Sign language history: 20th Century


Closed Captioning, 1980

Closed captioning was provided for the first time on televsion for eyeing/Deaf people. Its benefit was also later discovered for immigrants and foreigners who learned English as a second language. A few decades, it has been used prevalently in pubs and bars in the U.S. for anyone.

Tony Award, 1980

Phyllis French was the first Deaf actress to win a Tony award (the Best Actress), for playing the "Sarah" role in the play, Children of a Lesser God on Broadway.

Diana, Princess of Wales

1983: Diana, Princess of Wales, who accepted an invitation to be the Royal Patron of the British Deaf Association in 1983, later studied British Sign Language (BSL). -- BDA

The Smurfs

1983: "The Smurfs" became the first cartoon to use sign language in America on TV. The "Smurfing in Sign Language" show had the highest ratings that "The Smurfs" had ever had. -- World Around You, April 1984

Gallaudet University, 1986

Gallaudet College became a University, which is the only university in the world, where everyone talks in sign language (ASL).

Oscar Award, 1986

Marlee Matlin became the first deaf actress to win an Oscar award ("Best Actress") for the role of "Sarah" in the film, Children of a Lesser God.

Deaf President Now! 1988

Deaf President Now, a student long-week protest movement at Gallaudet University, began on March 7th. The protestors barricaded the school with four demands: 1) deaf president 2) the chair of the Board of Trustees to be resigned 3) at least 51% of the deaf Board of Trustees 4) no reprisals against students. The student protest leaders, faculty, students, staff, alumni, deaf community members across the U.S. and Canada, and supporters aboard unified in the protest. Elizabeth Ann Zinser, who did not know ASL, resigned. I. King Jordan was appointed as Gallaudet's eighth president and first deaf president. Philip Bravin was selected as the first deaf chair of the Board of Trustees and the members of the Board of Trustees fulfilled the 51 percent of the deaf members.

ASL Recognized in Manitoba, 1988

On December 6th in Winnipeg, Canada, a private member's resoultion was passed unanimously which officially recognizes the cultural uniqueness of the deaf community and American Sign Language (ASL) as a distinctive language of deaf people in Manitoba. (News release, 1988)

Related links: Timeline: 1990s.