Image of multiple disability role models

In honor of Role Models Month, our team highlights remarkable individuals from the d/Deaf, disability, and advocacy communities. This blog celebrates the work and significant contributions of Dr. Glenn Anderson, Dr. Carolyn McCaskill, Judith Heumann, Gael Hannan, and Haben Girma. 

Dr. Glenn B. Anderson

Dr. Glenn Anderson is the first Black Deaf person to earn a doctoral degree in the United States. After earning his undergraduate degree from Gallaudet University, he continued his studies with a Master’s degree from the University of Arizona. In 1982, Dr. Anderson received his doctorate in rehabilitation counseling from New York University. 

Dr. Glenn Anderson is the first Black Deaf person to earn a doctoral degree in the United States. After earning his undergraduate degree from Gallaudet University, he continued his studies with a Master’s degree from the University of Arizona. In 1982, Dr. Anderson received his doctorate in rehabilitation counseling from New York University. 

After finishing his education, Dr. Anderson went on to work in advocacy for the Deaf population, focusing on education for Deaf adults. He served as Director of Training at the University of Arkansas Rehabilitation and Research Center. Dr. Anderson was also a professor at the University of Arkansas’s Department of Rehabilitation, Human Resources, and Communication Disorders and served as Coordinator of the University’s Master’s program in Rehabilitation Counseling with persons who are deaf or hard of hearing. Eventually, Dr. Anderson served at the appointment of President George W. Bush on the National Council for Disability. In 2012, he was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Black Deaf Advocates

“Becoming deaf was a blessing. Because of my deafness, coupled with my African American heritage, I encountered barriers and obstacles during my life’s journey, but along with adversity came opportunities.” – Dr. Glenn B. Anderson 

Dr. Carolyn McCaskill

Dr. Carolyn McCaskill was a student in 1968 in the first integrated class of the Alabama School for the Deaf. She completed her Bachelor’s in Psychology and Master’s in Counseling of the Deaf. In 2005, Dr. McCaskill became the second Deaf black female to earn a Ph.D. from Gallaudet University.  

Dr. McCaskill pioneered the study of Black ASL. As Co-Director of The Black ASL Project, she and her team analyzed the linguistic features and variations of American Sign Language used by African American signers. For her work and advocacy within the Deaf community, Dr. McCaskill was awarded the Deaf Humanitarian Award by the National Action Network in 2013. She is currently an Associate Professor in the ASL & Deaf Studies Department at Gallaudet University and the co-author of The Hidden Treasures of Black ASL: Its History and Structure.

“Society can support the Deaf Community and the Black Deaf Community by making sure programs are accessible and inclusive. Invite Deaf people to serve on programs as well. Give them a voice in the decision-making process.” – Dr. Carolyn McCaskill 

Judith Heumann

Judith Heumann spent decades championing the rights of those experiencing disabilities and, to this day, is often hailed as the mother of the Disability Rights Movement. From a young age, Judith faced discrimination based on her disability. At age five, she was denied the right to attend school due to her wheelchair and later failed her medical exam because she couldn’t walk. After suing the New York Board of Education, Judith became the first wheelchair user to teach in New York.  

In 1977, Judith led the 504 Sit-In, which helped to pass the Rehabilitation Act. After the sit-in, she developed further legislation, including the Disabilities Education Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. In 1983, Judith co-founded the World Institute on Disability, one of the first organizations founded and led by people with disabilities. She then served in the Clinton and Obama Administrations, launched the Independent Living Movement, and created the white paper Road Map for Inclusion. Learn more about her life by visiting her website or reading her memoir, Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist

“I want to see feisty disabled people change the world.” – Judy Heumann

Gael Hannan

Gael Hannan is a humorist, author, speaker, and hearing health advocate. She grew up with hearing loss and now experiences profound hearing loss, which requires hearing aids and a cochlear implant. Gael has led many hearing awareness workshops for youth and adults and sensitivity training for businesses. She is the author of two books (The Way I Hear It: A Life With Hearing Loss and Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully With Hearing Loss) and is dedicated to helping others understand the impact of hearing loss and how to create a fulfilling life with hearing loss. Gael runs the Hearing Foundation of Canada’s Sound Sense Hearing Awareness Program. She was also one of the first Directors on the Global Alliance of Speech-to-Text Captioning. Learn more about her work and advocacy on her website

“You miss 100% of the words you pretend to hear. Stop bluffing.” – Gael Hannan

Haben Girma

Haben Girma is a human rights lawyer in the San Francisco Bay Area. As the first Deafblind person to graduate from Harvard Law School, Haben advocates for disability justice, working with organizations on the importance of accessibility and inclusion. She met with President Obama in 2015 to advocate for accessible technology and accessibility in web design and, in 2016, left her position as a staff attorney to practice non-litigation advocacy full-time. Haben has received numerous awards and accolades, including the Helen Keller Achievement Award, Forbes 30 Under 30 List, and TIME100 Talks. 

In her memoir, Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law, Haben Girma provides insights into her childhood and the non-visual techniques she utilizes to learn. She developed a text-to-braille communication system and used her many talents to overcome challenges, graduate from an Ivy League university, and advocate for others experiencing disabilities. “Warm, funny, thoughtful, and uplifting, this captivating memoir is a testament to one woman’s determination to find the keys to connection.”

“As the daughter of refugees, and as a disabled Black woman, lots of stories say my life doesn’t matter. I had to learn to resist those stories. If you face a challenge, it’s an opportunity to come up with new solutions. Disability drives innovation.” – Haben Girma

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