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An Advocate’s Commitment to Making Progress and Creating Opportunity

3 min read

King Jordan visits Clarke Philadelphia in 2018.

Throughout I. King Jordan’s career as an academic, disability rights advocate and philanthropist, he has emphasized the value of self-advocacy training. 

“I strongly believe that if parents model behavior, then children learn it,” says King. “Parents can demonstrate their belief in their children and their belief in their children’s ability. When they’re talking to families and friends, parents should emphasize the skills and abilities of their deaf child instead of what that child can’t do. If children see their parents advocating, then they will advocate themselves.”

King’s personal experience with self-advocacy began when he was a young man.

After serving four years in the Navy following high school, King lost his hearing in a motorcycle accident at the age of 21. Soon after, he earned his BA, MA and PhD degrees in psychology, with a doctorate focus on psycholinguistics. In addition to serving as professor, department chair and dean, King became the first deaf president of Gallaudet University in 1988. At the time, the United States Congress was in the midst of drafting and passing the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990). 

King at Gallaudet University in 2017. 

“I joined the Task Force on the Rights and Empowerment of People with Disabilities in 1988,” says King, “which was established to work in support of the passage of the ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act]. And when I went to the meetings, I realized how little I knew.”

Inspired by the far-reaching work of disability rights advocates, King then began advocating for all people with disabilities. And in 1995, he co-founded the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD). 

Communication as Opportunity

Much of King’s advocacy work has focused on the importance of strong communication skills. Serving on various boards as a member and a member emeritus—including the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, which supports Clarke—King has witnessed the success of children who are deaf or hard of hearing learning to listen and speak. 

“I visited two of Clarke’s programs [in Philadelphia and Boston],” says King, “and I’ve seen the children; I’ve seen the teachers; I’ve seen the environment there. And I’m delighted that the Johnson Scholarship Foundation supports this school because I can see the children learning. I can see them growing.”

In addition to serving as an advocate for disability rights, working in academia and speaking to audiences all over the world, King has even had a powerful voice at the Capitol. He served as Vice Chair of the President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities (PCEPD) for Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton; was awarded the Presidential Citizen’s Medal in 2001; and in 2010 was appointed to serve on the Commission of Presidential Scholars by President Barack Obama.  

Throughout his impressive career, King remains committed to the success of young people. He supports programs helping young people who are deaf prepare for careers—providing interview coaching and job placement assistance. He sums up his current advocacy work, saying, “All of these programs show the importance of communication and how people who are able to communicate will succeed.”

With the support of philanthropists like King and the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, more children will have access to the listening and spoken language skills they need to succeed.

King Jordan is also a board member emeritus of the the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, whose mission is to serve disadvantaged people by assisting them to obtain education and employment. Clarke, a grantee since 2006, is fortunate to be a beneficiary of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation’s challenge grant totaling $600,000 over three years. 

To learn more, visit

View Clarke Speaks 2020-2021 as a PDF.

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