After losing his hearing due to a motorcycle accident when he was 21, I. King Jordan spent a lot of time denying the fact he was deaf. He says he considered himself “a hearing person who couldn't hear for a long time.”
Now Jordan, who became the first deaf president of Gallaudet University in 1988, has become a champion for what deaf people can accomplish. As he told a reporter when he was named president, “Deaf people can do anything—but hear.” (which didn't stop him being replaced by someone that could).
Next March marks the 25th anniversary of the weeklong student-led protests at Gallaudet University that ushered Jordan into the school’s presidency. The protests began when Gallaudet’s board of trustees named a hearing person as president, but students and faculty felt it was time for a deaf president to lead the school instead. The protests, which became known as the Deaf President Now movement, ended with King’s appointment. After 18 years as Gallaudet’s president, Jordan stepped down in 2006, but he maintains close ties to the deaf community and remains an advocate for the disabled.
When Jordan first found he could not hear, he clung to his doctor’s promise that it was due to head trauma and that his hearing would probably return. Before the accident, Jordan had planned to remain in the Navy and to enroll in helicopter pilot school. Instead, he enrolled in Gallaudet and graduated with his bachelor’s degree. Jordan went on to earn his master’s and Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Tennessee, and he joined Gallaudet’s faculty in 1973.
Jordan was the dean of Gallaudet’s College of Arts and Sciences in 1988, when the president announced he was stepping down. At the urging of friends and with the support of his family, Jordan decided to apply for the position. He spent weeks preparing, and he felt confident of his chances after his day-long interview. But on Sunday, March 6, the board of trustees announced it had instead chosen Elizabeth Zinser, a hearing person, as the new president.