Harlan Lane, the one who helped establish the American sign language program, at Northeastern
University, died at the age of 82 on July 13. He was a tireless champion and advocate for the deaf community.
In an interview with The Boston Globe, Lane said, “One disability scholar says that people with hearing problems reject the idea that they have a disability because there’s a stigma associated with disability and deaf people are trying to duck the stigma. In my view that simply fails to understand the their world. It’s a positive value
being deaf.” Lane argues that deafness is not a disability rather it is it’s own community as much as any other ethnic community.
His former students and colleagues described him as an exceptional scholar, teacher, and mentor who contributed to the Renaissance. Lane wasn’t physically deaf, he developed an interest in deaf culture in 1970 when he was visiting a professor at the University of California, San Diego at the time and had a chance encounter with deaf students who were signing to each other. This encounter sparked a lifetime of work. He established the American sign language program at Northeastern University and shortly thereafter hired faculty who were native speakers of American sign language.
In 1974, Lane invited a young researcher he had met at University of Paris 8 to join him at Northeastern University. That scholar, Fransisco Grosjean, ended up working as a faculty member at the Northeastern University till 1986. Grosjean and Lane collaborated to dedicate a whole issue of French academic journal Langages to sign language which, Grosjean says, cause many deaf people in France to shift their method from lip and speech recognition to sign language.
When Lane held faculty position at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. from 1987-1988, he was an outspoken member of ‘Deaf President Now’ movement at the institution. It was a movement to ensure that the nation’s only college exclusively for deaf hired a president who was deaf or hard of hearing. Lane received a number of awards for his scholarship. In 1991, he received the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship for his research on distinctive language and culture of the deaf community. In 2014, he was
named Commandeur de I’Ordre design Palmes Académiques, the highest academic honour given by French Republic.