Mussie Gebre has been an active member since 2010. He was born in Eritrea and came to the U.S. at the age of 12 with no prior education and almost no knowledge of English. Believed by American ophthalogists to have optic atrophy with residual, Gebre began his journey through the Oakland, California public school system. In spite of the inability to effectively communicate with hearing teachers, Gebre, who has been hard of hearing but doesn’t understand speech, learned Braille primarily by comparing Braille symbols with the English alphabet rendered in cut plastic and wooden letters used by teachers of the visually impaired. His newly acquired basic Grade 1 Braille skills enabled him to begin to learn object names and places by exploring objects in the classroom and beyond, whereby his teacher would spell out their names in Braille or demonstrated through body language. But it was Braille books he began to devour Braille books during his second year of high school that his English proficiency began to take root, allowing him to thrive academically and professionally in the years following high school graduation.
Currently, he lives in the East Bay of Northern California. He quietly emerged as an advocate when he began to fight his high school at the age of 15 after learning about the purpose and importance of a tactile interpreter. A tireless student with a passion for the academics and a belief that quality education comes through a long-term commitment to learning beyond the traditional approach to education, Gebre is majoring in Anthropology and Psychology. In addition to his studies, he has been an assistive technology (AT) consultant and trainer since 2002, and he believes that technology is an essential tool of empowerment, enabling individuals with disabilities to lead engaged and happy lives. Besides working as a contractor for the National DeafBlind Equipment Distribution Program (NDBEDP), Gebre enjoys volunteering his time helping both blind and deafblind consumers.
George Stern is a 27 year old student and advocate currently residing in Lubbock, Texas, pursuing a major in French and a minor in Classics at Texas Tech University (TTU). George hopes to apply these studies into a career in law or with the Library of Congress, so he can help ensure access to the treasury of human knowledge for all people.
George has served as President of the Texas Tech Judo and Brazilian Jiu-jitsu club, Vice President of Deafblind Citizens in Action, Board Member for the CAT-SI (Collaboration and Assistive Technology for Students with Sensory Impairments) program through TTU’s Sowell center, and is seriously one of the better cooks in the country!
George was born in Jamaica, a land of many wonderful things but not of opportunity, especially for people with disabilities. George left Jamaica when he was 2 years old after an initial misdiagnosis for pinkeye was revised to be bilateral retinal blastoma, a cancer beyond the capacity of George’s home country to treat. The operation to remove the cancer was successfully completed at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute of Miami, Florida, leaving George blind and alive. George’s bilateral hearing loss, which doctors think stems from a chromosomal abnormality, did not manifest until he started pre-K, which is when he first wore hearing aids.
George’s life, first as a blind, and now as a deafblind person, has been guided by a few immutable tenets. First, “Do unto others as you would be done unto.” Second – and this comes from his father – “Labor for learning before you grow old, for learning is better than silver or gold. Silver and gold will vanish away, but a good education will never decay.”
Learning is George’s passion and, consequently, language has become his preoccupation. “I speak, therefore others know that I am,” is an idea at the center of George’s drive for fluency in as many languages and modalities as possible, both for himself and for others.
Maricar Marquez is the supervisor of Independent Living Department at Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths and Adults (HKNC) in Sands Point, New York. Born in the Philippines and raised in Canada, Ms. Marquez was diagnosed with Usher syndrome characterizing a hearing loss and a progressive vision loss caused by retinitis pigmentosa. Ms. Marquez earned a bachelor’s degree in Communication Arts in 1994 and a master’s degree in Administration in 1997 from Gallaudet University in Washington, DC. She also earned a certificate in Deaf-Blindness Rehabilitation in 2010 from Northern Illinois University.
Ms. Marquez has presented on a national and international level on an array of topics including touch signals, Haptics Communications, support service providers, independent living skills, advocacy for individuals who are deaf-blind. Ms. M Her most recent presentation was held at a panel discussion on family and partnership at the DeafBlind International conference in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Ms. Marquez presented at a panel discussion hosted by Perkins International at the United Nations Conference for States, Parties to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Peron’s with Disabilities in New York. Ms. Marquez is a co-author of Possibilities –Recreational Experiences of Individuals who are Deaf-Blind, and Haptic Communication: The American Edition of the Original. Ms. Marquez has taught the community and cultural aspects of DeafBlind people in a graduate level in an online certificate program in Deaf-Blind Rehabilitation at Northern Illinois University.
Ms. Marquez has worked at HKNC since 1997 and has been in different capacities including providing rehabilitation training to individuals who are deaf-blind communication strategies, braille literacy and independent living skills. In her current position, Ms. Marquez has supervised instructors and provided individualized evaluation and instruction in areas of independent living. Ms. Marquez served on the board of directors for American Association of the Deaf-Blind from 2007-2011. Ms. Marquez has been an advocate in a local Deaf-Blind community in New York City and Long Island.
Amita Srinivasan attended the DBCA meeting as a new member in 2017. From Texas, Amita has This year she is returning as the interim secretary of DBCA. She credits her growing interest in leadership to meeting and interacting with powerful empowered women like DBCA member Divya Goel and mentors like Hunter McGowan at the 2017 DBCA summit. Amita Srinivasan is a rising sophomore at the University of Texas at Austin dual majoring in Psychology and Human Dimensions of Organization. She is a co-director of the Inclusion and Disability Agency of the UT Student Government 2018-2019 and also an active member in the Women of Excellence student organization at UT Austin. Amita is passionately interested in inclusion, empowerment and accessibility for all students. Amita was an invited student representative to the DeafBlind State Plan Stakeholder meeting at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. She has also served on the Student Leadership Advisory Council for Texas State Representative Jeff Leach. Avidly interested in science and technology, Amita has worked as a high school intern in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, University of Texas at Dallas in the Infant Learning Project and also as a volunteer intern for AidIndia Eureka Schools.
Amita has CHARGE syndrome. She is severe profound deaf and has bilateral retinal Colobomas. A fan of accessible tech, Amita uses the latest technology to integrate with her hearing aid and to access information and her cane to navigate. Amita loves photography and has won awards for nature and macro photography. Her photographs can be seen at Ami Fine Art Photography. She is also a contributor at mighty.com. In her downtime, Amita paints, binge watches shows on Netflix and likes to sing to Hamilton karaoke.