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Barbara Kannapell, Activist Who Empowered Deaf People, Dies at 83

eddygates1 | August 21, 2021


Both her parents attended Gallaudet, and Barbara, known as Kanny, followed in their footsteps, earning her bachelor’s degree in deaf education in 1961. She received a master’s degree in educational technology from the Catholic University of America in Washington in 1970. For her dissertation at Georgetown, where she earned her doctoral degree in 1985, she researched the attitudes of 200 Gallaudet students and found that 62 percent of them considered themselves bilingual in A.S.L. and English.

After graduating from Gallaudet, she began a four-decade affiliation with the university, starting as a research assistant in 1962. Her last appointment there was as an adjunct professor, from 1987 to 2003. She also taught at the Community College of Baltimore County, where she started as an adjunct in 1997 and retired as an associate professor in 2014.

She met Ms. Paul, who was a writer and editor and a consultant on women’s leadership (she is now retired), at a gay bar in Washington in 1971, Ms. Paul said in an interview. The bar had telephones at the tables so people could call other tables. Ms. Paul, who hears, was with a friend who called Dr. Kannapell’s table, but all the people there were deaf and couldn’t hear the phone. So Ms. Paul and her friend went over and introduced themselves in person.

“I ran to the library the next day and looked up everything I could find about deaf people,” Ms. Paul said. She then met Dr. Kannapell for lunch, where they communicated in writing.

Their relationship blossomed. When same-sex marriage was still illegal, they held a commitment ceremony; they married in the District of Columbia in 2013. Ms. Paul is Dr. Kannapell’s only immediate survivor.

Among Dr. Kannapell’s many interests, she had a fascination with the experiences of deaf Americans during World War II. Over the decades, she amassed a rich store of data, including interviews with deaf people who had worked in wartime factories and material she received from deaf people and their descendants. She published an early summation of her research, “Forgotten Americans: Deaf War Plant Workers in World War II,” in the magazine of the National Association of the Deaf in 2002.

Ms. Paul and various colleagues are planning to finish her project and publish it in the near future.

Written by eddygates1

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