Page 1 of 5
The Early Years of PRWAD-ADARA:
"The 1960's, A Different Time"
Robert R. Lauritsen
For the next few minutes, I would like all of you to join me in a time shift back to the 1960's - more than 30 years ago. Try to think of what our world was like at that time. Color TV was just coming in, Deaf people were just getting the TTY - the big old clunkers donated by AT&T, NTID was still a dream, there were no regional postsecondary education programs (now changed in scope and mission), there was no RID, interpreters were essentially all CODAs, captioned TV was still years away. There were few services for deaf adults anywhere in the United States, nor the world. E-mail was more than 20 years away, fax machines had not been thought of, there was no Internet, World Wide Web, and no homepages.
As we look around at our world today, we can almost think of the 1960s as the Dark Ages of American Technology.
But there was a spirit in the 1960s - a need was being felt to do something constructive for Deaf people. It all began with a conference held a Fort Monroe, Virginia in 1961. David Myers, then a Gallaudet student, long-time member of PRWAD/ADARA and now of Texas, was there as he is with us tonight. This was one of the first of hundreds of workshops, conventions, and conferences that were to be held throughout the coming decades. At Fort Monroe, deaf adults [and] lay people who worked for free came together and said more has to be done. Some of those early pioneers included Fred Schreiber, Dewey Coates, Gordon Allen, and Ed Carney. Boyce Williams, from Washington DC, was there providing a federal presence. These pioneers were not professionals in the field of Deafness. They were printers, teachers in residential schools, workers in aircraft factories and roofers. Those in attendance were local lay leaders who worked their crafts by day and served the Deaf community in the evenings and on weekends.
The early 1960s was a time in history when federal dollars began to flow for a wide variety of deafness activities including money for workshops. For a period of time, participants had all expenses paid by the federal government to attend these workshops. Boyce Williams, with the leadership of Mary Switzer, was deeply involved with the flow of federal funds that were utilized in the 1960s, the 1970s, and the 1980s for a wide variety of workshops in the area of Deafness. Special words of praise and admiration must be said for Boyce Williams, a deaf man from Kenosha, Wisconsin, teacher at the Indiana School for the Deaf, and the first deaf person to be employed at the federal level in Rehabilitation. Boyce was ever present for decades and all of us here tonight owe Boyce an eternal debt of gratitude for his leadership. Indeed, it can be said that if Boyce Williams had not been the guiding light for Deafness and Rehabilitation, it is doubtful if there would have been a PRWAD/ADARA and it is doubtful we would be here tonight in Milwaukee.
In October 1964, a national workshop was held in the Hotel Andrew Jackson in Knoxville, Tennessee entitled, "Improved Vocational Opportunities for Deaf People," which was a key workshop that lead to the establishment of NTID and the then three regional postsecondary education programs (Seattle Community College, Delgado, New Orleans, and St. Paul). In those early days a lot of "piggy back" meetings took place at national gatherings. Those of us involved always seemed to have second agendas. At an after-hours session in Knoxville on October 21 some thirty professionals and lay persons shared their concerns, their thoughts, and their dreams. From this beginning, a steering committee evolved which lead to the establishment of PRWAD (Professionals Rehabilitation Workers with the Adult Deaf) some 19 months later. Members of the early planning meeting included Gary Blake, William Woodrick, Roy Patton, William Craig, Norm Tully, Alan Jones, Roger Falberg, Farrell Mitchell, Geno Vescovi, James Whitworth, Boyce Williams, and myself.