Deaf Person of the Year
Laurene E. Simms
Teacher, advocate, mentor
The Indiana School for the Deaf is a prominent Bilingual ASL/English school. On September 28, 2018, as part of its 175th-anniversary celebration, ISD named its Elementary Department Laurene Simms Hall, in honor of one of its best-known and most accomplished alumnae.
Laurene Simms was born into poverty and low expectations. Her mother, Rosa Lee Simms, was a homemaker; her father, Frank, a night-maintence man. One of seven children, Laurene was profoundly deafened by polio when she was a baby. Her parents, heeding the advice that passed for wisdom in those days, enrolled her in an oral school, but she became so frustrated that her mother decided that there had to be a better way. A seemingly chance encounter in downtown Indianapolis with a woman signing to her daughter led to Laurene's being enrolled at ISD—an option that Rosa Lee had not been aware of until that encounter. Laurene thrived, graduated in 1972 as Valedictorian of her class, and decided to become a teacher.
She earned her B.S. in Elementary Education from University of Nebraska, Lincoln (1986), and her M.Ed in Deaf Education from Western Maryland (now McDaniel) College in 1987. She returned to ISD to teach, becoming Principal of the Elementary School. She earned her Ph.D. in Language, Reading, and Culture (minoring in Teaching and Teacher Education) at University of Arizona, Tucson, in 2000, becoming ISD's first Black alumna to earn a doctorate.
She is Professor in Gallaudet University's Department of Education and a nationally recognized authority on bilingual ASL/English education for Deaf children.
She cofounded Deaf Women of Color, served as Program Coordinator of the first two Deaf People of Color Conferences (2007 and 2010).
The plaque describes her thus: "Her deduction to language, education, and social justice has made her a well-known, respected, and beloved figure in the Deaf Community."