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Tripod collection

Identifier: RITDSA-0183

Scope and Contents

The Tripod Collection contains materials from 1971 through 2006 with the bulk of the materials dated between 1982 and 2005.

Materials include correspondence, financial papers, legal papers, organizational documents, notes and speeches, clippings, printed materials, photographic material, drawings, a scrapbook, moving images, ephemera, digital media, and audio.

The Tripod Collection has been arranged into thirteen series, seven of which have been divided into subseries. This collection is housed in 87 archival document boxes, 8 oversize boxes, 1 oversize folder, and 13 additional archival boxes.

Materials in this collection are related to the development, administration, funding, programing, and dissolution of the Tripod school in California. More specifically, financial records document Tripod’s acceptance of donations and grants. Many unique documents from fundraising events include silent auction signs from an annual Casino Night and letters of support from Former President Bill Clinton, Former President George W. Bush, and Hillary Clinton in honor of the Annual Luncheon benefit showing the importance of fundraising to furthering Tripod’s mission. In addition to courting politicians, the school had strong ties to the Hollywood community and employed celebrity support, one of their strongest supporters being Cindy Costner.

Student and personnel records provide documentation of individuals involved in Tripod and show the events that they participated in including a student performance at Delaine Eastin’s oath of office ceremony as California State Superintendent in 1999.

Board meeting materials and minutes provide an important look at the school’s planning process and key individuals that helped to shape its existence.

Tripod brochures, calendars, and newsletters portray Tripod’s marketing and how Tripod disseminated news to its students and their families. Articles provide a look at how the school was perceived in the press and provides records of notable events and historical information.

Program descriptions and related materials provide a look at the variety of programs offered to students, families and the community. Documents describe the Montessori Method, the educational model that was shared at conferences and expanded to other schools. The Grapevine toll-free hotline ads stating, "maybe he isn’t listening because he can’t hear" and fliers describe what the hotline offers. The Grapevine public service announcement featured Jeff Goldblum, Chevy Chase, Herb Larson, and JoBeth Williams, the four of which can be seen in a photograph as well as the original PSA, viewable after the credits of Language Says It All.

Much of the digital media in the collection contains Language Says It All, the short documentary that received an Academy Award nomination. The film is available on DVD as well as through the Legacy website,, and provides information on the crucial role of communication and context for the creation of Tripod.

In addition to the awards received by the documentary, plaques and awards received from government institutions and politicians show the wide acclaim for Tripod’s teaching methods, its outreach, and staff.

This collection includes photographs, many of which were originally in photo albums that have been scanned and rehoused. Photographs document events, school activities, students, staff, faculty, facilities, and provide a literal glimpse of Tripod.


  • Creation: 1971 - 2006
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1982 - 2005


Language of Materials

The materials in this collection are in English with a few documents in Spanish and Armenian.

Conditions Governing Access

VHS and DVD materials require advance notice to access and are limited to on-site researchers only. Access to additional film and digital media cannot be provided. Access to portions of this collection is RESTRICTED; please contact the RIT Archives for more details. Access to digital images of photo albums is available through \\twcfileserver\Archives\Digitized Materials for adding to LUNA\RITDSA0183_Tripod.

Conditions Governing Use

This collection is open to researchers.

Historical Note

The Tripod school was founded in 1982 by Megan Williams, the mother of a young deaf boy, Jacob, to meet the complex educational needs of deaf children and their families.

The TRIPOD acronym, Toward Rehabilitation and Involvement of Parents of the Deaf, was derived in 1969 to represent a philosophy of cooperation and community between educators, the deaf community, and parents of children with hearing loss, each group representing the three legs on a tripod. The school built its foundation on this philosophy establishing an educational program where deaf, hard-of-hearing, and hearing children learned together in co-enrolled classrooms using sign language.

Supported by two well-known educators of the deaf, Carl Kirchner and Cindy Murphy, as well as parents, educators, and community leaders, Tripod utilized the Montessori Method and provided a variety of programs to support students and their families. These included the Family Sign Program, ASL classes, the Parent-Infant-Toddler Program, tutoring, and summer school. Another program, the Grapevine hotline, was a national toll-free hotline established to provide parents with information on raising and educating a deaf child. The Grapevine was able to reach parents, students, and deaf callers, fielding about a thousand calls a year from across the country. The notable public service announcement featured Chevy Chase, JoBeth Williams, Herb Larson, and Jeff Goldblum.

The Tripod school model was adopted by additional schools and districts in California, including the Horace Mann School, John Muir Middle School in 1990, Laurent Clerc Academy (Project Ladder) in 1993, and the Washington Elementary School. Tripod welcomed over one hundred visitors from around the world annually, including parents, educators, Special Education Directors, and State Superintendents, which encouraged outreach and adoption of the Tripod model.

Fundraising was an important aspect to the school’s financial stability which relied on grants, fundraising events, and donations. Movie premiers also served as fundraising opportunities, showcasing captioned films produced by Tripod Captioned Films, a public service and subsidiary of the school. At one point, Tripod Captioned Films was the only source to obtain and distribute first-run open-captioned films anywhere in the United States.

Tripod also produced their own documentaries, one of which was Language Says It All


57.7 Linear Feet (109 Boxes)


The Tripod collection documents the development, administration, and educational values of the Tripod school in California which was active between 1982 and 2005. Educating through co-enrollment of deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing children in conjunction with the Montessori Method, the model expanded to other schools and districts. The school offered a variety of programs serving students and their families as well as providing information on raising and educating deaf and hard of hearing children.

System of Arrangement

Series I. Finances, 1980-2006

Subseries A. Donations/Grants, 1980-2006
Subseries B. Fundraising, 1982-2004

Series II. Personnel, 1982-2005

Series III. Students and Families, 1984-2003

Subseries A. Families/Parents1984-2003
Subseries B. Students, 1985-2003

Series IV. Board of Directors, 1983-2005

Series V. Press and Publicity, 1973-2005

Subseries A. Logos, 1991-2003
Subseries B. Calendars, 1987-1999
Subseries C. Fliers/Brochures, 1985-1999
Subseries D. Articles, 1973-2005
Subseries E. Newsletters, 1983-2002
Subseries F. Scholarly Papers, 1991-2000

Series VI. Education, 1983-2004

Subseries A. Programs, 1983-2004

Series VII. Administration, 1971-2006

Subseries A. Committees, 1984-2003
Subseries B. Organizational Documents, 1971-2006
Subseries C. Events, 1984-1993
Subseries D. Correspondence, 1982-2001
Subseries E. Facility, 1983-2005
Subseries F. Legal, 1989-2002
Subseries G. Reports, 1984-1994

Series VIII. Outreach/Partnerships, 1983-2003

Subseries A. Conferences, 1992-2002
Subseries B. Schools, 1985-2003

Series IX. Supporting Materials, 1984-2004

Series X. Ephemera, 1980-2002

Series XI. Plaques/Awards, 1984-2000

Series XII. Films, 1982-2002

Series XIII. Photographs, 1983-2003

Subseries A. Photo Albums, 1984-1994
Subseries B. Loose Photos, 1983-2003

Other Finding Aids

In addition to this finding aid, an inventory is available below. For more information, please contact the RIT Archive Collections.

Tripod collection

Custodial History

The Tripod collection was donated to the National Technical Institute for the Deaf/Rochester Institute of Technology in 2011. The papers were accessioned under ID 2011:088 and were received from Megan Williams in 94 boxes (along with materials related to the Tripod Captioned Films collection).

Related Materials

More information about Tripod and digital images of items in this collection can be found at, a website established as part of the Tripod legacy.

Related materials can be found in Tripod Captioned Films (TCF) collection regarding captioned films as well as outreach and funding as related to Tripod.

Four 16mm (single reel) prints and one 1" open reel videotape of Language Says it All were transferred to the Academy Film Archives at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in April 2016.

The "Ties that Bind" friendship quilt made for Megan Williams is on display on the first floor of the Wallace Library at Rochester Institute of Technology, outside of the ASL and Deaf Studies Community Center (RADSCC). The quilt was inscribed on both the front and the back with the names of every child, staff member and director of the board from its inception to 1995.

Terms to Note

BUSD – The Burbank Unified School District was responsible for the administration and quality control of the BUSD/Foothill SELPA/Tripod Program and a partner of Tripod starting in 1989.

DHH – “deaf and hard of hearing”

FSP – The Family Sign Program provided in-home tutoring to families.

HEI – House Ear Institute was a partner with Tripod to support the Grapevine hotline program and later ran the Lead Line, the successor of the Grapevine.

IEP – Individual Education Plan

LSIA/BTN – Language Says It All/Back to Normal (working title) was a short documentary produced in 1987 about communication with deaf children that was nominated for an Academy Award. It was followed by a sequel, Once Upon a Time.

PIT – Parent-Infant-Toddler Program

SELPA – Special Education Local Plan Area (California) TCF – Tripod Captioned Films

TRIPOD – Toward Rehabilitation Involvement by Parents of the Deaf, the name of which originated in 1969. Tripod is denoted throughout the collection by the figure of a triangle.

Processing Information

Nicole Pease, January - April 2018

Tripod collection
RIT/NTID Deaf Studies Archive
Nicole Pease
April 2018
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the RIT Archives Repository

Rochester NY 14623 USA