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Gallaudet President Navigates From World Of Hearing To Sound Leadership Of The Deaf

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Gallaudet University President Roberta Cordano speaks using American Sign Language in her office in Washington, D.C. She is the first Deaf woman president at the university.

Becky Harlan/NPR

In its 152-year history, Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. never had a deaf female president — until a year ago. Roberta Cordano is the first deaf woman to lead the school.

Gallaudet is a liberal arts university devoted to deaf and hard-of-hearing students. Classes are taught in American Sign Language, and all students and faculty are required to know how to sign.

But president Cordano never attended a deaf school herself.

“I grew up during a period of time when it was believed that American Sign Language was what they called a monkey language,” Cordano says, speaking through an interpreter provided by Gallaudet. While the interpreter translates rapidly, Cordano whispers out faintly in English as she signs.

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