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Deaf Community:  Pageants

Also see: Miss Deaf America Pageant  | 2  |  Pageants |


Katie Wanker



Pageants for Deaf Americans

            There are several different types of pageants that Deaf Americans can be involved in.  There are pageants for boys and girls, and men and women.  There are pageants for specific races also.  Most pageants are held yearly, and some every two years.  The purpose of holding a pageant is to gain self-confidence and poise.  Pageants are usually held in local areas, and then they move to state competitions.  The winners from state competitions will then move on to national level and sometimes even world levels.

            One pageant that deaf women can participate in is the Miss Deaf America Pageant (MDPA).  This pageant was begun by man named Douglas J. Burke, in 1966.  He started a Natural Cultural Program within the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) in hopes of finding the talents hidden within deaf people.  Dr. Burke says the pageant is a "way to recognize deaf actresses at an early age." Eventually, with the help of the NAD, the Miss Deaf America Talent Pageant was created as a part of the National Cultural Program.  ("MDAP History")

            The Miss Deaf America Pageant offers women between the ages of 18-28 a wonderful opportunity to develop a self-confidence that they might not be able to receive from every day life.  The women will compete to become a goodwill ambassador and a spokeswoman for the National Association of the Deaf.  The goal of this Pageant is to "encourage and foster future leaders" ("MDAP History").  This Pageant was begun as "a new concept to help us evaluate the image and self-concept of deaf ladies throughout the United States.  This is not an ordinary contest..." There are many different categories that the contestants compete in.  Cultural talent performance is one of the biggest categories.  Other categories are beauty, poise, gracefulness, and desirable qualities. ("MDAP History")

The first MDAP Pageant was held in Miami Beach, Florida.  It was held during the 1972 NAD Convention.  The Pageant had only a total of five contestants.  Since the first Pageant there have been some changes.  In 1976 the Pageant title Miss Deaf America Talent Pageant was changed to Miss Deaf America Pageant.  The contestants compete at the local and state competitions first and then move on to the National level.  The women are now judged on many other things than just their talent.  Some of the categories include community service, academics, current events, knowledge of deaf culture, and public speaking.  The women were required to make a three-minute presentation at the 1998 Pageant in San Antonio, Texas.  Each year the pageants have a theme.  The theme at the 2000 Pageant was "Charting New Waters".  The pageant had 25 contestants and was held at Norfolk, Virginia. ("MDAP History")

Another pageant for deaf, adult women is the NAD Miss Deaf America pageant.   The winner of this pageant has to be able to fulfill a list of duties for the next year.  "NAD Miss Deaf America begins her reign when she wins the pageant until the next NAD conference.  She will do various appearances such as; welcoming remark/greetings give presentations on the topic of their choice, question and answer sessions, attend workshops, storytelling, autograph sessions, and other various things." ("NAD")

            Another pageant, open only to teens, is the Mr./Miss Deaf Teen Pageant.  In order to be in this pageant, contestants must fulfill all of the requirements.  Contestants can be men or women, but you must be between the ages of 13-19 and must be in eighth to eleventh grade.  The student must be from a mainstreamed program or school for the deaf, and must be deaf or hard of hearing.  The contestants will be representing their school as a good role model and so they should follow their school rules.  Another requirement is fluency in ASL.  "The contestant should have fluent receptive and expressive sign communication skills and know a lot about American Sign Language's background." (Gage)  There are a lot of requirements to be in this pageant but it is well worth the time and effort.

            One other pageant is specifically for black women.  There are a few requirements that the contestants have to fulfill in order to be in the pageant.  The contestants must be single, never married, and must have never given birth to a child or be pregnant at the time of the pageant.  The woman has to be with in the age limit of 18-30.  There are quite a few more requirements that also go along with being in this pageant. (Williams 1)  This pageant is the opportunity for deaf, black women to compete with other women that are most like them.

            These are all different pageants that are specifically for deaf Americans.  Whether they are of different races, men or women, teens or adults, there is a pageant that they can compete in.  These pageants give all of the contestants a chance to compete within the deaf community and also to become spokes men or women for deaf culture in the American society.


Works Cited

 "Miss Deaf America Pageant History."  Utah Association for the Deaf. 14 January 2005   <>

"NAD National Association of the Deaf."  Miss Deaf America Pageant. National Association of the Deaf. 24 January 2005 <>

Williams, Toronja A. "A Black Deaf Queen Coming Into Her Own."  National Black Deaf Advocates. 24 January 2005 <>

Gage, Roberta. "Mr./Miss Deaf Teen America." Gallaudet University Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center. 24 January 2005. <>

Deaf Pageantry
By Sarah Nasim
April 5, 2009

Deaf Pageantry

When imagining a beauty competition, typically you think of bright lights, beautiful women, fancy dresses, loud music and mainstream media. These days only a few popular beauty pageants are well known establishments that are nationally publicized, however who knew such activities actually exist in the deaf community? Yes, that's right, deaf beauty pageants exist and are actually carried on through such popularity and success in the deaf community.

Heather Whitestone, the green eyed brunette, was the first to popularize deaf culture in terms of their ability to participate and excel in activities that hearing people did. In 1995, she was crowned the first deaf Miss America contestant and glued many deaf hopefuls to their TV screens. The fact is that many young people face adversities and overcoming obstacles, especially when they are deaf, so building self esteem and confidence through things such as pageants is extremely helpful (Whitestone, H., 1994). Many young women in the deaf community don't see hearing impairments as something that should hold them back in their efforts to pursue their dreams. For this reason exactly, hundreds of deaf beauty pageants have sprung up nationwide. While many pageants are dedicated to illustrating intelligence, personality and poise, deaf pageants capture all these attributes and more with several talent portions demonstrating ASL translations, dance routines, and artistic expression. Many deaf contests ants also showcase their talents through ballet, song (through hand movements), and musical abilities. These women not only represent the deaf community, but also serve as ambassadors for deaf women all over the world. ASL is a big portion in these competitions where the whole entire program is virtually done through signing methods and routines. After winning her title, Whitestone proudly got before the crowd and signed "I Love You" exhibiting ASL and her way of life (People, 2002).

These days there are several deaf pageants and organizations aimed not only at boosting self esteem but also causing awareness so that the deaf community isn't treated differently in terms of being handicapped. The Miss Deaf America Pageant began in 1966 through the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) which was a competition that focused in on cultural talent performance (Drummond, M., 2008). These days NAD and other organizations receive much praise in terms of their excellent abilities to help deaf communities nationwide excel in all sorts of activities.

It's important that people in the deaf community are viewed as everyday people with a small disability, and deaf pageants are organized in such a way that being deaf is beautiful. The terms of the pageant are very similar to any other pageant where physical beauty, and poise are helpful in determining the winner, however, for the most part judges look at talent as their main component. ASL plays a huge role, where many of the contestants are signers as opposed to oralists who have cochlear implants to aid their hearing. Signing is often seen as an artistic form of expression where several hopefuls sing, dance and tell stories using their hands. The same goes for deaf comedians who are very expressive in relating funny stories using their hands, body gestures and facial expressions. Overall, I was intrigued by this topic simply because it sends a positive reinforcing message to young deaf girls who may feel insecure about their deafness. Programs like this should be widely recognized on a national scale in hopes of causing awareness.


Whitestone, Heather. (1994). Anything is possible. American Rehabilitation, 20.

Retrieved 01, April 2009 from:

People. (2002). A joyful noise. Vol. 58. Retrieved 01, April 2009 from:

Drummond, Megan. (2008) Miss Deaf America. Retrieved 31, March 2009 from:

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