Each time I travel and meet with people in the Deaf community, I am asked to compare RIT and Gallaudet, and to identify which is a better school for deaf and hard of hearing students. I tell them that both institutions are exemplary in their own ways and that it is beneficial for deaf and hard of hearing students to have choices that best align with their goals. I encourage people to visit both schools to learn more about programs and services at each institution.
Leaders from both institutions make frequent trips to the Capitol Hill to meet with congressional representatives and staff to support their budget requests and discuss pertinent issues that impact educational and employment opportunities for deaf and hard of hearing students. They also meet with key individuals at the US Department of Education and other federal offices and agencies, such as Labor, Health and Human Resources, the Federal Communciations Commission, NSF, and the National Institutes of Health, to discuss educational and employment opportunities for deaf and hard of hearing students. Oftentimes, I’d tell the same story again and again due to the constant turnover in staff, elected officials, and political appointees. I also had to be mindful of their time and make an effort to keep each meeting as concise as possible. I always had to be prepared for questions that arose at any time during meetings or even between meetings. I also always brought an interpreter. An interesting difference is that while at Gallaudet, I frequently met with the congressional members of the Gallaudet University Board of Trustees. At RIT/NTID, however, I often met with the two New York senators and regional congressional representatives who covered Monroe County.
The challenge for both Gallaudet University and RIT/NTID is primarily recruiting students. Since the early 1970s, several federal laws—the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and other civil rights laws—have made it possible for colleges and universities to make their programs accessible to deaf and hard of hearing students. What this means is that students now have even more choices in selecting what colleges or universities they will attend. Funding for a college education is another challenge among deaf or hard of hearing students because of a major reduction in vocational rehabilitation (VR) funds for students with disabilities who aspire to go to college. Many VR agencies, which are at the state level, keep students within their home states and often require them to go to a community college for at least two years before they transfer to Gallaudet or RIT/NTID.