In 1988, a local judge told Ann Eckberg that she could not serve jury duty, citing her deafness as a disqualifier. Most people would have resigned themselves to the overawing authority of law, but Eckberg was not like most people. On the spot, she indicted the judge, who had pulled her aside from a line of prospective jurors. In an unflinchingly frank tone, before everyone present at the Douglas County courthouse, she asserted that he was discriminating against her. Of the incident, she recounted, “I could have told them that I didn’t want to serve and gotten off, but I felt that I had to fight to get what was mine” (Geer 17). In an added comment, she stressed that this fight was not just for her own benefit, professing, “I’ve had students who say they can’t. I told them that I don’t want to see them say that. Because they can do anything they want… Sometimes the kids, you would tell them ‘You can do it’ . . . But then they go out and see the world where they’re not allowed to participate in things, like jury duty. That’s a right for every American citizen” (Gauger 1B). Eckberg was determined to stand as a positive example in the eyes of her fledgling students. Her tenacious insistence on participating in the public sphere sent the court into a state of upheaval, as legal officials and attorneys deliberated intensively over the question of whether or not a deaf individual could realistically participate in the judicial process.
Thanks to her unbending persistence, Eckberg was ultimately allowed to serve on the jury. However, throughout the process of the trial, she was repeatedly subjected to inequitable treatment. For instance, throughout the medical malpractice trial, the court refused to hire more than one interpreter for Eckberg and barred the interpreter that they did provide from taking breaks at any point during the grueling, hours-long periods of signing. Additionally, after the trial had wrapped up, the presiding judge barred her from participating in a post-trial survey in which jurors were asked to write “whether they thought the presence of an interpreter had interfered with the case” (Geer 17). Although she was “shocked” to experience this level of injustice in an establishment that was supposed to be a paragon of justice, she never second-guessed her crusade to participate. Through her resistance, she shone as a beacon of opportunity to the deaf community; in the process, she had once again dumbfounded the hearing world by demonstrating her immense competence.
Despite their numerous, hard-earned triumphs, Eckberg and the deaf community in Nebraska experienced a tremendous overhaul in 1998. Amidst overstated budget reports and a shortsighted institutional thrust to mainstream deaf children, the Nebraska School for the Deaf was forced to close its doors (see Figure 10) (see contextual essay). Of the period of time immediately following the demise of the school, Eckberg stated: “I felt betrayed… I needed a break from all the heartache and fighting our NSD family had gone through over the years. So instead of looking for another teaching job, I worked to change the mindset of those with the power to make changes. This was not to be” (Eckberg B1). Discouraged but refusing to resign herself, Eckberg looked for teaching jobs throughout the city of Omaha.
Yet, regardless of her outstanding educational attainments and extensive teaching experience,