American Sign Language pioneer Robert Panara remembered

William Woods ASL

The William Woods American Sign Language bachelors program remembers deaf education pioneer Robert Panara for all that he has done in the world of deaf education, literature and American Sign Language interpreting.

Panara was a trailblazer in the world of poetry, literature and deaf education. Spinal meningitis left him deaf at age ten. He grew up in a time where American discourse on educating and integrating the deaf wasn’t optimistic. His parents tried everything – even meeting Babe Ruth, thinking the shock would work as a method— to get his hearing back. Panara did not experience sign language until age 19, when he entered his first deaf classroom. There, he was determined to learn the language.

Panara was an advocate involved in the work for a fully integrated education system for the Deaf. He would graduate from Gallaudet College, the first deaf college to be allowed to grant degrees. He then went on to become the first deaf person to receive a masters degree from New York University where he studied English.

Mr. Panara helped found the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at the Rochester Institute of Technology in 1967, the first technical college for the Deaf. Panara has written books and literature that has helped bridge the gap between the hearing and Deaf.

Today there are over 120,000 deaf students in college in America and American Sign Language is offered at nearly every institution.

He died on July 20 at age 94.

My ears are deaf, and yet I seem to hear
Sweet nature’s music and the songs of man,
For I have learned from Fancy’s artisan
How written words can thrill the inner ear
Just as they move the heart, and so for me
They also seem to ring out loud and free.”

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