Michael Schwartz

The following article appeared in the Belfast Telegraph. It relates to a Deaf law professor in the US.

Deaf Talkabout: A man who can challenge himself

By Bob McCullough
07 January 2005

“The new law professor uses big gestures and an animated face. His background as an actor enlivens his lectures at Syracuse University’s College of Law. You almost don’t need to hear him to understand his message”.

The front-page story in the Syracuse Post Standard, the local newspaper of the university in New York, is about my friend Michael Schwartz, the first deaf faculty member hired at SU’s law school. There are estimated to be between 120 and 180 deaf or hard of hearing lawyers practising in the USA, but only two work as professors in law schools.

Evelyn and I got to know Mike well when we were invited to meet his family and join them in a memorable Passover meal with during a visit to Gallaudet University in Washington many years ago.

He is a frequent visitor to our province and tells me he has a love affair with Ireland and would love to settle here if the opportunity arose. He was a guest speaker at Queen’s last summer and was in raptures when we took him out for dinner at a local pub.

Mike was born deaf and had the good fortune of a supportive family, money for tutors and special help, parents who instilled a thirst for books and education, a desire and an opportunity for travel.

After an early oral education, Mike gained a bachelor’s degree in English, a master’s degree in theatre, a law degree from New York University and a master’s from Columbia University. He is also finishing his doctoral dissertation in education under the title: Deaf Patients in the Medical Setting.

But none of this is evident when you meet Michael. He has a positive, happy, exuberant personality and an almost uncanny ability to communicate with nearly anyone he meets. His law school friends remember him as such a well rounded individual ? ‘someone who has always challenged himself, whether it be his career or his life outside the classroom’.

He swims five mornings a week and cycles to campus. His reading is mostly non-fiction, biographies and political science and he once told me with conviction that he hates Bush.

At one time he wanted to be an airline pilot but settled for a private pilot’s licence, which allows him to fly single-engine aircraft under visual flight rules.

His late father, a college professor, had a zest for life and was not willing to let him settle for anything else. His mother felt the same way and as Mike was growing up they took him everywhere; the theatre, museums, movies, bookstores and Europe. He was fascinated with French mime Marcel Marceau and watched him perform 75 times.

With this oral background, it was some time before he came to accept his own deafness and it was not until he joined the National Theatre of the Deaf at age 23 that he became comfortable with the language of sign and feels this has helped him to grow as a person.

Mike is married to Trisha, a hearing teacher of the deaf working as an interpreter. In 1999 they travelled to Vietnam to adopt Brianna when she was three months old. The beautiful baby is now five and the delight of their lives.

For all his success, Mike is cynical about the ability of society to change. In 1990 when the Americans with Disabilities Act took effect, he tells his class, the unemployment rate for the disabled was 66%. Today, 14 years later, it’s 66%. “What does that tell you?” he asks the students.