Barbara Kannapell, Activist Who Empowered Deaf People, Dies at 83

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She gave them a consciousness of individuality and civilization and helped legitimize American Sign Language, which she considered her autochthonal language.

Barbara Kannapell, a respected consultant, pedagogue  and person  successful  the deaf world, successful  2017.
Credit...Mary Eileen Paul

Katharine Q. Seelye

Aug. 21, 2021, 1:14 p.m. ET

Barbara Kannapell, a world-renowned deaf activistic who made it her life’s enactment to empower deaf and hard-of-hearing radical with a consciousness of individuality and an appreciation for their ain chiseled culture, and who precocious the thought that American Sign Language was a legitimate, foundational language, died connected Aug. 11 successful Washington. She was 83.

The origin was complications of hep surgery, her wife, Mary Eileen Paul, said.

As the girl of deaf parents who was calved deaf herself, Dr. Kannapell grew up successful a supportive location environment, with American Sign Language an integral portion of her development. A.S.L. is 1 of much than 300 signed languages successful the world, with its ain grammar and syntax, and it has fixed millions of deaf radical successful the United States a afloat accessible connection from their earliest days.

Although Dr. Kannapell was comfy with A.S.L., her proceeding paternal grandma insisted she be a alleged oral school, successful which children are not allowed to motion and are forced to effort to speak.

Throughout her aboriginal schooling, Dr. Kannapell felt the sting of what is present known arsenic audism — rejection of radical who are deaf. At 1 school, she wrote successful a 2011 unfastened letter, the main tried to marque her accidental “United States.” When she was incapable to bash so, the main slapped her face. At another, students who could talk were rewarded.

The oral approach, which emphasizes speech, lip-reading and the usage of residual hearing, is inactive practiced contiguous and has vigorous defenders. But Dr. Kannapell wrote that for her, oralism was destructive and made her consciousness similar a failure. It “has contributed,” she added, “to self-hate and struggles with individuality for generations of deaf people.”

Still, she ever had a beardown consciousness of self, and with encouragement from her family, she forged ahead. Despite her aboriginal challenges — oregon possibly due to the fact that of them — she was determined to assistance deaf radical signifier a affirmative self-identity and observe their achievements.

She considered A.S.L. her autochthonal language, and it provided the linguistic instauration for her to go proficient successful English — which made her realize, she said, that she was bilingual. She is credited with taking the existing conception of bilingualism and applying it to the deaf acquisition — a breakthrough that recognized and elevated the worth of A.S.L. and empowered its users.

“Once I learned that A.S.L. is my autochthonal language,” she told The Washington Post successful 1988, “I developed a beardown consciousness of individuality arsenic a deaf idiosyncratic and a much affirmative self-image.”

She was the archetypal deaf idiosyncratic astatine Georgetown University to gain a Ph.D. successful sociolinguistics (the survey of a society’s effect connected language), and she became a fashionable consultant, pedagogue and person successful the deaf world. She conducted workshops connected powerfulness and oppression and lectured crossed the United States, Central America, South America and Europe connected the bilingual acquisition of deaf people.

She was a earthy assemblage leader. She was a laminitis of Deafpride Inc., a nonprofit advocacy organization, successful 1972, and served arsenic its president until 1985. The enactment was dedicated to deaf consciousness-raising but besides helped supply deaf radical successful the Washington country with entree to programs, interpreting services and A.S.L. classes.

As idiosyncratic who had struggled with sobriety (at her decease she had been sober for 50 years), she besides helped found an all-deaf radical wrong Alcoholics Anonymous.


Credit...Mary Eileen Paul

“Dr. Barbara Kannapell was years, if not decades, up of her clip successful each way,” Roberta J. Cordano, president of Gallaudet University, the world’s lone wide arts assemblage devoted to deaf people, said successful a statement.

“At a clip erstwhile motion connection was importantly doubted, devalued and undermined arsenic important for learning and connection development,” Ms. Cordano added, “she was 1 of the archetypal to probe and posit the value of American Sign Language for each deaf children and adults.”

Ms. Cordano noted that Dr. Kannapell “was besides proudly ‘out’ and a beardown advocator for the L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ deaf community, and a beardown state and person successful our assemblage for removing barriers for Black deaf people” — particularly successful the realms of acquisition and employment, arsenic good arsenic entree to services.

Barbara Marie Kannapell was calved connected Sept. 14, 1937, successful Louisville, Ky. Her father, Robert Harry Kannapell, went into the printing trade, arsenic did galore deaf people, and became a linotype relation for The Louisville Courier-Journal. Her mother, Eleanor (Houston) Kannapell, was a homemaker.

Both her parents attended Gallaudet, and Barbara, known arsenic Kanny, followed successful their footsteps, earning her bachelor’s grade successful deaf acquisition successful 1961. She received a master’s grade successful acquisition exertion from the Catholic University of America successful Washington successful 1970. For her dissertation astatine Georgetown, wherever she earned her doctoral grade successful 1985, she researched the attitudes of 200 Gallaudet students and recovered that 62 percent of them considered themselves bilingual successful A.S.L. and English.

After graduating from Gallaudet, she began a four-decade affiliation with the university, starting arsenic a probe adjunct successful 1962. Her past assignment determination was arsenic an adjunct professor, from 1987 to 2003. She besides taught astatine the Community College of Baltimore County, wherever she started arsenic an adjunct successful 1997 and retired arsenic an subordinate prof successful 2014.

She met Ms. Paul, who was a writer and exertion and a advisor connected women’s enactment (she is present retired), astatine a cheery barroom successful Washington successful 1971, Ms. Paul said successful an interview. The barroom had telephones astatine the tables truthful radical could telephone different tables. Ms. Paul, who hears, was with a person who called Dr. Kannapell’s table, but each the radical determination were deaf and couldn’t perceive the phone. So Ms. Paul and her person went implicit and introduced themselves successful person.

“I ran to the room the adjacent time and looked up everything I could find astir deaf people,” Ms. Paul said. She past met Dr. Kannapell for lunch, wherever they communicated successful writing.

Their narration blossomed. When same-sex matrimony was inactive illegal, they held a committedness ceremony; they joined successful the District of Columbia successful 2013. Ms. Paul is Dr. Kannapell’s lone contiguous survivor.

Among Dr. Kannapell’s galore interests, she had a fascination with the experiences of deaf Americans during World War II. Over the decades, she amassed a affluent store of data, including interviews with deaf radical who had worked successful wartime factories and worldly she received from deaf radical and their descendants. She published an aboriginal summation of her research, “Forgotten Americans: Deaf War Plant Workers successful World War II,” successful the mag of the National Association of the Deaf successful 2002.

Ms. Paul and assorted colleagues are readying to decorativeness her task and people it successful the adjacent future.

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