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Home > Clerc Center > JRNADconf2013

Hosting the 24th Jr. NAD Biennial Conference

Image: Senator Harkin and the participants of the Jr. NAD Conference (Photo: Matt Vita)

Senator Harkin and the participants of the Jr. NAD Conference (Photo: Matt Vita)

Every two years, deaf and hard of hearing students representing their local Jr. NAD (National Association of the Deaf) chapter come together at a national conference. This year, the Model Secondary School for the Deaf (MSSD) hosted the gathering of students from 26 schools across the country on the campus of Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., from November 5-10.

The theme of the conference was “Together We Connect: Reach, Engage, Act, Lead.” Delegates and observers, and their school advisors, enjoyed a week packed with activities that included guest presenters, a variety of social activities, and opportunities to learn about and practice leadership skills.

“The Jr. NAD Conference was a wonderful experience. I became more aware of my potential to bring change to the Deaf community through my chapter and collaborate with other individuals with the drive to make improvements for the betterment of all deaf people,” said MSSD observer Emmanuel Njoku.

The conference planners made the most of introducing the delegates to different aspects of Washington, D.C. One of the special highlights included a legislative day on Capitol Hill and an opportunity to meet and have a Q&A with the champion of the Americans with Disabilities Act legislation, Senator Tom Harkin from Iowa.

The legislative day began with a presentation held in the Gold Room in the Rayburn House Office Building. NAD president Chris Wagner shared with the delegates a history of the Jr. NAD and explained how its chapters are organized and run. He made a strong plea to the delegates to strengthen the participation of deaf and hard of hearing students in the work of the Jr. NAD and to help build up the number of chapters.

Claudia Gordon, associate director of the White House Office of Public Engagement and a trustee at Gallaudet University, shared her background experience with the students and told stories about how she had advocated for herself as a student at Howard University to have interpreter access to University-sponsored activities and not just in the classrooms.

Following the presentations, the delegates walked across the Capitol Hill grounds to the Hart Senate Office Building. Once there, they divided up into state groups and visited the offices of their state senators to meet with legislative aides to share their advocacy for the Cinema Act.

Zachary Bridgett, president of the MSSD Jr. NAD chapter, led one of the groups at a meeting with Maryland senator Ben Cardin’s chief counsel, William Van Horne, to discuss the Cinema Act proposed by NAD. The students shared with Van Horne their experiences with movie theater captioning devices and why they thought that captioning on the screen was the more accessible and user-friendly option.

Zachary Bridgett, MSSD Jr. NAD president (fourth from right), joins with other delegates and an  advisor to meet with Maryland senator Ben Cardin’s chief counsel, William Van Horne (fourth from left), to lobby for the Cinema Act.

The following day, the delegates met Senator Harkin in the auditorium of Kendall Demonstration Elementary School while he was on the Gallaudet campus for a tour. One of the students asked Harkin who his role model was. He replied that it was his deaf brother, Frank, who fought all his life to be independent, saying, “How come because I am deaf, people think they need to tell me what to do? I want to decide for myself.”

Harkin encouraged the delegates to put their newly-learned advocacy skills to work. He urged them not only to support the Cinema Act but also to encourage their parents and friends to contact their legislators about the United States joining the 130 other countries that have already ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities treaty. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has begun hearings to consider ratifying the treaty.

Emmanuel Njoku introduces Senator Tom Harkin (second from left) at a meeting with the delegates. Gallaudet University president T. Alan Hurwitz sits to the left of Harkin and an interpreter to the right. (Photo: Matt Vita)

“The conference was a huge success because of our outstanding student committees and observers, and great administrative support,” said Erin Land, conference chairperson. “I was very proud of our MSSD delegates and observers for being wonderful role models for other students. There were so many great leaders at the conference, and our students were definitely among them.”

The delegates finished up the weekend with a round of fun social activities, including the Mr. and Miss Jr. NAD Competition, in which our MSSD delegates Shannon Thornhill and Chang Hwang were first runners-up!

MSSD was represented by Zachary Bridgett (not pictured below), delegates Chang and Shannon, and observers Caitlin and Emmanuel. The Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind will host the next Jr. NAD conference in 2015.

MSSD delegates Chang Jun Hwang and Shannon Thornhill and observers Caitlin Williams and Emmanuel Njoku