The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) is the oldest civil rights organization in the country given that it has been in continuous operation since 1880 with the mission of preserving, protecting, and promoting the civil, human and linguistic rights of all deaf and hard of hearing people in the United States. Recent stories on the Internet have however focused on two well-known entities laying claim to being the oldest civil rights organization in the United States: the NAACP and the National Rifle Association (NRA).
On its website, the NAACP makes the statement: “Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization.” The National Rifle Association (NRA), formed in 1871, states on its website that it “is America’s longest-standing civil rights organization. We’re proud defenders of history’s patriots and diligent protectors of the Second Amendment.”
According to the NRA website, its founder wrote in a magazine editorial that at its formation in 1871, “the primary goal of the association would be to ‘promote and encourage rifle shooting on a scientific basis.’” This goal remained for more than six decades until 1934 when “in response to repeated attacks on the Second Amendment rights, NRA formed its Legislative Affairs Division.” As a result, the NRA is older than the NAACP but did not engage in civil rights activities until after the formation of the NAACP. As a result, the NAACP is repeatedly referred to as the oldest civil rights organization in this country.
However, the NAD began with its first national convention on August 25, 1880 with the intent of promoting the needs and rights of deaf people in the United States. Since that time, deaf and hard of hearing members of this organization have worked together to address barriers and injustices that their community experienced across the country. The organization formally adopted the name of “National Association of the Deaf” in 1889. This founding predates the NAACP by at least twenty years.
The NAD continues today with its work to address challenges for the community in the areas of early intervention, education, employment, housing, technology, telecommunications, transportation, communication access, access to professional services, and much more.
Since 1880, the NAD has helped advocate for the passage and renewal of various civil rights laws (as well as subsequent amendments) including: the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Television Decoder Circuitry Act, the Telecommunications Act provisions on accessibility, and the 21st Century Communication and Video Accessibility Act. The NAD has since its founding sought to ensure that American Sign Language is recognized as a human and linguistic right for all deaf and hard of hearing people. In addition, the NAD has secured the rights of deaf and hard of hearing people to: marry one another, obtain governmental and private employment, drive cars and recently commercial vehicles, have communication access in all areas of life, have captioning access within various media, receive quality education from early childhood to higher education, and be treated as equals in society.
The NAD collaborates with many other disability rights and civil rights organizations to achieve our collective goal of equality for all. Much work remains before such equality is attained, and the NAD welcomes all support in ensuring that every individual is treated equally.
About the National Association of the Deaf
The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) is the nation’s premier civil rights organization of, by and for deaf and hard of hearing individuals in the United States of America. Established in 1880, the NAD was shaped by deaf leaders who believed in the right of the American deaf community to use sign language, to congregate on issues important to them, and to have its interests represented at the national level. These beliefs remain true to this day, with American Sign Language as a core value. The advocacy scope of the NAD is broad, covering a lifetime and impacting future generations in the areas of early intervention, education, employment, health care, technology, telecommunications, youth leadership, and more – improving the lives of millions of deaf and hard of hearing Americans. The NAD is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization supported by the generosity of individual and organizational donors, including corporations and foundations.