by Stan Griffin, Deaf Friends International Special Contributor

Terrence James ("T. J.") O’Rourke crammed a lot of activity into his nearly three score years of life, tragically cut short in 1992 by a fatal heart attack. He was an acknowledged "star" in the firmament of deaf communications.

It’s hard to pinpoint one accomplishment as being clearly most outstanding.

Frequent television viewers might say it was his work with close-captioning: he was the first deaf person to underwrite the cost of captioning an entire TV show ("The Perry Como Christmas Special"–1982) and an important part of the drive to finally convince the networks to close-caption their entire prime-time lineups (1989).

Then again, a student who has used one of O’Rourke’s books to learn American Sign Language will cast a vote for his skills as an author. "A Basic Course in Manual Communication" (1970) is the all-time best selling sign language text. "A Basic Course in American Sign Language" has become the standard textbook for the teaching of sign language-- and a best-seller. It was O’Rourke who worked with the linguistics of American Sign Language which ultimately led to the formal recognition of A. S. L. as a foreign language.

Another observer might nominate his work in the field of equal civil rights for ALL disabled Americans including the deaf. He was a major force in getting legislation passed by Congress (Section 504) guaranteeing those rights. The "Americans with Disabilities Act" was an outgrowth of that regulation.

Regardless of which you might place at the top of your list, it is obvious O’Rourke was an outstanding individual deserving of considerable praise and recognition.

"T. J." was born in Bellingham, Washington on April 17, 1932. Just before his 11th birthday, he came down with a case of spinal meningitis which deafened him. Sign language came easy. O’Rourke graduated from the California School for the Deaf in Berkeley. He then majored in Education and minored in English at Gallaudet University, graduating in 1953. His post-graduate work was done at Catholic University in Washington (1963-1964) and at the University of Maryland (1965-1967).

O’Rourke was a high school teacher from 1953-1962: at the North Dakota School for the Deaf, the North Carolina School for the Deaf, and at the Kendall Demonstration School. He was frustrated by the lack of "good teaching materials" and started preparing his own. "T. J." returned to Gallaudet as a professor of English (1962-1968).

O’Rourke was "actively involved" with the National Association of the Deaf from 1968-1978. He led the establishment of sign language programs in schools, colleges, and agencies across the U. S. and became an "internationally recognized expert" on sign language.

He began his own publishing business, "T. J. Publishers, Inc." in 1978, specializing in American Sign Language and Deaf Studies books and instructional media. In 1991 his company had a projected income of $2 million. They continued to operate after his death.

Because of T. J. O’Rourke, " ... we now have ... TV sets with built-in caption-decoder chips, more captioning, and more awareness ... He left an indelible imprint on American history and the life of the deaf community throughout the nation and the world."



Moore, Matthew S. & Panara, Robert F. (1996). Great Deaf Americans. 2nd edition. U.S.A.: Deaf Life Press. ISBN: 0963401661



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