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On Thursday, February 16, 2017, an International Development Program (IDMA) panel, including Gallaudet alumni leaders in International Development came to the I. King Jordan Student Academic Center to share their experiences, challenges and successes in “Deaf Leadership in International Development.”

The discussion, moderated by Dr. Audrey Cooper, director, IDMA; Dr. Khadijat Rashid, economics professor, former White House Fellow, and a founding board member of the World Deaf Leadership (WDL) Program; and Izumi Takizawa, IDMA candidate, joining via video-calling, included seven deaf leaders in International Development:

  • Hanan Aly, of Cairo, Egypt, a World Deaf Leadership scholar and Mobility International USA alumni; studying in Gallaudet University’s Master of Public Administration program, specializes in deaf education advocacy; and is the first deaf person to work with the Egyptian government on equal rights for deaf people.
  • Rebecca Berman, program associate at World Learning International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP); specializing in education, civil society, leadership training, disability integration with exchange/development programs in Tanzania, India, Guatemala, and Ghana; previously worked with inclusion programs at Handicap International USA and International foundation for Electoral systems.
  • Josh Josa, G-’15, disability specialist in the United States Agency International Development’s (USAID) Office of Education; advises on quality, equity and sustainability of programming for children and persons with disabilities to achieve ‘Education for All’; collaborates with disability communities in Africa and Asia regions on literacy and capacity building; also works closely with partners of the All Children Reading: Grand Challenge for Development, most recently in Morocco; specializes in education and capacity building of people with disabilities.
  • Allen W. Neece, III, deaf education/disability inclusion specialist, office of the director, Peace Corps; working to increase placement of deaf and disabled applicants, and counsel posts on disability-related programming; specializes in deaf and disability inclusion, and deaf education reform; four-year returned Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya and Zambia, 2007-10; Peace Corps response volunteer in Guyana, 2011; VSO in Rwanda, 2012-13; and english instructor in Los Angeles Public Schools.
  • Maegan Shanks, G-’15, disability inclusive development learning coordinator, CBM International, specializing in advocacy and coordination of disability inclusion resources/tools and activities that increase capacity development of CBM’s stakeholders including information sharing on topics such as accessibility, sustainability development goals, disability data, gender equality, and other areas.
  • Danilo Torres, G-’11,  international liaison specialist, International Visitors Program, Office of Research Support and International Affairs, Gallaudet University; specializes in advocacy for deaf student access to education worldwide, and international learning agreements for students at Gallaudet; president, Latino Deaf and Hard of Hearing Association of the Metropolitan D.C. Area; founder, Sordos de Colombia (Deaf Colombia) website and Facebook page.
  • Rue Winiarczyk, coordinator of Research and Global Projects, Office of Research support and International Affairs, Gallaudet University; specializes in advocacy, collaborative capacity-building, monitoring and evaluation, and research in Argentina, Chile, Malaysia, Panama, Vietnam, and the U.S.; published Deaf International Development Practitioners and Researchers Working Effectively in Deaf Communities, with A.S. Boland and A.T. Wilson.

The significance and impact of the panel on Gallaudet and deaf leadership is two-fold.
“The panel addressed many aspects of evidence-based practice and social justice work that contribute to Gallaudet’s aim to become the epicenter of research, development, and outreach, leading to advancements in knowledge and practice for deaf and hard of hearing people and all humanity,” said Cooper and Takizawa.

“The panelists also contribute to Gallaudet’s collaboration with worldwide deaf populations right here on our campus-all of the people who come here to pursue academic training and to share their knowledge-and who will return home or go to another country to work.”

Cooper provided welcoming remarks and basic information on what international development consist of. Some key points include: UN advancement of global aims for disability inclusion in the 2015-2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that were not adequately addressed in the 2000-2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) efforts to evaluate and improve their own internal culture through their 2016 Evaluation of Disability-Inclusive Development that found the “UNDP is not a welcoming organization to persons with disabilities.”

The moderators also brought attention to the lack of system-wide sign language-affirmative language policy and programming in the UN, which is a significant way to improve the effectiveness of development work-thus raising the importance of the presence of deaf/disabled leaders and advocates, such as the panelists present.

The panelists addressed their own initiatives–and their collaborations with worldwide deaf, deafblind, and hard of hearing leaders, and people with disabilities–to create positive social, political, and economic change.

Moderated questioning ensued, inquiring on barriers and opportunities that the panelists faced in their professional careers, and soliciting advice for future deaf leaders in International Development.
The panelists shared common sentiments regarding the challenge of having to educate others they worked with on deaf education, abilities, equal opportunities, rights, and culture.

“I often noticed that if I was presenting alone, I did not have as large of a turnout or magnitude of attention, as opposed to when presenting along with hearing speakers,” said Torres. “I also did not have the same exposure or opportunities as my hearing colleagues.”

“Government officials tried to deny us the right to protest, sending us home when we spoke out for deaf rights,” said Aly. “I had to educate them (Egyptian government officials) that legally, deaf people have every right to protest for equality, inclusion, education reform and services, and combat audism.”

Similar opportunities experienced by the panelists also rang true, largely in using their status and influence to make a positive impact.

“In Morocco, I had just presented my findings and suggestions for deaf/disability program improvements to a committee,” said Josa. “After I concluded, the Minister of Education approached me and asked to see my written report. He was blown away that a deaf man could be so intelligent and competent, he had never seen that before.

“This completely transformed his expectations of deaf people and led him to pass more education reform legislation for the deaf in Morocco.”

Torres shared a similar experience of impact, shattering stereotypes of deaf people.

“In 2012, I had met a University official in another country who was working with incoming student applications, and rejecting those who were deaf or disabled, despite being fully qualified and meeting the school’s requirements for admission,” said Torres. “He had deemed them lost causes and having no hope of successfully graduating, solely because they were disabled. Upon meeting me and seeing my education, credentials and accomplishments, he was completely taken aback at seeing a disabled person capable of possessing such intelligence.

“From that point forward he started admitting qualified disabled applicants.”

The panel came to a close with a resounding piece of advice from Shanks, for aspiring deaf leaders and advocates in International Development to take heed.

“Have more than one specialization, in addition to deaf education, rights and advocacy,” said Shanks. “Use those other specializations as an avenue to broach the topics of deaf awareness, which can help that awareness proliferate through other communities and efforts, as opposed to solely in the deaf advocacy community.
“Networking in this way can lead to immense positive change!”

Cooper and Takizawa expounded upon this assertion, mentioning the emergence of deaf leaders in international development in recent years, and using one specialization as an opportunity to advocate for multiple efforts.

“Around the world, there have always been Deaf leaders championing international development; however, it is only in the last decade or so that their work is beginning to gain recognition,” said Cooper and Takizawa. “Deaf international development workers have also begun to advance into upper level positions within federal and nongovernmental organizations in larger numbers where they have been able to press for language rights alongside other important concerns, such as equity for LGBTQ communities, people with disabilities, anti-racism, anti-poverty, fair employment, equal-pay -for-equal-work, indigenous and ethnic minority rights, freedom of religious worship, environmental justice, and other issues.”

Photo by Lorian Jones. Josa shares his insights about international development.

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