The National Association of the Deaf

Published: Sep 15th, 2013

This article was originally published on our CEO’s dedicated WCMT-research blog but we thought it was great and wanted to share it with you.

Today we had the great pleasure of meeting with three core members of the NAD staff: Howard Rosenblum (President), Lizzie Sorkin (Director of Communications) and Allison Rice (Coordinator of Youth Leadership). It was clear that they have a massive workload and are thoroughly immersed in preserving and fighting for the interests of the Deaf in the USA – thus it was very kind of them to make the time.

Their website ( describes them as:

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

From the meeting we had, I can see why!

The NAD was formed back in 1880 (ironically the same year as the Milan Conference when sign language use was prohibited in classrooms across Europe and the US). It has been a cornerstone of advances in the Deaf community and rights and is truly a beacon that shines hope across this country.

We were able to discuss a number of streams from my research, which will go into my final report, along with learning more about their organisation. What struck me was the relationship that they seemingly have with their ‘constituents’. Checking their website, one can see that they get masses of emails on a daily basis with questions and demands, often of a legal nature, asking for assistance and the ‘call to arms’ of the NAD juggernaut. This reliance on NAD is reflected in the make-up of their core team – 7 lawyers out of the 11 permanent staff present in the offices (I hope I got that right – but basically, there a LOT of lawyers!). The NAD recently won a massive case, representing a deaf student who felt he was treated unfairly. They worked on this case for years and finally got a groundbreaking decision delivered from the courts. WOW! Interestingly, this is one of the ways that they receive funding to allow their services to continue – through legal victories where they take on the State and Federal governments. Basically, they don’t just ‘talk’ about rights, they actively work with government (and take them on when they need to) to move things along a path designed by Deaf people.

What struck me was that in the UK, we have many, many organisations, but who is leading the battle-cry, as it were? Who is the behemoth that the courts and the government listen to and are apprehensive of taking on? Who is the ‘deaf-999′ when feeling oppressed or when their rights have been contravened? I love the fact that the RAD have a legal presence and service, and Rob Wilkes is doing an excellent job of getting the Deaf community to be more aware of their rights (he recently featured at our National Deaf Learners Conference). But, does he receive support from the government, from interpreting agencies and from legal case victories, like the NAD, to make him and his team a legal Hercules? I am not sure. We have the BDA who operate often at local level and run much needed awareness sessions, conferences etc. We have the excellent NDCS who do fantastic work with deaf children and youths and have operated some amazing projects. You have Deaf Unity who is leading the debate on Deaf education and working with students and establishments, along with our international work and our growing portfolio.

It seems that we have something to learn from America on this level – America is so vast and yet the NAD have been able to unite their community under one banner. I am sure an island the size of the UK can so likewise. Deaf Unity is all about making partnerships, bridges and pulling nebulous communities together. I am definitely going to take this piece of learning back to the UK.

What do you think? Who do you call – who is your ‘Batman’ when feeling like something is going wrong? Who do you look to, to preserve and fight for your rights? Let me know through this blog, or through our Deaf Unity site. I would be very interested to hear people’s views.

I will feature other items we discussed as we go along and meet with other people and build on my musings. Stay tuned.

NAD Photo

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