Academics

Rare is the master’s degree student who comes to Gallaudet for five years. The norm for master’s degree program completion is two years; three if one is also pursuing a specialist degree, as was the case for students in our school psychology program in the late 20th century.

But Steven Thomas Hardy-Braz, G-’91 & Psy.S. ’95, was – and is – a rarity in his own right. He spent extra years in Washington, D.C. expressly so he could expand his academic knowledge, linguistic skills, historic and cultural appreciation, and his overall world view. He took courses in other Gallaudet departments and through the Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area. He participated in the Graduate Student Association and served as its president. He mingled with deaf undergraduates. He worked in the residence halls. He stayed on campus every summer, working in the Family Learning Vacation, Young Scholars, and Discovery programs, all while taking more classes and discovering more of what Gallaudet has to offer every student.

This time was well-spent, Hardy-Braz says. After a year-long, unpaid internship living and working at the Scranton State School for the Deaf, Steven became a well-respected school psychologist in a variety of K-12 settings, including the Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf. He also became a legal and psychological assessment expert for several other schools for the deaf around the country, and an annual attendee and frequent presenter with the National Association of School Psychologists. He also attended American Deafness and Rehabilitation Association (ADARA) conferences. 

Hardy-Braz was honored with the Outstanding Educator Award by the Southeast Regional Institute on Deafness (SERID). He helped establish the NASP Interest Group on deaf and hard of hearing students and their families, and co-led the group for 30 years. He was honored as North Carolina’s School Psychology Practitioner of the Year and elected twice to be the state association’s President. 

Hardy-Braz feels honored to have been able to be a graduate student of psychology and have all of the first Deaf psychologists of that day as his professors, including Larry G. Stewart, Allen E. Sussman, Barbara Brauer, and I. King Jordan. He also felt fortunate to be  mentored by Dr. William Kachman at Kendall Demonstration Elementary School. 

Such was Hardy-Braz’s commitment to the Deaf community that in 2004, the Gallaudet University Alumni Association bestowed upon him their Outstanding Young Alumnus Award, making him only the second hearing person to be so honored. 

As Hardy-Braz segues into retirement, he has taught at East Carolina University, North Carolina State University, Methodist University, and several others. He gives back to his communities by doing pro bono work, including American Sign Language interpreting in the Eastern North Carolina community, and he trains others around the country.

Frustrated as a school psychologist by the lack of psychological tests with any information on using them with deaf and hard of hearing individuals and dismayed by the destruction a poorly selected, administered, or interpreted a cognitive test can do to a deaf person’s life, Steven has collaborated with almost every major test publishing company on almost every version of tests of intelligence developed in the past 25 years in order to improve their usage with deaf and hard of hearing individuals. Now, because of his work translating, blind back-translating, editing proposed items, and testing the administration of the test batteries, almost every cognitive instrument’s manual in use has an administrative section on use with  deaf and hard of hearing individuals.

Many assessment batteries also contain published clinical validity studies demonstrating their use or non-use with deaf and hard of hearing individuals, as each individual may communicate in different ways.This psychological work has led to Hardy-Braz working with schools for the deaf in Russia, Portugal, England, South Africa, and most recently Jamaica.

Hardy-Braz is a long-time practitioner of Aikido, a modern Japanese martial art. He has earned several black belt degrees in Aikido, and has studied several other martial arts. He is also an accomplished presenter, researcher, author, advocate, and public speaker. Most importantly to him, he is a devoted husband to Liza, whom he met while they both worked at the Lab School of Washington.They are the parents of adult twin children, Lara Alice and Edward Thomas.

Did we mention bicycling?

Steven is an avid cyclist. To celebrate his 50th birthday, he pedaled over 5,000 miles in about two months as he crossed the country visiting and camping at national and state parks along the way from San Diego, California to St. Augustine, Florida before heading northward to North Carolina’s Outer Banks for a birthday party. 

During his six years in the Nation’s Capital, Hardy-Braz rode his bicycle everywhere. He knew the layout of the city – not just the main arteries, but the side streets, the back routes, the trails. His favorite trails being the C&O, Mount Washington, and the B&O. Most Saturday nights he would ride out at 2 a.m. to Dupont Circle just to purchase the Sunday Washington Post at the all-night bookstore/cafe Kramerbooks. He and his then-roommate, Robert Wilson, would devour the Sunday Post in the morning over coffee.

Hardy-Braz loved nothing more than to hop on his bicycle in various weather conditions and at different times of the day or night and ride out to Hains Point to admire J. Seward Johnson Jr.’s “The Awakening.” This 72-foot sculpture depicted a giant buried in the Earth and struggling to emerge (or perhaps sinking?). Perhaps it was symbolic to Hardy-Braz, perhaps even prophetic, as he is a giant in his own right, standing well over six feet.

The District of Columbia of the 1990s had not yet embraced bicyclists. There were few dedicated bicycle lanes on the city’s byways. Bicyclists rode, essentially, at their own peril. Steven found this out the hard way in 1994, during his fifth year at Gallaudet, when a reckless driver plowed into him as he rode from Silver Spring, Maryland to campus, not far from the confluence of Florida and New York Avenues, just blocks from campus, and then sped off. Steven experienced brain swelling for many months, but made a full recovery. “My bicycle helmet saved my life, and my riding glasses saved me from losing my right eye,” he says.

Undeterred, Steven kept on cycling. When he left Gallaudet and moved to North Carolina, he became an advocate for cyclists in his community and nationally. He paid special attention to the needs of cyclists with disabilities, especially military veterans and their families. For several years, in a variety of roles, Steven supported the school system, children, families, and soldiers stationed and training at what is now Fort Liberty, and the Pope Army Airfield. He even went on to establish an NASP Interest Group on Military Families and turned over its leadership to colleagues in the U.S. Department of Defense. In May 2021, WXII Television, the ABC affiliate in North Carolina, named him an ENC (Eastern North Carolina) Hero.

“I work with a lot of disabled veterans who have lost limbs overseas because of wars and sadly come back to this country, and because we don’t have accessible sidewalks or bike lanes, they and others are frequently cut off from society and the world,” says Hardy-Braz. “When I ride around and experience connecting with nature and its inherent beauty, I realize we don’t always design our cars or roads in a fair, safe, or accessible way for all users. Some neighborhoods get more safety features and some don’t get much at all, and that’s not fair.Too many people get hurt or killed every year in road-violence related situations.”

Steven’s support for bicyclists and pedestrians with disabilities took an unexpected turn several months later. In November 2021, Hardy-Braz was riding in Greenville, North Carolina, not far from his home in Farmville. According to news reports, “a car approached him from behind and did not reduce speed;the car hit him at an estimated 50-60 miles per hour and the impact flipped him over the top of the vehicle.” Steven suffered spine, hip, pelvic injuries, and rotator cuff injuries, as well as severe “road rash.” He spent several days in the hospital and over a month in a rehabilitation unit, and has had multiple surgeries, followed by years of physical rehabilitation and mental health therapy.

While Hardy-Braz has recovered from most of his injuries, he still experiences significant and, at times, excruciating pain. “I take several doses of morphine every day,” he says matter-of-factly. He also carries Narcan with him at all times. He frequently has to use a wheelchair but sometimes can manage to move about with other mobility devices for short periods while on medication. He always, however, needs support for bearing weight on the right side of his body. Hardy-Braz has had to shift to using his left arm and hand for most lifting and moving since his brain cannot locate his right arm but remembers his right hand.All of this has made him even more attuned to the experiences and struggles he shares with the very people with and for whom he continues to advocate.

Hardy-Braz recalls fondly one of his best jobs while he was in the Washington area. He was a live-in aide for Leo M. Jacobs, ’38, one of Gallaudet’s most illustrious alumni, the author of A Deaf Adult Speaks Out, and the first holder of the Powrie Vaux Doctor Chair of Deaf Studies. Jacobs used a wheelchair for the last several years of his life. Hardy-Braz became not just an aide, but a close friend. “It was a life-changing experience; almost two years of advanced Deaf history, culture, and connections every day and every night.In a sense helped to prepare me for how I live today,” he says.

Steven also has experienced disability discrimination first-hand. Earlier this year, Disability Rights North Carolina, in a commentary published in NC Newsline, included in a compendium of perceived acts of discrimination the following: “Steven Hardy-Braz, a frequent wheelchair user, was peacefully waiting at a bus stop in Greenville, North Carolina. A police officer intervened, and he was charged, jailed, and prosecuted for being in the street and obstructing traffic, even though there was no sidewalk for him to safely wait for the bus.”

Hardy-Braz is active with the League of American Bicyclists (LAB), an organization whose tagline is “because everyone deserves to get home safely.” LAB ranks states, communities, business, and universities by their bicycle-friendliness. Hardy-Braz’s long-time advocacy efforts earned him LAB’s individual advocacy award during the 2024 National Bike Summit held March 19-21 in Washington, D.C. He has been working with the LAB to establish an endowment in order to be able to award scholarships to cyclists who are Deaf or have disabilities to attend the annual summit.

He also is involved with the Vision Zero Network, whose mission is to reduce traffic fatalities, bicycling and otherwise. Vision Zero originated in Sweden in the 1990s and has now become a powerful force in the United States to combat the rising rates of fatalities and serious injuries of Vulnerable Road Users (VRU).

Steven’s passion for bicycle safety took yet another unplanned turn in late January 2024. His wife of 25 years, Fernanda Luiza Hardy-Braz, who goes by Liza, was hit from behind by a distracted driver and transported to a local hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. Inexplicably, the driver was charged with failure to reduce speed. This did not sit well with Liza, who told a local television reporter, “If I ask you, ‘[At] what speed would you like to be hit? Five miles? Ten miles? Fifty miles? Or not be hit at all?’ You’re not going to pick a speed. This has nothing to do with speed in my situation. It’s the fact that the driver was inattentive, distracted.”

And does Steven still ride his bicycle? Indeed he does. It is slow going, and it is exceedingly painful, but it gives him peace and contentment. His advocacy has evolved into more activism and continues undeterred. “Those six years at Gallaudet, just after Deaf President Now, are a major part of who I am,” he says. “The DPN student leaders changed the world and changed my life by motivating me to apply to study at Gallaudet. Once there, amazing and incredible Deaf leaders, along with hearing allies, taught everyone to see further because we stood upon their shoulders and they were/remain giants.There remains much more to do, but together equity can be achieved perhaps while riding bicycles together.”

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