NTID 50th Anniversary – Archives

NTID’s history is rich in milestones and achievements that have fueled the success of thousands of students and graduates. This feature provides a look at some of the people and events that have been significant in the history of our college community.

The Signing of the National Technical Institute for the Deaf Act, 1965

LBJ signing the National Institute of the Deaf Act, 1965

Public Law 89-36, known as the National Technical Institute for the Deaf Act, was signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson on June 8, 1965. The bill, drafted by New York Congressman Hugh L. Carey, established, for the first time in our nation’s history, a technological college for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, more commonly known now as STEM.

In the years since NTID first opened its doors on the RIT campus, deaf and hard-of-hearing students have come from all over the United States and around the world to take advantage of the outstanding career education and unparalleled access and support services that RIT/NTID provides. And research conducted in collaboration with the Social Security Administration shows that deaf and hard-of-hearing RIT/NTID graduates, across technical and non-technical fields, experience higher rates of employment and salary over their lifetimes as compared to their deaf and hard-of-hearing peers who graduate from other colleges and universities around the country.

The Signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 1990

Bush signing the Americans with Disabilities Act, 1990

Twenty-five years after PL 89-36 was enacted, President George H. W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act on July 26, 1990. The ADA prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities and requires employers, schools, businesses and other entities to provide reasonable accommodations to ensure access for individuals of all abilities. As President Bush said in his remarks that day, “With today’s signing … every man, woman and child with a disability can now pass through once-closed doors into a bright new era of equality, independence and freedom.” Much has happened in the intervening years, and countless individuals have benefitted from the ADA in education, employment and innumerable other ways. NTID President Gerry Buckley was invited by Senator Robert Dole to witness the signing of the ADA.

Trivia Tidbit by Sam Holcomb

Q: Did Lyndon B. Johnson, 36th U.S. President, attend the dedication ceremony of NTID buildings in 1974?

A: No, President Johnson died in 1973, but his wife, Lady Bird Johnson, attended the ceremony on the RIT campus.

Portrait of Sam HolcombSam Holcomb is a retired faculty member from NTID’s American Sign Language and Interpreting Education Department.

From the Archives

First Lady Lady Bird Johnson kneels at the dedication of the LBJ building, 1974

First Lady on Campus  Lady Bird Johnson participated in the dedication of the NTID building named for her husband, President Lyndon Baines Johnson, in 1974.

Sunshine, Too! 1978

1978 Cast of Sunshine Too!

The 1978 cast of Sunshine Too! gathers around a banner with the company name.

In 1978, Sunshine Too, a theatrical touring company was established at RIT/NTID. The troupe evolved from an ensemble of faculty and staff (Sunshine and Company), which performed poetry and songs at the National Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf convention, to a professional touring company. Comprised of six or seven NTID and RIT students, Sunshine Too traveled to schools and public venues throughout the nation—and occasionally abroad—performing original shows with themes relevant to schoolchildren and other audience groups. Performances and workshops incorporated ASL, dance, mime and music to educate audiences around the country about the Deaf community and culture.

The group disbanded in 2000, but in 2016, the troupe was revived as a theatre outreach program. Fred Beam, an NTID alumnus known for co-founding the Wild Zappers, is the coordinator.

Trivia Tidbit by Sam Holcomb

Q: When did RIT first start offering ASL classes?

A: NTID was established at RIT in 1968. ASL classes started shortly thereafter. In 1969, the Student Interpreter Training Program was established. NTID was the first in history to offer such a program. The ASL Interpreting Education Department was subsequently created to train ASL interpreters and to provide ASL instruction for faculty and staff.

From the Archives

Photo of an NTID dance class in 1976

No Disco Ball Necessary  NTID students learn to get footloose in this 1976 dance class.

Deaf Women of Rochester, 1979

Photo of the founders of Deaf Women of Rochester
Photo of Deaf Women's Conference

More than 50 women attended New York’s first statewide Deaf Women’s Conference held at RIT/NTID 37 years ago.

Sponsored jointly by the Empire State Association of the Deaf and NTID, the conference focused on four main topics: assertiveness training (in photo, above right); changing roles of women; deaf women’s rights; and a dialogue between homemakers, working mothers and career women.

Conference chair Vicki Hurwitz, who, at the time, was serving as a records supervisor in NTID’s Math Learning Center, said the day-long meeting was the first of many planned for the future.

By 1981, Hurwitz, Sally Taylor, Joan Dickson and Pam Hatch (L-R in photo above) banded together to found Deaf Women of Rochester.

The organization grew out of the friendship of Taylor and Hurwitz, both long-time staff members at NTID, who started getting together in the 1970s with other deaf mothers to discuss raising children and other interests. 

Trivia Tidbit by Sam Holcomb

Q: Which NTID building is named after a deaf person?

A: Peter Peterson Hall. Born in Sweden, Peterson arrived in the United States in 1887 as a teenager and shortly thereafter became deaf due to illness. He is known as being an advocate for a technical college for the deaf in the 1930s, decades before NTID was established.

From the Archives

A party celebrating NTID's tenth anniversary

Celebrating NTID’s First Decade  A band plays amidst balloons and streamers at the celebration of NTID’s 10th anniversary in 1978.

Allen Ginsberg Visits NTID, 1984

The famed Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, author of such classic works as “Howl,” visited RIT in 1984 to learn more about Deaf culture and discuss how poetry could translate into sign language.

Dr. Robert Panara, then an English and drama professor at NTID, served with Ginsberg as a co-presenter in a workshop hosted for NTID students. Attendees recall discussing how a new international style of poetry came to rely more strongly on language that expressed imagery as a means of getting around traditional communication barriers.

This particular event is famous for Patrick Graybill’s interpretation of a line from “Howl,” in which the poem describes “listening to the hydrogen jukebox.” The similarly named video, “The Heart of the Hydrogen Jukebox,” produced by Miriam Lerner and Donald Feigel, both employees of NTID, documents this event.

Ginsberg’s visit also sparked a renewed—and continuing—interest in signed poetry, led by workshop attendees and future performers such as Peter Cook, current chair of the American Sign Language Department at Columbia College Chicago. 

Trivia Tidbit by Sam Holcomb

Q: Are there any deaf athletes in RIT’s Hall of Fame?

A: Yes, there are eleven deaf and hard-of-hearing athletes and one interpreter in RIT’s Hall of Fame, and more have been recognized for their success in intramural sports.

From the Archives

A film still showing Patrick Graybill

Poetry in Motion  A still from Miriam Lerner and Donald Feigel’s film, “Heart of the Hydrogen Jukebox,” showing Patrick Graybill attempting to sign “hydrogen jukebox.”

Creative Dance

The dance program has long been considered a mainstay of NTID’s strong Performing Arts Department. The program formally saw its beginnings in 1975, seven years after NTID first opened its doors.

In 1982, the first full-time dance instructor at NTID, Susan Galligan, was hired. Also director of the RIT Dance Company, Galligan helped formalize NTID’s dance program, which had until then been a selection of courses taught by consultants from RIT.

In spring 1982, Kathleen Sullivan reported in “FOCUS” that the program garnered increasing interest due to the success of dance-centered Broadway shows like “A Chorus Line” and visits to campus by stars like Mikhail Baryshnikov, the iconic Russian-American ballet dancer. The program was so popular that students sometimes enrolled in multiple dance courses in the same quarter.

Today, the Performing Arts program offers courses in jazz, hip-hop, modern dance and ballet, and hosts one large production every year in addition to several smaller ones around campus. The Dance Lab also currently is part of a broader campaign to raise funds for renovations to NTID’s theater facilities. More information can be found at: www.ntid.rit.edu/50reunion/giving/theater.

Trivia Tidbit by Sam Holcomb

Q: Have any famous deaf dancers worked at NTID?

A: Yes. For example, Michael Thomas, an internationally known dancer and choreographer, directed a production of “Cinderella” in 1994 and 1995.

From the Archives

Students in a 1982 dance class

Creative Dance  Students in a Dance Performance I class in 1982 use an elastic band to experience “tension” as a creative movement.