Eighteen years ago, deaf students at Gallaudet University in Washington, DC, passed alerts hand to hand and pulled fire alarms to agitate for a deaf president. This week, as the university prepared to announce its new provost, students were at the ready with email, digital photos, blogs and text messages to organize protests, reports the Washington Post.
Ricky ("Ridor") Taylor, a graduate of the liberal arts university for the deaf, had already written an article about his choice for provost, Jane K. Fernandes. The minute her name was announced, Taylor posted to his blog
(slogan: "Home to arguably the most controversial deaf blogger in America"). His voice was one of many.
The selection of Fernandes on May 1 shocked many. As she began her speech and some angry students walked out, Taylor's friends were filming and snapping photos, e-mailing them with Sidekick cellphones and typing in updates as a crowd surged to the front gates of the Northeast Washington campus to protest.
At the height of the demonstrations -- which a coalition says will continue, more quietly over the summer, despite worries about reprisals -- Taylor had 7,000 readers a day. His Web site, using his tag Ridor and the slogan "Home to arguably the most controversial deaf blogger in America," was just one of dozens trading news and rumor, filming life in the tents that sprouted by the front gates, drawing in people around the world. Pagers, video and broadband turned into engines fueling the protests, giving immediacy, reach and clout.
The immediacy of communication via new technologies has changed the balance of power at the Gallaudet, allowing anyone and everyone to have a voice. Sites sprouted up in response to the appointment where accusations and rumors, poems and speeches were posted. Mercy Coogan, a spokeswoman for Gallaudet said that some of the mostly anonymous comments online were just flat-out wrong, but they spread so quickly that they "can't always get the horse back in the barn."
"Deaf people had a sense of oppression for so long," said alumnus Joey Baer of California, "that they often just settled. But with technology, now they have access, communication, and I've noticed . . . people are looking at things in a bigger light. . . . They have the courage to come up and talk about these things."
A key emerging tech for the deaf is video logs, or vlogs, which allows deaf people to communicate online in the language they're most comfortable with – American Sign Language. (Here's one of many such vlogs on YouTube.com).
"Now we're reaching out to each other, quickly, and making more friends than ever," said Troy Towers, a Gallaudet alum who helps with a site.