On this page, you’ll learn about our history as an organization. Find out what led to the founding of DBCA and what motivates young leaders who are deafblind to engage in social action to transform their communities and the world. We hope our history will inspire a spirit of giving and volunteerism to make our world a more welcoming place for all to live in.
Recognizing the need for a program that empowers young people to take action to change their communities and better their lives, two friends, Dr. Amy Parker and Suzanne Ressa, envisioned a summer leadership development course based in Washington, D.C. Supported by several organizations and a team of dedicated volunteers, Dr. Parker and Ms. Ressa recruited six participants in June 2009 for the first leadership development course known as “Participating in the Policy Process.” Emboldened by a successful first course that involved interacting with national policymakers and learning about the legislative and regulatory processes, the newly selected participants quickly embraced the program’s mission and called it “DeafBlind Young Adults in Action” (DBYAA).
During DBYAA’s first productive summer, participants met President Obama in the Oval Office of the White House, offering the President a direct experience with young adults who are deafblind. In addition, the group, often called “Cohort 1,” worked to promote some of the key policy issues concerning education, technology, and support service providers (SSPs) during meetings with their representatives in Congress and several federal agencies, such as the Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs.
That same year, some of the members of Cohort 1 traveled across the Atlantic Ocean to meet people in Uganda, where they learned about the unique challenges Africa’s disability community faces, as well as bringing with them some resources to share with their fellow deafblind Ugandans. This would eventually inspire a strong interest in a global focus on issues that matter to the disability community, and to making the world a better place for all, and is reflected in DBCA’s strong support for and promotion of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).
In the summer of 2010, another group of future leaders was selected. Members of Cohort 1 from the previous year served as mentors to the new group, called “Cohort 2,” helping them understand about the policy process that they learned during DBYAA’s first summer. With many of the same generous volunteers from the previous year helping, Dr. Parker and Ms. Ressa serving as program coordinators in collaboration with partner organizations, the second DBYAA course took place in early June at Gallaudet University.
During this year’s course, Cohort 2 and their mentors from Cohort 1 met with some key decision-makers in Washington, D.C., including Ed Markey, the main sponsor of the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessessibility Act of 2010 (Accessibility Act), and other members of Congress to advocate for passage of the law and to promote other important causes, such as the IDEA. These participants also met with representatives of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) to share their stories as individuals representing the diverse deafblind community.
After returning to their respective communities, the young adults continued to work hard, together with other community leaders and organizations, for the passage of the Accessibility Act. Upon learning that the U.S. House of Representatives was moving ahead with the Accessibility Act without deafblind people included, members of Cohort 1 and 2, led by the group’s future president, spearheaded a nationwide petition campaign urging Congress to include deafblind people in the legislation. The effort, along with the efforts of other individuals and groups, was successful. That year’s leadership course participants were invited to the 20th anniversary celebration of the ADA days after the House of Representatives added back language including deafblind Americans in the Accessibility Act. They also were invited to witness the House of Representatives mark the 20th ADA anniversary and consider the Accessibility Act on the House floor. On October 8 of that same year, Mussie Gebre, a member of Cohort 2 and DBCA’s future first President, represented the group at the signing ceremony of the Accessibility Act in the East Wing of the White House.
In early June 2011, another leadership development course was offered at Gallaudet University in partnership with Texas Tech University. Once again financially supported by the Helen Keller National Center, six new class participants, their mentors drawn from Cohort 1 and 2, and a wonderful and talented support staff of interpreters led by Kathleen Peters came together to learn about the policymaking process and some of the issues important to the deafblind community. The most significant highlight of this summer’s course was a meeting with one of the authors of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), former Department of Justice Disability Rights Section Chief John Wodatch. From this meeting with Mr. Wodatch and other Justice Department attorneys emerged an understanding of the need for the Department to write a technical assistance statement recognizing the vital role SSPs play in the full and equal participation of deafblind people in our society.
As in previous years, this summer’s twelve young adults visited with their representatives in Congress to advocate for inclusive education, especially the need for interveners across the nation’s school systems. They also met with lawyers at the FCC, engaging in a dialogue about the implementation of the Accessibility Act and the need to promote accessible technologies to ensure full access to communications by all persons with disabilities; and the OSEP, which heard from the participants stories about how they succeeded in school and the challenges deafblind students face.
In order to give back and apply leadership skills they learned in Washington to advance the disability community, DBYAA participants decided to form a national organization. In May 2012, representatives of Cohort 1, 2 and 3 came together in Lubbock, Texas for a weeklong conference. The purpose of the conference was to draft the bylaws of the future organization. After identifying the mission and vision statement, as well as the core values of the emerging organization, they returned to their respective communities and sent their proposed bylaws to the rest of DBYAA members.
After a proposed list of possible names for the future organization, the group voted to adopt DeafBlind Citizens in Action (DBCA) as the official name of their new organization. In addition, they overwhelmingly adopted the proposed bylaws, which included the vision and mission statement, and the group’s core values. Thus, DBCA was born.
DBCA’s membership elected the first officers in November 2012. The new executive leadership team officially began its term on January 1, 2013. The first Board members were elected in March 2013, assuming their titles effective April 1, 2013. Dr. Amy Parker was elected first Board Chair. The DBCA Board of Advisors also elected Suzanne Ressa as the organization’s Treasurer, after being nominated by the President.
With an elected Board and leadership team, a period of transition was initiated. During this transition, the Board formally approved the bylaws during its first meeting in September 2013. Paperwork to obtain federal and state recognition as a 501(c)(3) organization was submitted. DBCA officially became a 501(c)(3) organization in May 2014 and was incorporated in the State of California.
DBYAA in transition
Having led to the founding of DBCA, the future of DBYAA became an important focus of the young organization. Recognizing that its growth and ability to fulfill its mission largely depends on the continuation of the leadership program, DBCA began the process of revitalizing DBYAA.
As part of this process, DBCA sent 4 representatives to a weeklong Action Conference in Washington, D.C. in July 2014. Here these representatives, with the support of volunteer interpreters, the Helen Keller National Center and HumanWare Group, initiated the revitalization process. They identified areas for improvement, reaffirmed relations (and initiated new ones) with policymakers, and drafted a plan for the leadership program that was presented to the DBCA Board and general membership.
Having identified areas for improvement, DBCA began implementing changes to DBYAA. These changes allow a sustainable and effective leadership program that is managed by the organization from which it emerged.
A second Action Conference was held in Dillon Beach, California, in which 6 DBCA representatives came together to develop a draft of the Leadership Development Module (LDM). Based on the recommendations of the July 2014 conference, which recognized that developing effective leaders would require having an online collaborative and learning tool, LDM would become an essential part of DBYAA. This conference in Dillon Beach was funded and supported by HKNC, CAAG, National Center on Deaf-Blindness, HumanWare Group, and generous volunteers, most of them from Texas brought in by CAAG.