WASHINGTON, D.C.—Last evening, U.S. Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) co-hosted the first in a series of monthly lectures for senators and their staff on the deaf community and its culture. The lectures will take place over the next five months and are intended to help senators and their staffers expand their knowledge of deaf culture and learn some basic phrases in American Sign Language (ASL) to more effectively communicate with deaf and hard-of-hearing visitors to their offices. The Senate Learning Center will provide additional information for senators and staffers regarding a free web-based ASL class for continued learning.
Harkin and Alexander are chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee.
“Though Washington, D.C. is home to a large deaf community—Gallaudet University is just a few miles from the U.S. Capitol—many senators and their staffers are not familiar with the deaf community or its culture,” Harkin said. “I am proud to cohost this series with Senator Alexander, and I hope that my colleagues will join us for what promises to be an engaging and informative series.”
“Sen. Harkin has been a pioneer in improving opportunities for those with disabilities, and I’m glad this series will expose more people to sign language and help break down communication barriers with the deaf community,” Alexander said.
The first lecture in the series featured Howard Rosenblum, CEO of the National Association of the Deaf. He discussed the history and mission of the organization, the views of deaf and hard-of-hearing people, and ongoing challenges experienced by deaf and hard-of-hearing people.
Harkin, whose brother Frank was deaf, is the Senate author of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. He also delivered the first-ever Senate floor speech in American Sign Language (ASL).