ASL popularizerRobert Panara

At age 10, Panara was hit with spinal meningitis, and lost his hearing. It didn’t stop him: despite the lack of interpreters or note-takers, he finished high school, thanks to becoming an eager reader. Only after high school did he learn American Sign Language, because he wanted to attend Gallaudet University, a school for the deaf and hard-of-hearing in Washington, D.C. He graduated in 1945, and started teaching at the New York School for the Deaf in White Plains while simultaneously studying for his Master’s in English at New York University. In 1949 he taught English at Gallaudet, and then in 1967 moved to the Rochester Institute of Technology, where he helped to create RIT’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf. Panara also founded the National Theatre of the Deaf, where he translated plays into American Sign Language; the plays’ performances helped popularize that language. “He was one of the founders of deaf studies — the study of the culture, the community and lives of deaf people,” said RIT Prof. Emeritus Harry Lang, who is also Panara’s biographer. Panara himself wrote books, including Great Deaf Americans and a collection of poems, On His Deafness (and Other Melodies Unheard). Panara taught at RIT until he retired in 1987. He died in a nursing home on July 20, at 94.

From This is True for 27 July 2014