Gary Malkowski, First Deaf Parliamentarian in History


Deaf people have also made numerous contributions to political life, as can be seen in Unusualverse. More and more Deaf people are occupying political representation and institutional positions (you can see a complete infographic here) but sometimes it is important to look back and remember who was the first Deaf person to occupy a political position: Gary Malkowski, in Canada.

Gary Malkowski en un despacho con un bolígrafo en mano ante una mesa, libros al fondo y sonriendo
Gary Malkowski en 2017 (foto: Gary Malkowski)

Misdiagnosed Mental Retardation

His mother discovered that Gary was profoundly deaf at the age of 18 months. One of Gary's most shocking anecdotes is that during his childhood he had a psychological assessment that determined he was mentally retarded, a slow learner, and had a mild intellectual delay. Fifteen years later, a new assessment found that he actually had an above-average level of intelligence.

Although Gary remembers that his education was inadequate and that he was misdiagnosed as a child with mental retardation, he earned two bachelor's degrees, one in Social Work and one in Psychology, as well as a Master's Degree from Gallaudet University.

Gary getting an award in 2015 (photo: Canadian Hearing Society)

Political Career

Gary ran for the Ontario Legislature for the New Democratic Party, a center-left political party in Canada. He was elected and held office from September 6, 1990 to June 7, 1995.

In this way, Gary has the honor of being the first deaf parliamentarian in the world to use sign language in the exercise of his functions. The first time he intervened in sign language in parliament was on November 21, 1990, he did so with two interpreters and during his intervention, the entire parliament remained captivated in silence.

You can see several photographs of Gary after his political appointment in 1990, including responding in sign language to journalists' questions, on the Toronto Public Library website here. At the beginning of the next video you can watch it during an intervention in the Ontario parliament as well as a short interview (English subtitles):


He is currently Vice President of the Canadian Hearing Society, an organization that serves deaf people and their families in Canada, as well as a Secondary School teacher.

Throughout his life he has been honoured with numerous awards, including the honorary degree from Gallaudet University – the L.H.D. Doctor of Humane Letters Degree in 2015, the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002 and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in Canada in 2012. In the following video you can see him giving a speech after his recognition by the University of Gallaudet:

Gary was a pioneer who demonstrated that sign language is a language as good as any other for political office.


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