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

Her parents attended Gallaudet, and Barbara, known as Kanny, followed in their footsteps and earned her bachelor’s degree in Deaf Education in 1961. In 1970 she received a master’s degree in educational technology from the Catholic University of America in Washington. For her dissertation in Georgetown, where she completed her PhD in 1985, she examined the attitudes of 200 Gallaudet students and found that 62 percent of them considered themselves bilingual in ASL and English.

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

She met Ms. Paul, who was a writer and editor and advisor on women’s leadership (she is now retired), in 1971 at a gay bar in Washington, Ms. Paul said in an interview. The bar had phones on the tables so people could call other tables. Ms. Paul listening was with a friend who was Dr. Kannapell’s desk called, but everyone there was deaf and couldn’t hear the phone. So Mrs. Paul and her friend went and introduced themselves personally.

“The next day I ran to the library and looked for anything I could find about the deaf,” said Ms. Paul. She then met with Dr. Kannapell for lunch, where they agreed in writing.

Their relationship blossomed. When same-sex marriage was illegal, they held an engagement ceremony; they married in 2013 in the District of Columbia. Paul is the only immediate survivor of Dr. Kannapell.

Among the many interests of Dr. Kannapell, she was fascinated by the experiences of deaf Americans during World War II. Over the decades, she gathered a wealth of data, including interviews with deaf people who had worked in war factories and material she received from deaf people and their descendants. She published an early summary of her research in 2002 in the journal of the National Association of the Deaf, entitled “Forgotten Americans: Deaf War Plant Workers in World War II”.

Ms. Paul and various colleagues plan to complete their project and publish it in the near future.

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