Donna Duarte — An educator, public speaker, and deaf and disability rights advocate, identifies as Deaf+

Donna DuarteDonna Duarte identifies as Deaf+. She is an educator, public speaker, and deaf and disability rights advocate. Her pronouns are she/her/hers. Donna has had the unique opportunity to attend college and university as both a temporarily able-bodied student and as a person who is both Deaf and has disabilities. Those divergent experiences, including her daily lived experience as a Deaf+ person, fuel her passion for her work.

Donna has served Californians as a member of the Board of Directors for Disability Rights California and as a member of the Mental Health Advisory Council for Deaf Community Services of San Diego. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from California State University at Northridge with a degree in Deaf Studies. Donna is currently employed by San Diego State University (SDSU) following many years presenting and guest lecturing there on topics connected with disability in society, Deaf culture, and American Sign Language (ASL). Among the many achievements she has attained for the betterment of her community, none mean more to her than being part of the tenacious group of Deaf SDSU alumni and former students who spearheaded the community-wide effort to reestablish SDSU’s ASL program after it was shut down in 2009. ASL for ALL was rehomed to SDSU’s College of Education, where it reopened in the Fall of 2016. SDSU’s ASL program continues to thrive and grow.

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Donna would like to thank the Deaf community for their patience and understanding of her signing skills and her regret that she was unable to fully sign the entire video.

For clarification about the video: It has been Donna’s experience that some entities that fall under the ADA are treating accommodations like they are one-size-fits-all through internally written policy and procedure manuals that limit the type of accommodations provided and when they are provided. A one-size-fits-all approach does not meet the communication requirements of all consumers. This is a national issue for everyone that depends upon accommodations to receive effective communication access.

Hello, my name is Donna Duarte. My identity is Deaf+. I am an educator. I am a Deaf and disability rights activist and advocate. I am also a public speaker. Sixteen years ago I became disabled. I lost my hearing and my vision. I’ve had the privilege of living my life as a person with a disability and as a person living without disabilities. The experiences that I have living in both worlds I use to work with organizations and businesses to help them improve their accessibility for their workers and consumers.

I’m sorry (speaking to the videographer. The videographer replies in text).

Part of the issue is trying to change the English to become ASL. (Sigh) Okay. I’m starting again from “Community Focus”.

(To videographer) Give me a thumbs up when you’re ready. No.

(Continuing to voice to videographer) For some obstinate reason, I feel it’s important for them to hear that I have a voice. Oh yeah, you’re supporting me. The problem is, is that people have this idea and businesses and organizations, and institutions have this…they have this image of what a deaf person is. And because they have this image, they have this one-size-fits-all approach that doesn’t address the issues of everyone or the access… the access requirements of everyone, and that’s why I want to voice. So maybe I just need to personalize it? (Resuming talking to the audience) Where should our community focus be now? My perspective and my experience have shown that the ADA is not a one-size-fits-all law.

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However, businesses, organizations, and institutions are behaving in a manner like it is a one-size-fits-all law and that’s not helpful for me and for other people who need accommodations that are specific to their lived requirements. It is important that businesses, institutions, and organizations understand that fact, but they don’t or they refuse to listen. My idea for what needs to happen is simple. We work together to add an amendment to the ADA specifically about that and two other situations. We need to add punishment to the ADA. It is important because right now what’s happening is people are still struggling without communication access. I’ve had many, many experiences in ER without interpreting services, without effective communication access, struggling, begging for access and not getting it. And I’m not alone. We need to also add education as the third part of the amendment, because that was also left out when the law passed. The ADA is an amazing thing, but it’s not perfect. And it doesn’t help when businesses, organizations, and institutions find ways to avoid their responsibility under the law. An amendment can fix that. Before we can do that, we need to get together, collaborate, and discuss and find ways that we can work together for that to become a success (Thank you signs in ASL).

In partnership with Diana Pastora Carson, M.Ed.
Author: Beyond Awareness: Bringing Disability into Diversity Work in K-12 Schools & Communities, and children’s book Ed Roberts: Champion of Disability Rights, ADA 30th Anniversary Edition

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