Special to the Philanthropy Journal
By Betty Goodridge
For many social justice issues, much of the work being done in the nonprofit sector is centered on making reparations – on looking back at how a community has been harmed and working to heal that pain. For the Deaf community, reparations are not as important as visibility and opportunity or access to a healthy and safe life looking forward. Rather than looking back at the neglect that members of the community have faced, the Deaf Action Center (DAC) aims to look to the future and to what opportunity the Deaf, Deaf Disabled, Deaf Blind, and Hard of Hearing might have access to if we only paid attention.
Since 1977, Deaf Action Center in Dallas, Texas has been a center for the disenfranchised with an “invisible” disability, the Deaf, Deaf Disabled, Deaf Blind, and Hard of Hearing. Many in this community struggle with opportunities that able-bodied people may take for granted on a daily basis such as access to job opportunities and education. Being Deaf often means that accessibility options are only an afterthought.
DAC hopes to help those in the Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) area overcome those challenges with a comprehensive range of programs that combine commitment, caring, and communication to create personal, social, and professional growth and success. “We do it not to fill a much needed niche in [our] area; we do it to make a positive change. We do it to support anyone at any age to reach their full potential. We do it to eliminate barriers that are imposed on us,” says Heather Hughes, Executive Director.
Deaf Action Center’s various programs all work towards providing opportunity in different ways. Martha’s Vineyard Place, DAC’s affordable living housing project currently under construction, will be 100 units fully accessible to residents with unique amenities that not many apartments offer, such as flashing smoke detectors and flashing doorbells in every apartment; on-site advocacy; video relay stations for residents to make phone calls; and adult literacy classes. Additionally, DAC is working towards entrepreneurship opportunities and training experiences at Martha’s Vineyard Place, chances that have previously been sorely lacking or entirely inaccessible for Deaf individuals in Dallas-Fort Worth.
While it is important for Deaf individuals to have support at home and in their personal and professional lives, DAC recognizes that it’s equally important for the larger DFW community to work towards creating opportunity. The Advocacy Department employs Deafness Resource Specialists (DRS) that contracted with Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitation Services. The DRS travel on a daily basis to Deaf students in local middle school or high school Deaf programs to work with them on developing self-empowerment as future productive adults. They also educate workplaces on lawful accessibility requirements and provide sensitivity training to local enforcement. The Hearing Loss Resource Services provides referrals, coping strategies, and a center where various assistive technologies can be accessible to community members. The Communication Access/Interpreting Department places fully certified and qualified ASL/English interpreters and ASL/English/Spanish trilingual interpreters at assignments with Deaf and hearing clients. All of these programs focus on what can be done for Deaf individuals, not what has been done in the past.
DAC represents a starting point for Deaf, Deaf Disabled, DeafBlind, and the Hard of Hearing resources. Topher Gonzalez, the DAC Training & Outreach Liason for the Communication Access Department, has a personal connection to the organization. When he was one year old, Topher Gonzalez’s family moved to Dallas from Mexico City, and it was then that DAC helped his family establish a themselves despite their disabilities. “The DAC team has been tremendously supportive and resourceful for my family. Now I’m proudly part of the same team, who has such passion and determination to change lives of our community for the better. It’s amazing.” Mr. Gonzalez said.
Ms. Hughes mirrors this philosophy of forward-thinking, noting that DAC is “fully aware that deaf individuals are turned away at the door of employment opportunity and encounter blatant discrimination on a daily basis. We are one of the few centers in DFW that wholeheartedly welcome and celebrate the Deaf experience,” offering ways of moving forward rather than looking back.
Heather Hughes is the Executive Director of Deaf Action Center in Dallas, Texas. She has been deaf since birth but was raised oral and discovered Deafhood much later in life. One of her many passions is mentoring other d/Deaf individuals to find their sense of self-worth and talents as a Deaf or hard of hearing individual.