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The NAD Responds to Charlottesville

August 17, 2017 - 8:12am

The NAD stands against white supremacy.


Overcrowding in Nebraska’s Prisons Has Led to Constitutional Violations

August 16, 2017 - 7:11am

LINCOLN, Neb – The ACLU of Nebraska, the ACLU National Prison Project, Nebraska Appleseed, the National Association of the Deaf, and the law firms DLA Piper and Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld LLP filed a class-action lawsuit today on behalf of eleven prisoners in Nebraska state prisons. The lawsuit seeks class action certification on behalf of all current and future prisoners in Nebraska. The lawsuit asks that the Nebraska Department of Corrections and the Nebraska Board of Parole immediately address overcrowding, and the lack of adequate health care including medical, dental, and mental health care as well as provide accommodations for prisoners who are blind, deaf, hard of hearing, or have other disabilities.

“Nebraska’s prison system has an overcrowding crisis,” said Danielle Conrad, Executive Director of the ACLU of Nebraska. “The overcrowding exacerbates already severe problems that threaten the lives and health of its prisoners. The lack of appropriate mental and physical health care hurts prisoners while inside, and upon release hampers their reentry into society. In order to protect the constitutional rights and wellbeing of incarcerated Nebraskans we need reform to the Nebraska state prison system at all levels. The diversity of the legal organizations which are working on this case show how alarming the current conditions are and the need for immediate reform. While many current lawmakers in Nebraska did not pass decades of failed tough-on-crime legislation, we cannot wait any longer for smart-on-crime policies to become the standard.”

Overall, the Nebraska prison system is at 159% of capacity, currently housing 5,228 people in a system meant for 3,275. The system has been under-resourced, understaffed, and over capacity for more than twenty years and hit emergency levels of 140% capacity a decade ago. The result is a dangerous system in perpetual crisis. Plaintiffs have repeatedly alerted state officials to these problems, most recently in a comprehensive letter sent to Governor Pete Rickets on April 10, 2017. Despite these efforts, there has been no meaningful action taken to address the overcrowded and unsafe conditions in Nebraska state prisons.

The lawsuit alleges that prisoners are routinely denied access to minimally adequate health care, held in extreme isolation, exposed to violence, and denied accommodations for prisoners who are blind, deaf, hard of hearing prisoners or have other disabilities. This includes:

  • Juveniles who have been placed in isolation repeatedly and held in five point restraints for days on end.
  • A prisoner whose diabetes went untreated, causing him to lose 90% of his eyesight in one eye.
  • A prisoner who repeatedly complained of chest pain and shortness of breath suffered a heart attack and was left to die alone in his cell.
  • Multiple prisoners who are denied auxiliary aids and services for their hearing, vision, or mobility disabilities. Prisoners with disabilities are also not provided accommodations in the parole hearing process, leading to denial of parole, longer stays, and contributing to overcrowding.
  • Multiple instances when overuse of solitary confinement, including putting two prisoners into an isolation cell designed for one, has led to violence and death.

For instance, Hannah Sabata who is 24 and incarcerated at the Nebraska Correctional Center for Women in York. She has schizophrenia and is also living with HIV. Incarcerated since June of 2013, she has had repeated lapses in her prescription medications. Hannah has spent more than two years in isolation, which has only worsened her psychiatric disabilities. Hannah is repeatedly put in isolation solely as a means of punishment, including for failing to return a food tray. R.P, a minor with psychiatric disabilities, has been placed in restraints so frequently that the shackles have scarred his wrists and ankles. R.P is also routinely held in his cell for 23 hours a day and only allowed to exercise in a small pen.

In recent years, multiple riots, deaths and other incidents have sparked legislative committees, reviews from the Ombudsman’s office, and investigations from nationwide criminal justice experts. Despite these events, repeated warnings from prison staff, multiple reports by outside consultants and recommendations from the Nebraska Legislature, the Department of Correctional Services, led by Scott Frakes, Director, and Harbans Deol, Medical Director, has failed to take any meaningful actions to address these well-known and long-standing problems.

The overcrowded conditions have contributed to frequent violence and the overuse of isolation, inadequate mental health care, and the failure to provide rehabilitation and pre-release and reentry planning have led to dangers not only to prisoners and staff, but to public safety. Additionally, the failures in the parole system further contribute to overcrowding. Prisoners can’t complete the parole board’s requirements because there are too many prisoners for far too few programs and classes. Instead prisoners serve more time than is needed and are released without any supervision or supports to help them transition back into the community.

The horrendous conditions–as well as the lack of programing and diversion for substance abuse issues–impact Black Nebraskans disproportionately: in 2015, 28% of the prison population was Black, when only 5% of Nebraskans were Black. A Black person in Nebraska is 4.65 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white Nebraskan. The groups say that adding diversion services for those with substance abuse issues could play a role in reducing these disparities.

Among those in Nebraska’s prisons, about one-third are serving time for an offense classified as non-violent. In recent years, conservative states like Oklahoma and Texas have instituted smart on crime policies designed to improve public safety and reduce prison crowding and expenses by reserving prison for more serious offenders and diverting low level offenders and offenders with mental health or substance abuse issues to appropriate community programs. These policies and programs have been championed by conservative leaders like Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist.

While Nebraska’s prison system has made efforts to reduce the use of solitary confinement in recent years, the system still has a daily average of over 13.9%, which is far above the national average. Mental health experts have repeatedly warned the State of Nebraska that the use of solitary confinement, particularly involving prisoners with mental health conditions, would likely lead to violence and other harms.

“The crisis in Nebraska prisons threatens the health, safety, and lives of both prisoners and staff,” said David Fathi, Director of the ACLU National Prison Project. “When state officials abdicate their responsibilities, it’s up to the courts to protect basic constitutional rights.”

“Other states, including the State of California, have been able to reduce overcrowding, without putting public safety at risk through sentencing reform and increasing opportunities for prisoners to earn discharge through good behavior and completion of educational and rehabilitative programs” explained Michael Bien of Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld LLP. “There is no reason such efforts cannot work in Nebraska.”

“We cannot wait any longer for the actions needed to address the systemic failures of Nebraska’s prison system,” Nebraska Appleseed Executive Director Becky Gould said. “Daily, people are going without adequate health care and necessary treatment, as well as dealing with the other side effects of a system that for the last decade has continued to swell well beyond its intended capacity. This case is not only about protecting the constitutional rights of Nebraskans in our prisons, but ensuring urgent action to restore a safe and effective corrections system that benefits our entire community.”

“The State of Nebraska should immediately declare an emergency to increase programming, staffing, and parole options,” said Conrad. “More and more, it is county taxpayers who are having to pick up the tab for these failures. Public safety in Nebraska is threatened every day. The State has a responsibility to address funding for mental health and medical care and accommodations for prisoners with disabilities immediately. State Senators should continue the work they have begun in addressing Nebraska’s drug sentencing laws and diversion for nonviolent offenders and those with mental health and substance abuse issues.”

For the complaint and more information about the lawsuit:



Ask Howard Anything / July 2017

July 25, 2017 - 4:46pm

Why should you come to the NAD Leadership and Training Conference (NLTC)? #AskHoward

Lincoln Center Sued For Discrimination

July 19, 2017 - 10:57am

New York, NY – Christina Kielich of Alexandria, Virginia, filed suit today in federal district court against Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and Lincoln Center Theater (“Lincoln Center”) alleging that the celebrated performance venues on multiple occasions denied her access based on disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and New York State and City law. Federal, state and local laws require performing arts venues such as Lincoln Center to ensure full and equal access to programming for individuals with disabilities. Kielich who is hard of hearing requires captioning in order to understand performances, but Lincoln Center has refused Kielich’s requests.

Kielich studied theater in the drama department at Catholic University, studied Shakespeare at Oxford University, and wrote her senior thesis on the role of women in Greek drama. She is an avid theater fan who enjoys a broad range of cultural events. In October 2015, Lincoln Center denied Kielich access to The King and I. In October 2016, Lincoln Center denied access to Oslo and in February and April 2017, Lincoln Center denied Kielich access to The Glass Menagerie. While hearing theater fans can purchase tickets to the performance of their choice, theater patrons with hearing disabilities have access only to very limited performances, none of which were accessible to Kielich.

“Just like everyone else who goes to the Lincoln Center, I appreciate good theatrical performances,” said Kielich. “I just want to be able to go there to enjoy the plays without barriers.” Kielich is represented by the National Association of the Deaf and Stein & Vargas, LLP.

Howard Rosenblum, CEO of the National Association of the Deaf said, “Since 1990, Federal law has required theaters to provide communication access to deaf and hard of hearing patrons, yet Christina Kielich has to fight for her right to enjoy theater performances at Lincoln Center in 2017. Lincoln Center must do better and follow the law.”


National Association of the Deaf is the nation’s premier civil rights organization of, by, and for, deaf and hard of hearing individuals in the United States.

Stein & Vargas, LLP is a civil rights firm based in Washington, D.C. and committed to the principle that all people have full and equal access to all parts of society.



Join Us in Oklahoma City!

July 19, 2017 - 7:57am

Check out what some people think about NLTC. In case you can’t tell, we are so excited about the upcoming NLTC in Oklahoma City this October 5-7. Don’t forget, EARLY BIRD registration ends July 31st! Register today! #NLTC2017

Open Letter to the RID & CASLI

July 10, 2017 - 6:40am
Open Letter to the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf & Center for Assessment of Sign Language Interpreters

July 10, 2017


President Melvin Walker
Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Inc. (RID)
333 Commerce Street
Alexandria, Virginia 22314

President Miako Rankin
Center for Assessment of Sign Language Interpreters (CASLI)
333 Commerce Street
Alexandria, Virginia 22314


Mr. Walker and Ms. Rankin,

Our organizations jointly write to inquire about the status of and plans for the National Interpreter Certification (NIC). The August 4, 2015 decision by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) to place the NIC on a moratorium has had a significantly adverse impact on the Deaf and hard of hearing community, sign language interpreters, aspiring sign language interpreters and entities that rely on the certification to protect the quality of sign language interpreting services within their organization, state, or areas of service.

Although the newly created Center for Assessment of Sign Language Interpreters (CASLI) indicated it would accept applications for the NIC examination beginning October 1, 2016 and resume the interview and performance test exams on November 1, 2016, there continues to be confusion, and many have not yet learned of, or are just beginning to learn of, the current status of the NIC program.

This uncertainty and lack of information regarding the status and stability of the NIC certification program has had a direct and significant impact on the following constituencies:

  • Deaf or hard of hearing consumers that seek to have a means of measuring qualifications in the sign language interpreters that they use in everyday life;
  • communities living in states that have laws or regulations requiring interpreters to hold national certifications;
  • sign language interpreting agencies that require interpreters to hold national certifications;
  • businesses that seek to hire sign language interpreters holding national certifications;
  • state advocacy efforts to enact legislation for sign language licensure that require 
national certificate requirements; and
  • interpreter training programs that are being affected in terms of student enrollment due 
to the uncertainty of certification and/or licensure after graduation.

RID’s decisions regarding its certification programs have a significant impact across our constituencies. Without clear and public information regarding the status and future of the NIC program, these impacted constituencies are searching for options. Consequently, it is imperative that the RID and CASLI take further action to share information to reassure these affected parties.

Specifically, the undersigned organizations ask for the following:

  1. Public and transparent information about current status of the NIC
  We request that the RID and CASLI provide via regular and widely public communications, beginning immediately, an update on the current status of the NIC including clear details about the resumption of the NIC testing.
  2. Public and transparent information about updates & changes to the NIC
  We also request that RID and CASLI provide via regular and widely public communications their plans for the long term future of the NIC certification. Based on its announcement from July 1, 2016, CASLI indicated that, “The NIC has approximately another two years in its life cycle”1, and the community needs to understand what is planned to sustain the reliability, validity and relevance of the NIC certification beyond such described life cycle.
  3. Public and transparent information regarding sustainability in operations  
We request that RID and CASLI provide via regular and widely public communications their plans to ensure structural, operational and financial stability of both RID and CASLI to ensure there are no further moratoriums or adverse impact on national certification.

We, the undersigned organizations and businesses, urge RID and CASLI to provide such critical information through frequent and widely public communications, including communications in American Sign Language, to restore confidence among all of these stakeholders in the NIC certification. Although this letter is specifically focused on the NIC, given the general confusion due to the lack of information and communication to date on this specific certification, we also express concerns about the moratoriums on the SC:L, EdK-12 and CDI certifications and also call on RID and CASLI to provide frequent and widely public updates on the status of these certification programs.

We thank you for your attention to this matter and request a response by August 11, 2017. Your response will help our organizations determine our next steps in making our respective decisions pertaining to the NIC certification managed by RID and CASLI.


Lisa Schaefermeyer, BA, CI & CT
Absolute Quality Interpreting (AQI)

Helen Young, Chief Executive Officer
Accurate Interpreting Services

Jenée Alleman, President
American Association of the DeafBlind

Pamela Nygren Wellumson, CSC, CEO
American Sign Language Interpreting Services

Angela Roth,
President & CEO
American Sign Language Services Corporation /DBA ASL Services Inc.

Keri Brooks, President
On behalf of the 2017-2019 Board of American Sign Language Teachers Association

Sharaine Roberts, President
Association of Late-Deafened Adults (ALDA)

Byung Gyu Lim, President
Bay Area Deaf Asian Association

Angela Myers,
 Chair/Associate Professor
Sign Language Interpreting Program Bethel College

Sheri Farinha,
 Chief Executive Officer
California Coalition of Agencies Serving the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (CCASDHH)

Flavia S. Fleischer, Ph.D.,
 Chair & Associate Professor
Deaf Studies Department
California State University, Northridge

Mark Hill,
Cerebral Palsy and Deaf Organization (CPADO)

Andy Olson and 
Ben Olson,
CODA Brothers Interpreting

Everett Puckett and
 Rita Wedgeworth,
Communication Axess Ability Group (CAAG)

Christopher Soukup, 
Chief Executive Officer
Communication Service for the Deaf (CSD)

Jeff Rosen,
 General Counsel
Convo Communications, LLC

Rogelio Fernandez, President
Council de Manos

Karl Kosiorek, MA, CI & CT, President and Owner
Deaf Access Solutions (DAS)

Marcy Colton, Executive Director

Raymond Rodgers,
Deaf Communication by Innovation

Neil McDevitt, Executive Director and 
Charles McFadden, Board Chair
Deaf-Hearing Communication Centre, Inc.

Thomas Horejes, Ph.D., 
Executive Director
Deaf Empowerment Awareness Foundation (DEAF, Inc.)

Wesley Arey,
 Dawn Schriver, and
 Philip J. Wolfe,
 National Representatives
Deaf Grassroots Movement

Ella Mae Lentz, Organizing Chair
Deafhood Foundation

Nancy B. Rarus, President
Deaf Seniors of America

Janet Lewis,
Deaf Services of Palo Alto

Melissa Yingst, President
Deaf Women United

Alli Friends,
 Chief Executive Officer/Owner
Friends Interpreting Services, LLC

Nashiru Abdulai, President
Global Deaf Muslims

Full Board & Volunteer Advocates from Florida, Louisiana, Minnesota, New York & Texas
Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of Deaf communities (HEARD)

Erin K. Stauder,
 Executive Director
The Hearing and Speech Agency

Alia Eraky
Hi-5 Access 

Tamar H Lani, MBA, CI, CI, NIC, SC:L, President
Isle Interpret

Jeffrey Buxbaum, President
Jewish Deaf Organization

The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington

Jimmy Beldon, CDI, M.Ed, Co-owner/Chief Operation Officer
Keystone Interpreting Solutions, Inc.

Rogelio Fernandez, President
Manos Communications

Melissa Draganac-Hawk, President
National Association of the Deaf

Tim Albert,
National Black Deaf Advocates, Inc.

Steve Smart,
Professional Interpreting Enterprise

Allyne Betancourt, Chief Executive Officer
Kajika Interpreting Services, LLC

Chad Taylor, Queen Bee

Joanne Sharer, CI & CT, President & Owner
Sign Language Resource Services, Inc. (SLRS) 

Daniel D. Burch, Ph.D., SC:L, Former RID President Vice President
Sign Language Services International, Inc.

Sean Gerlis,
SILAN Communications

Chris Wakeland,
Vice President of Interpreting
Sorenson Communications, LLC

Jeffrey Bravin, Executive Director and
 Sara C. Gerhold, CDI, Program Manager
Source Interpreting at the American School for the Deaf

Keri Brooks, CEO and
 J. Sam Harris, COO

Linda K. Stauffer, Ph.D., CSC, OTC, Professor and Program Coordinator BA – ASL/English Interpreting
University of Arkansas at Little Rock

Joyce Dworsky, CEO/Owner
Vital Signs LLC

Ruann L. Wood, B.S.; RID: NIC-Adv; SC:L, Candidate CEO/Owner
Visual Communication Interpreting, Inc.

Sherri Turpin, Chief Executive Officer
ZVRS and Purple Communications


1 RID FAQ, question number 23


President Updates — June 2017

July 3, 2017 - 8:08am

What does the new proposed health care bill, the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA), mean for the deaf and hard of hearing community if passed? The Senate postponed the vote until after July 4th, so we must contact our Senators NOW.


Deaf History That — “Angeline Fuller Fischer”

June 23, 2017 - 12:54pm

Have you read a poem written by Angeline Fuller Fischer? #deafhistoryTHAT #ASLstories

2017 Summer Interns

June 21, 2017 - 7:25am

The NAD Internship Program is designed for college students and recent graduates interested in gaining valuable experience in a creative, fast-paced nonprofit organization. The interns bring a diverse set of experiences, skills, and most importantly, a willingness to learn and to contribute to our mission and goals.

(L-R: Nathaniel, Claudia, Lena, Jeremy, Nida, Ernesto, and Shirley)


Nida Din
As a deaf person, Nida has experienced and seen discrimination against the deaf community, especially in education, employment, mental health, and healthcare. Nida strongly believes that deaf people should be given a fair chance to show their abilities, develop their personalities, and live their life to the fullest. Nida has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Consulting and Change Management at the University of Texas (Hook ‘em Horns!) in Austin. Nida just completed her first-year attending the University of Houston Law Center in Houston, Texas. After finishing law school in the next two years, Nida plans to advocate to promote a fully accessible world for deaf people. Nida appreciates the opportunity to be this year’s Nancy J. Bloch Scholarship intern.

Claudia Giordano
Claudia was born and raised in the Garden State, in Southern Jersey specifically, where she grew up loving to eat fresh sweet corn with her family. Claudia recently graduated from Gallaudet University in May with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication Studies and Family Child Studies. Claudia was raised by a single hearing mother, who learned American Sign Language, incorporated Deaf Culture, and engaged with our deaf community. Claudia believes that it is important to ensure that all families with deaf and hard of hearing children have access to resources they need. During her internship, she works closely with Tawny Holmes, NAD Education Policy Counsel, to learn these tools to better support and collaborate with professionals and parents. The internship experience has allowed her to appreciate the hard work and efforts of being an advocate.

Nathaniel Kelly
Nathaniel is originally from New York City and currently lives in Washington, D.C.  Nathaniel is a senior at Gallaudet University pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication Studies. He is thrilled to have an opportunity to intern with Zainab Alkebsi, NAD Policy Counsel. Nathaniel looks forward to completing his projects and learning about current policy issues impacting our deaf community. After graduation, he wants to work for a non-profit organization. With this internship, he hopes to gain a crystal-clear understanding of how a non-profit organization works and how to advocate for the community’s needs in different areas. Nathaniel enjoys working with people and making a difference in as many ways as possible.

Lena Kettering
Lena was born in the Philippines before moving to the United States with her family. In high school, after reading To Kill a Mockingbird for the second time, Lena knew that she wanted to be an attorney to advocate for others. Lena graduated from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science. While at UCLA, Lena took some American Sign Language (ASL) and Deaf History courses and fell in love with Deaf Culture. Eventually, Lena decided to pursue a career in deaf advocacy and deaf rights. Lena moved to Washington, D.C. in August 2016, and is currently a law student at The George Washington University Law School (GW). For her internship, Lena is working closely with the NAD Law and Advocacy Center to advocate for the legal rights of deaf and hard of hearing people across the United States. When Lena isn’t at work, you can find her at home reading the latest book on social psychology, or watching a stand-up special on Netflix.

Victoria Morel (not pictured)
Victoria was born and raised in upstate New York and is going into her third year at the Rochester Institute of Technology, studying to obtain a Bachelor of Science degree in Criminal Justice with a minor in Psychology. Victoria is considering a career in disability rights advocacy, specifically for the deaf community. Victoria seized the opportunity to intern at one of the nation’s premier civil rights organization, the NAD, with Anna Bitencourt (NAD Attorney). Victoria met Anna during #NAD2016 in Phoenix, Arizona. Victoria is extremely thankful to be involved in experiencing a diverse work environment and deaf culture since she grew up oral in a strong Dominican family whose primary languages were English and Spanish while attending mainstream schools. After her internship, Victoria will be the Director of Academic Affairs in the NTID’s Student Congress (NSC) at RIT for the 2017-2018 school year.

Ernesto Rodriguez
Ernesto graduated from the California School for the Deaf – Riverside (CSDR) and is currently a student at the National Technical Institute of the Deaf / Rochester Institute of Technology (NTID/RIT). Ernesto studies Business Technology and is the manager of the RIT Women’s volleyball team. He was born and raised in Oxnard, California. Ernesto loves indoor volleyball, beach volleyball, hiking, art, and movies! He believes this internship is an amazing opportunity for him to network and gain valuable experience.

Shirley Ann Shannon Martinez
Shirley was born in Altamonte Springs, Florida and moved to Puerto Rico when she was six years old. She attended a deaf school, Colegio San Gabriel, in San Juan for three years. Eventually, she moved to a mainstream school as the only deaf student in beautiful Aguadilla where she grew up. Aguadilla will always be home for her. Shirley studied at the University of Puerto Rico in Aguadilla for four years, studying Elementary Education. Later, she transferred to Gallaudet University in the Fall of 2013 and recently graduated in May with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication Studies. Gallaudet University was an enriching experience because it helped Shirley learn more about her deaf identity. Shirley modeled for Miss and Mister Deaf International representing Miss Puerto Rico in July 2016 in Las Vegas. She won the title as Miss Deaf America. She plans to return to Puerto Rico with the goal of supporting the deaf community.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy grew up in Fairfax, Virginia and recently graduated from Gallaudet University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications Studies. Jeremy believes this internship provides a great opportunity to better understand how the NAD works behind the scenes. He had not been involved with the NAD until now! He appreciates working with the other interns and enjoys discussing projects together. Jeremy’s hobbies include watching WWE and relaxing outside when the weather allows.

How to Contact Your Legislator

June 20, 2017 - 7:17am

ADVOCACY TIP: What is the quickest way to find your U.S. Congress representative’s contact information if you have any concerns related to a legislative bill? The NAD summer interns will show you how! #takebackdeafed #legislativesavvy #deafed #advocacytip #UScongress

President Updates — May 2017

May 30, 2017 - 10:12am

Melissa brings your attention to the re-authorization of the Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI) Act and invites you to the next NAD Leadership and Training Conference this October in Oklahoma City. For the first time ever at NLTC, we will have a Racial Justice pre-conference training session and regional mini-conferences!

View Tawny’s video alert here.

Explore NLTC Website here.


Ask Howard Anything / May 2017

May 30, 2017 - 6:28am

Can you ask for an interpreter for a conference? What about the doctor’s office? The answer is effective communication must be provided. When you find yourself in that situation, we have different advocacy letters available for you to use and show to the person responsible. Explore our Advocacy Letters. #AskHoward


Deaf History That — “Transportation”

May 19, 2017 - 7:52am

How did deaf schools flourish? What were some ways to travel? How were news from different parts of the nation shared with other deaf people? #deafhistoryTHAT #ASLstories

Melissa S. Draganac-Hawk

May 18, 2017 - 6:19pm

Melissa Draganac-Hawk (Pennsylvania), a first-generation American of deaf immigrant Peruvian parents, received a master’s degree in Linguistics and two bachelor’s degrees in Theater Production & Performance and American Sign Language from Gallaudet University. Currently, she is the Principal of Early Childhood Education at the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf and an adjunct professor of American Sign Language at the University of Pennsylvania.

Involved in the deaf community, Melissa was the president of the National Council of Hispano Deaf and Hard of Hearing, and was the Executive Director of Deaf Women United. Melissa has been involved with the NAD throughout her life in various capacities: as a youth, she participated in the Junior NAD and the Youth Leadership Camp, and as an adult she directed the Miss Deaf America Finals in 2002 and 2008. She has been an NAD member since 1988, focusing on issues affecting youth and diversity. In her free time, she enjoys being with her husband, Sam, and son, Etzio.