offer seven sections each of ASL 1, 2, 3 and 4, and still have a long waiting list. So certainly the prominence of ASL on campus and an awareness of not only the language but deaf community and Deaf culture and Deaf history has certainly been enhanced.
A few years ago at the request of the Regents, we also began to try to put together a way that the University of Iowa could be in a position to train people who are interested in being teachers of the deaf and hard of hearing. So we now have an endorsement program that someone who has a completed a regular teaching training program takes additional course work in the ASL program and the Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology to qualify for an endorsement to be a teacher of the hearing impaired. This is still a program in its infancy, and we hope that curriculum can be enhanced over the coming years.
Q: You had mentioned Doug Baynton earlier. Perhaps you could talk some more about his role in the creation of this exhibit and any other University of Iowa connections.
Hurtig: Doug Baynton is a historian, has been interested in the history of the deaf community and has an award-winning book on that subject, and as a result of that was asked by the folks at Gallaudet to help work on the development of the content for this exhibit. When it turned out that there was a hole in the national touring schedule for this exhibit, he asked whether I could pull some funds together to bring this exhibit here, with support from academic departments, the colleges and the University, as well as some private donations we were able to get the exhibit to the University of Iowa.
We've had groups from all over the state express interest in coming to the exhibit. We're leading tours of kids and adults from all over the state. We've had groups coming from Cedar Rapids; we have a group from Des Moines coming later in the month. We have a group coming from the Iowa School for the Deaf, and their teachers, and we hope to also, once the exhibit leaves, to make this material available to Iowans through the Web site. We hope to be able to have all of the images available.
We also had two opening events with speakers coming from outside the University. We have Jack Gannon, the curator of the show, as well as Jane Fernandes, who's the Provost at Gallaudet and a University of Iowa Ph.D. graduate, come and speak as well as the superintendent of the Iowa School for the Deaf, Jean Prickett. We're editing those videos that were made of those sessions and we'll have those available to people around the state who could not come to the events or to the exhibit.
Q: Will the exhibit travel to other locations in Iowa? Where does it go from here?
Hurtig: When the exhibit closes here, it will go to Tennessee, and that's the last scheduled stop on this national tour. There is a PBS special that is being planned and hopefully will be airing in a year's time and hopefully Iowa Public Television will carry that program. Doug Baynton is again collaborating with Jack Gannon and the folks at Gallaudet on the development of that.
What we hope is that this exhibition sparks some interest in examining the history of an important community in the state of Iowa and that we'll be able to follow up this national exhibit with a more local exhibit, which will take some of the Iowa materials that we have pulled together for this, and additional materials, especially videotape materials that will hopefully then have the opportunity to tour the state so we'll bring to the far corners of the state of Iowa an exhibit of the history of an important segment of our population.
Q: This week on campus is Martin Luther King Jr. Human Rights Week. How does this exhibit reflect the issue of human rights or the challenges that deaf people have faced in our society?
Hurtig: In many respects, this exhibit is about human rights and challenges -- the right to have a community, the right to have a language, the right to have an education, the right to have a job. This exhibit has a number of components to it that I think speak to these issues. One of the interesting [components] in the exhibit where we're talking about the development of the schools, first is the transition from the concept of an asylum to a school. Basically, the sense of a "deficient" to someone who should have equal access to an education. Like education in the mainstream of this country, education of the deaf was also segregated, and so that is highlighted in the exhibit.
The right to work, which is a civil right/human rights issues is highlighted. It really wasn't until the Second World War when there was as great need to fill the factories with able workers that the deaf in large numbers became integrated into the mainstream workforce. There's an interesting section in the exhibit where on the tire manufacturing that was centered in Ohio that attracted a large deaf community, so much so that there were deaf clubs, deaf football leagues that were formed.
Then the final section of the exhibit deals with ADA [American Disabilities Act] access issues, so the whole question of the right to have an interpreter, the development of technology, so access to telecommunications. Then finally the civil rights struggle that led to having a deaf president for Gallaudet University. So I think that in many respects this exhibit is a wonderful exhibit highlighting the specific human rights issues related to the deaf community in the United States. I would encourage people during the month of January in particular to come and visit the exhibit. I think it speaks to the very issues that I think we think of when we think of Martin Luther King.
Q: Anything else you'd like to add?
Hurtig: I'd like to point out that without the help of the Hardin Library for the Health Sciences we probably would not have been able to have this exhibit at the University of Iowa. I think it's interesting to note that the Hardin Library is celebrating its 150th [anniversary] the same time that the Iowa School for the Deaf was. For people interested in the library, the library has also in their Rare Book Room put together a small exhibition of some of the materials in the library's possession that are related to this exhibit. They have some materials from Gallaudet, some materials from A.G. [Alexander Graham] Bell. So I think this is a nice way in which we see various components of the university coming together -- the ASL program and the libraries and connecting with our sister institution the Iowa School for the Deaf. So this is a collaboration, and hopefully as many Iowans both on campus and in the state can take advantage of this.
Q: Do you have the hours of the exhibit?
Hurtig: One of the nice things about having the exhibit at the Hardin Library is that the library is open seven days a week and has a fairly long schedule so if people need to come after work, there are evening hours. The schedule of the hours for the library is available on the University Web site. People can simply link to the Web site where the hours are available. But the exhibit is always accessible when the Hardin health sciences library is open and it is directly accessible from the first floor entrance of the library so there should be no problem of access. For people who need accommodations, we have large-print brochures as well as Braille for the visually impaired.
The "History Through Deaf Eyes" exhibit will be on display through Feb. 23 at the UI Hardin Library for the Health Sciences. The exhibit can be seen free of charge at any time during the Hardin Library's normal hours of operation. For information on hours, visit www.lib.uiowa.edu/hardin/hours.html or call 319-335-9151.