Why Is DPN One of the Most Significant Historical Events in American Deaf History?

In the history of the deaf community, one of the most significant events is undoubtedly the DPN or Deaf President Now movement. This event changed the course of American Deaf history and paved the way for greater recognition and opportunities for deaf individuals in society.

What is DPN?

DPN refers to a series of protests that took place at Gallaudet University, a renowned institution for deaf education located in Washington, D.C., in March 1988. The protests were sparked by the resignation of Gallaudet’s seventh president, Elizabeth Zinser, who was not deaf. The students, faculty, and staff at Gallaudet were outraged by this decision as they believed that a deaf person should lead an institution dedicated to deaf education.

The Demands

The protestors put forth four main demands:

  • The appointment of a deaf president
  • The resignation of Jane Spilman, who was then chairperson of the Board of Trustees
  • The reconstitution of the Board with a 51% majority of deaf members
  • No reprisals against any student or employee who participated in the protest

The Impact

The DPN movement gained national attention and support from various individuals and organizations, both within and outside the deaf community. The protestors utilized various tactics such as sit-ins, marches, and media outreach to draw attention to their cause.

After several days of intense protests and negotiations with the Board, all four demands were met. I.

King Jordan was appointed as Gallaudet’s first-ever deaf president on March 13th, 1988. This was a monumental moment for the deaf community as it marked a significant step towards greater representation and equality.


The impact of DPN was not limited to Gallaudet University alone. The movement inspired and empowered deaf individuals across the country and the world to fight for their rights and demand equal access to education and opportunities.

DPN also highlighted the importance of deaf culture and community, which had long been overlooked by society. It brought attention to American Sign Language (ASL) as a legitimate language and mode of communication, rather than just a tool for assisting those with hearing impairments.


The DPN movement was a turning point in American Deaf history that challenged societal norms and paved the way for greater recognition and opportunities for deaf individuals. It showed that when people come together with a shared goal, they can effect change even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. The legacy of DPN lives on today, as the deaf community continues to advocate for their rights and celebrate their unique language, culture, and identity.