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The Honorable Wilma Newhoudt-Druchen, a Gallaudet alumna who in 1999 became the first deaf woman to be elected to the South African Parliament, has been selected as Gallaudet University's Visionary Leader for the month of November in recognition of her extensive advocacy efforts for both the deaf and disability communities worldwide.
A global commitment to bring fair and equitable treatment to deaf people and individuals with disabilities has been expressed through Newhoudt-Druchen's work with the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD), where she currently serves as vice president. She was previously a WFD board member and president of the organizing committee for the XVI WFD Congress in Durban, South Africa. Newhoudt-Druchen is a strong supporter for the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Newhoudt-Druchen earned a bachelor's degree in social work from Gallaudet in 1992 and a master of social work degree from the University in 2005. Returning to South Africa in 1994, she put her social work and leadership skills to work for a local organization, Deaf Community of Cape Town. She was later hired as provincial director of the Deaf Federation of South Africa (DeafSA), where she went on to serve as national chair and president. She remains active in the organization today. In 1999, she was elected to the South African Parliament on the election list of the African National Congress (ANC) after being nominated by the organization, Disabled People South Africa. During her tenure as a member of Parliament, she has chaired the body's Joint Monitoring Committee on the Improvement of Quality of Life and Status of Children, Youth, and Disabled Persons.
Recognition Newhoudt-Druchen has received for her achievements in promoting the rights of deaf people includes the WFD's Award of Merit, and an honorary doctor of laws degree from her alma mater at the 2009 Commencement, where she was the main speaker. She also was awarded as Outstanding Young Alumnus by the Gallaudet University Alumni Association and received the Edward Miner Gallaudet Award from the Laurent Clerc Cultural Fund for improving the lives of deaf people in Africa, South Africa, and worldwide. Earlier this year, Gallaudet closed its lecture series in recognition of the 25th anniversary of Deaf President Now with a presentation, "International Perspectives of Human Rights," by Newhoudt-Druchen and her husband, Bruno Druchen, national director of the DeafSA.
As a child, Newhoudt-Druchen first attended the Dominican School for the Deaf in Wittebome, Cape Town, then transferred to a girl's Catholic school. In 1988, at the age of 24, she enrolled at Gallaudet with financial assistance for her first year from a childhood friend from the Dominican School, Lindsay Dunn, '85, who is now manager of educational programs in Gallaudet's ASL and Deaf Studies Programs. Dunn successfully fought to get her a scholarship from the United Nations Education and Training Program for Southern Africans to cover her undergraduate years at Gallaudet, and the deaf community of Cape Town also raised funds to cover her living expenses during the first year.
Newhoudt-Druchen speaks with confidence about her insights into the needs of her fellow citizens. "I am a South African, well informed about South African history and politics during the apartheid years. I did not need to work as a social worker to understand the situation of Deaf people in South Africa; I already knew their needs and problems," Newhoudt-Druchen said. "My work only makes me more aware that there is so much work to be done in the Deaf community. I am emotional about disability issues because I'm there to articulate personally what being disabled is all about."
As a member of the Parliament, Newhoudt-Druchen sits on two committees, the Portfolio Committee on Communications, "where I can lobby for more access for deaf and hard of hearing people to T.V. either via subtitles or sign language interpreters," said Newhoudt-Druchen explains, and the Portfolio Committee on International Relations and Co-operation. "I am proud to count a leader of Ms. Newhoudt-Druchen's caliber among our alumni," said Gallaudet President T. Alan Hurwitz. "Her pioneering energy has and will continue to propel the global deaf community forward."
Newhoudt-Druchen was publicly acknowledged by the Parliament of the Republic of South Africa for her selection as a Visionary Leader on November 13, 2013.
Profile/yearbook photo courtesy Gallaudet Archives. All other photos courtesy Wilma Newhoudt-Druchen unless otherwise indicated.
Newhoudt-Druchen welcomes participants a the opening of the WFD conference in Durban, South Africa in 2011.
Newhoudt-Druchen works at a social work club booth during a Gallaudet Homecoming event.
Wilma receives her diploma and congratulations from Gallaudet President I. King Jordan.
Wilma marries Bruno Druchen
Newhoudt-Druchen with her parents, her two young children, and her four sisters.
Newhoudt-Druchen takes a moment to savor her first moments in the halls of Parliament as a new member.
Newhoudt-Druchen visits constituents in South Africa's Eastern Cape province.
Newhoudt-Druchen presents during the 25th anniversary of Deaf President Now in 2013. (Photo courtesy Office of University Communications)
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