Celebrate ADA!

Celebrating the ADA's 25-Year Landmark, an Unprecedented Symposium and New Global Initiatives

SFTVB Banner

Dear Alexander Graham Bell Community, 

Emilio Alonso-Mendoza in front of Volta BureauA lot was going on in the world in 1990. Tim Berners-Lee created the first web server and the foundation for the World Wide Web. Germany was reunified following the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Hubble Space Telescope was launched and began sending back images to us of deep space. And on July 26, 1990 the American with Disabilities Act was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush to improve the lives of Americans with disabilities who continually encountered discrimination in areas such as employment, public transportation, public services and telecommunications. 

This past Monday I had the great honor to attend an event at the White House where President Obama celebrated the grassroots efforts and legislators who made the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) possible. Joining me was Robin Bailey, an AG Bell staff member who has helped AG Bell families and professionals for over 30 years, and Rachel Arfa, Esq., a member of the AG Bell board of directors. We were sitting about three rows from the front podium, and I could see that people with disabilities were so excited and proud to be a part of this celebration. One man who sat near Robin had waited six years for this event so that he could shake the President's hand. When it was time for Obama to walk into the crowd, Robin ushered this gentleman forward and he was able to fulfill his dream.   

ADA WH.Arfa and Bailey
Rachel Arfa, Esq., AG Bell board member, and
Robin Bailey, AG Bell staff at the ADA celebration.

President Obama honored those who were first involved with the legislation when he said, "We're building a stronger foundation, thanks to generations of Americans who fought for better laws," but he noted that continued progress must be sustained when he said, "This is a chance to rededicate ourselves to the future and the injustices that still linger." He mentioned that the physical constraints and external barriers were not the only restrictions addressed by ADA. He noted that internal barriers that dictate what people should or should not do must be confronted as well, saying, "We've got work to do to make sure people with disabilities are paid for their labor, that they have the opportunities to learn and acquire skills that will last for a lifetime."   

President Obama noted some of his accomplishments to support ADA: he issued an executive order to the federal government to hire more people with disabilities; he also strengthened the rules for federal contractors to hire more people with disabilities; and he set up an office within FEMA that will ensure that people with disabilities will be prepared and evacuated during a disaster.  

At the celebration I met a few other executives who help people with hearing loss including Christopher Soukup, the chief executive officer of CSD, a leading provider of video relay service (VRS) and video interpreting. AG Bell supported enhancements to video relay services by signing on to comments in coalition with other consumer groups responding to an FCC notice. AG Bell members communicate via VRS through speechreading and benefit from enhanced services.    

ADA WH.Wagner Arfa EAM
At the ADA celebration with Christopher Wagner,
NAD president, and
Rachel Arfa, Esq., AG Bell board member.

I also met Christopher Wagner, president of the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) and Howard Rosenblum, NAD's chief executive officer. Our organizations have worked collaboratively together on many initiatives, including the recent landmark movie theater captioning agreement between consumer organizations and the industry.   

What were you doing when the legislation was signed? Rachel Arfa asked this question on her Facebook page. Not yet a teenager, Rachel was at the 1990 AG Bell Convention. Dr. Tilak Ratnanather remembers the 1990 Convention fondly as the convention where he received an open invitation to Johns Hopkins University - where he continues to make great achievements! John Stanton, Esq., recalled that he was in Los Angeles for a summer work program. 

Ratnanather Reception.1
At the reception for Dr. Ratnanather with
Dr. Howard W. Francis, Dr. Tilak Ratnanather
and Meredith Sugar, Esq., AG Bell president.

Some 25 years later, the AG Bell LSL Symposium was held close to where the ADA was signed, in nearby Baltimore. Board members, professionals in the field of listening and spoken language, and AG Bell staff gathered to celebrate, collaborate and learn. AG Bell honored Tilak Ratnanather, D.Phil., with a celebration of his career in research, and his accomplishments in mentoring students who are deaf or hard of hearing and guiding them to enter the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. During the reception we heard about Tilak's accomplishments from his friend and colleague, Dr. Howard W. Francis, and AG Bell President, Meredith Sugar, Esq., presented Tilak with an AG Bell award. 

Before this reception Symposium attendees from around the globe gathered in an International Forum to promote worldwide collaboration in advancing listening and spoken language. At the forum I introduced the vision for collaboration, and what we as global representatives of the field could do to expand the reach of listening and spoken language. I am very grateful to those who attended and their dedication in working with children and other professionals around the world. President-elect, Ted Meyer, M.D., Ph.D., Don Goldberg, Ph.D., CCC-SLP/A, FAAA, LSLS Cert. AVT and Teri Ouellette, M.S.Ed., LSLS Cert. AVEd, president of the AG Bell Academy, addressed the group before all attendees introduced themselves. There was a keen interest in how barriers of location and language could be overcome for candidates to access resources necessary for certification.    

International Reception
Attendees of the International Forum.

Jaspal Chowdhry from India, who was the first person in South Asia to be certified as a Listening and Spoken Language Specialist (LSLS®), was in attendance as well as participants from Austria, Australia, Argentina, Canada, China, New Zealand, Spain, South Korea, Sweden, United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom. More about this gathering in a future column.   

Many professionals were able to enjoy other activities in Baltimore and reconnect with colleagues, but the main goal of the event was professional development. The theme of the Symposium was "The Brain Science of Hearing: Connecting New Pathways to Spoken Language" and through the sessions attendees accessed current and relevant information to support their professional development and their practice. A couple of the highlights were the keynote speaker presentations which focused on how brain science of hearing affected reading and other aspects of language development. Many attendees praised Lydia Denworth for her presentation "Ears are Just the Beginning." Lydia was able to combine her personal story of raising a child with hearing loss with her profession as a science and social issues writer. Attendees praised Ken Pugh's session, "The Literate Brain: Insights from Neuroimaging," where he reported on his research in brain imaging and reading. 

What will you be doing a year from now? I invite you to join AG Bell in Denver for the 2016 AG Bell Convention, which will offer outstanding professional development as well as a time for families to connect on issues that are important to them as they help their children hear and talk. I look forward to highlighting the projects and accomplishments that will have been created because of the opportunities ADA has made possible, and the advances we will make building on our work in Baltimore.  

Until next week, 

Emilio Alonso-Mendoza


"ADA is a landmark commandment of fundamental human morality. It is the world's first declaration of equality for people with disabilities by any nation. It will proclaim to America and to the world that people with disabilities are fully human; that paternalistic, discriminatory, segregationist attitudes are no longer acceptable; and that henceforth people with disabilities must be accorded the same personal respect and the same social and economic opportunities as other people."  

- Justin Dart, Jr., American activist known as the "Godfather of the ADA"