Our Mission

To advance the self-determination of signing Deaf communities through local capacity building in developing countries.

Our Vision

Recognizing that people who are Deaf or hard of hearing have the same human rights as those who are not Deaf, DDW envisions a global community of sign language users who can acquire an education, pursue a career, and live a life that is comparable to that of their non-Deaf peers. DDW envisions itself as a positive catalyst for change in partnership with signing Deaf communities in developing countries.

Our Guiding Values

DDW holds these values to be central to its mission.

Focusing DDW’s resources and efforts on Deaf and hard of hearing communities where we can have the greatest impact.

Utilizing a collaborative, capacity-building approach to support programs established within local Deaf and hard of hearing communities.

Valuing sign language as a natural right for Deaf people, while respecting the right of an individual to choose their preferred communication modality.

Preserving indigenous sign languages, which reflect the cultures in which they are rooted.

Recognizing that all people, regardless of their social or economic background, possess the capacity to succeed, and deserve equal access to education, the workplace, and the benefits that society has to offer.

Meet Our Team

History Estill-Varner

Co-Executive Director

Estill-Varner became involved with the Deaf community in 2005 and after spending an academic year in Costa Rica, shifted focus to working with international deaf communities.

In May of 2015, she graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in American Sign Language/English Interpreting and International Studies from the Rochester Institute of Technology. Shortly after, she was awarded a Fulbright U.S. Student Research grant to conduct research in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Her project titled “Improving Deaf Access in the DR: Researching Service Deficiencies, Creating an ITP”, collaborated with the Dominican Republic’s National Deaf Association as well as the National Interpreting Association to research service deficiencies and contribute to the ongoing effort of establishing an interpreter training program.

Through her research, she learned of the challenges, concerns, and goals of the community which allowed her to identify shortcomings in interpreting services. Upon completion of her research, she provided the interpreting association with recommendations that would enable interpreters to better serve and empower the Deaf community.

In addition to serving as DDW’s Co-Executive Director, Estill-Varner works as a freelance interpreter in Washington, D.C. providing interpreting services for a variety of federal government agencies. She also serves as a Fulbright Alumni Ambassador promoting the Department of State’s flagship program at conferences, colleges and universities across the United States.

In her free time, Estill-Varner enjoys exploring and has spent nearly 2 years traveling and living outside of the U.S. When she isn’t working or planning her next adventure, she can be found at the local Latin dance club dancing salsa, bachata, kizomba, and zouk.

Sachiko Flores

Co-Executive Director

Sachiko Flores was born profoundly Deaf in New Mexico and grew up in Texas with her Japanese-Mexican family. She graduated with a Bachelors of Science in Wildlife and Fishery Sciences at Texas A and M University in 2011. When she went on study abroad in Fiji and Australia, she was inspired to study more about natural resources and conservation, so she decided to joined AmeriCorps and worked in various conservation corps programs.

Working with local communities and in conservation field influenced her decision to graduate with a Masters in International Development from Gallaudet University in 2014. From there, she worked for Asia Pacific Development Center on Disability in Thailand for almost 2 years. She assisted to initiate a project, 60+ Bakery and Cafe, that promote an accessible and barrier-free, inclusive bakery and cafe for all people in society. She also facilitated a regional training of women with disabilities in South Asia to take part in the discussion process of the Beijing+20 Review at the Asian and Pacific Conference on Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment.

After coming back to the U.S., she saw the chance to create a new opportunity in expanding Deaf representatives in the outdoor community. This led her co-founding an non-profit organization, CorpsTHAT, in 2016. Not only she is dedicated to community involvement, she also promotes Deaf ecosystem.

Other than engaging with international community, she enjoys doing some hobbies including hiking, running, crafting, sewing, woodworking and repairing bicycles.

Shane Feldman

President

Shane Feldman is Director of Strategic Partnerships and Development at the Communication Service for the Deaf where he supports a passionate team devoted to providing innovative technology and services that will transform the Deaf community’s experience with their access to communication. CSD's philosophy is centered around providing its technology and services through partnerships with key agencies, corporations, organizations that serve the community.

Prior to his current position, Feldman served as Executive Director of the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) and prior to that, as the Chief Operating Officer of the National Association of the Deaf (NAD). At both organizations Feldman created systematic changes that led to renewed focus on the organization’s mission, strategic plan, and sustainable financial management. These efforts brought the organizations to a higher level of advocacy, efficiency and accountability.

Feldman holds a Certified Association Executive (CAE) designation from the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE), an association of nonprofit professionals who manage and lead trade, membership, and charitable organizations across the nation and worldwide. He received his Master’s degree in Management and Graduate Certificate in Nonprofit Financial Management from the University of Maryland University College and his Bachelor’s degree in Professional and Technical Communication from the Rochester Institute of Technology.

Feldman has a distinguished history of civic involvement and advocacy. He served as Co-Chair of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Video Programming Emergency Accessibility Advisory Committee Working Group, which submitted recommendations to the FCC for Internet Protocol captioning regulations in response to the Twenty-first Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act. He served as an officer of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Consumer Action Network (DHHCAN), where he helped lead the development of the Consumer Group Telecommunications Relay Service Policy Statement, which established consumer’s expectations for telecommunications including video relay services (VRS) and guides the policy advocacy of a coalition of organizations representing deaf and hard of hearing people. In the past he also served as Chair of the Maryland Governor’s Office of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Advisory Council and as a member of the Maryland School for the Deaf Board of Trustees.

Dr. Maribel Gárate-Estes

Vice President

Dr. Maribel Gárate is a Professor and Chair of the Department of Education at Gallaudet University in Washington, DC. She has Masters degrees in Deaf Education: Elementary and American Sign Language Linguistics and a Ph.D. in Deaf Education with a focus on Bilingual Education. Her research interests focus on the implementation of bilingual methodologies to allocate ASL and English in classrooms for Deaf and hard of hearing children, and the ways in which teacher beliefs about ASL/English Bilingual Education influence their practice. She regularly conducts trainings and gives presentations to teachers, parents, and school administrators and consults with schools for Deaf students both nationally and internationally. She is the co-editor of Maximizando el Potencial de los Niños, Jovenes y Adultos Sordos [Maximizing the Potential of Deaf Children, Youth and Adults.], author of Educating children with cochlear implants in an ASL/English bilingual classroom, Developing bilingual literacy in Deaf children and co-author of Collaboration for Communication, Language and Cognitive Development among others. Her book, articles and book chapters have been published in the United States, Italy, Germany, Panama and Japan. Dr. Gárate is also the current Vice-Chair of DAWN's Board of Directors. She is originally from Texas and resides in Washington. DC.

Michael Servé

Treasurer

Mike Servé served as NTID's Assistant Vice President for Finance and Budget. He began his career with NTID in 1980, and since 1982 managed the office that is responsible for all of NTID’s financial operations. He was responsible for ensuring that NTID’s budget was in balance and that all of the college’s expenditures conformed to the rules and regulations of the federal government. He worked closely with other RIT divisions and provides assistance to NTID’s president in working with Congress and the U.S. Department of Education to secure the federal funding necessary to support NTID programs.

In 1992, Servé was awarded the NTID National Advisory Group’s Outstanding Service Award, and in 2001, he received the RIT Staff Recognition Award for Excellence in Increasing Work Productivity. Again in 2012 he recieved the RIT Staff Recognition Award for his contribution as a part of the Campus Advocacy and Response Team. He has served on a number of NTID and RIT committees, including the NTID Strategic Planning Committee, and is a past president of RIT’s Staff Council.

Servé earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business from RIT. Prior to joining NTID, he worked for the Monroe County Department of Social Services and the Hearing and Speech Center of Rochester.

He lives in Pittsford with his wife, Barbara. They have three sons and six grandchildren. He retired from NTID in August 2014.

Sarah Gordon

Secretary

Leah Katz-Hernandez

Board Member

Leah Katz-Hernandez is a leading expert on disability and diversity issues, public communication strategy, and civil rights.

Currently serving as Manager of Special Projects at Gallaudet University President’s Office, Leah is arguably best known as the celebrated ROTUS, Receptionist of the United States, for President Obama. The first ever deaf person to hold the position, Leah was appointed to the West Wing after serving in First Lady Michelle Obama’s communications office and for the Obama campaign during the 2012 election cycle. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Leah’s groundbreaking grassroots digital communications resulted in an award-winning blog and international attention. Throughout her career at the White House, in the non-profit sector, political campaigns, and on Capitol Hill, Leah has consistently used her specialty knowledge to urge equal access for the deaf, disability and Latina communities.

With more than a decade’s worth of experience to share, Leah is a dynamic contributor to the U.S. Speaker Program vis the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs. In 2017, Leah joined as a Board Member to the American Association of People with Disabilities and served as an advisor with the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation Advisory Committee.

Leah earned her MA in Strategic Communication from American University and a BA in Government from Gallaudet University. In addition to being bilingual in written English and American Sign Language, Leah enjoys learning new sign languages from deaf communities all over the world.

Fatima Muhammad

Board Member

Fatima Muhammad was born in Lahore, Pakistan, and raised in Pittsburgh, PA. She enrolled in Rochester Institute of Technology and received a Bachelor’s Degree in Marketing. She later received her MBA from University of Maryland University College. She is currently employed full time with the federal government as a Contracting Officer and lives in Howard County, Maryland.

Since 2007, She has been with Global Deaf Muslim (GDM), a non profit organization that mainly focuses on providing full access to Islamic education for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Muslims all over the world, as a member on the executive team as well as a volunteer. Through GDM, she was involved with two international conferences for the Deaf in Qatar and Malaysia.

Gregoire Youbara

Board Member

Gregoire is a faculty member of the Department of World Languages and Cultures at Gallaudet University in Washington DC, teaching French and Spanish. He obtained a Masters of Arts in Spanish Languages and Literatures from Texas State University-San Marcos, and a Master of Sciences in Deaf Studies and Deaf Education from Lamar University, Beaumont, TX. Deaf since the age of 8, Gregoire discovered during his early school years a passion for foreign languages learning.

One of his chief interests is advocating for equal educational access for the Deaf, particularly in francophone Africa where public institutions for the deaf are quasi nonexistent. Through his role as a board member and vice president of Strategies to Advance and Network Deaf Africans for Ubuntu, Inc. (STANDU) a non-profit organization aimed at advancing Deaf Africans, he is currently engaged in capacity building projects with Deaf communities in Africa - particularly with Deaf youth.

Since 2017, Gregoire has co-coordinated a pre-institute program for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Mandela Washington Fellows from African countries, a Program sponsored by the US Department of State at Gallaudet University. He is also on the board of the Mark Seven Deaf Foundation which oversees programs such as Camp Mark 7, Deaf Film Camp.

Dr. Roslyn Rosen

Board Member

Dr. Roslyn "Roz" Rosen is wearing a new hat as a retiree. She was the director of the National Center on Deafness at California State University, Northridge and the principal investigator for Postsecondary Education Network (PN2). At Gallaudet, she was a faculty member, dean and vice president of academic affairs. Roz's leadership and community service included serving as a board member and/or officer with the National Association of the Deaf, World Federation of the Deaf, and the American Society of Deaf Children. She is currently on the core team of the national LEAD-K advocacy coalition, an expert consultant on education for NAD and WFD, and a board member of WVSDB, as well as a lifetime honorary board member of WFD. She has authored a number of articles and is active as a presenter/trainer/activist in the areas of leadership, human rights, bilingualism, and educational issues.

Caroline K. Koo

Board Member

Caroline K. Koo, originally from New York City, has multiple roles in Austin, Texas, her hometown. She is an Adjunct Professor of the Strategies for College Success course and a Tutoring Specialist at Austin Community College. She also assists the Deans with registration during each session. Moreover, she is a doctorate student in Deaf Studies Deaf Education at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas. Her research interests include mental health, language deprivation, and intersectionality. She enjoys giving back to her community through volunteer work with different projects. She also loves spending quality time with family and good friends, reading, and pursuing creative arts. She dotes on her nephew, a toddler, in Hong Kong.

Dr. Jessica Lee

Board Member

Dr. Jessica Lee is an expert in Monitoring and Evaluation for foreign assistance programs and an anthropologist who has been studying deaf people and communities since 2001. She was the first hearing student to graduate from the Deaf Studies M.A. program at Gallaudet University and won the Veditz Deaf Studies Student of the Year award in 2004. She has spent years studying deaf communities in East Africa, specifically Tanzania, and has worked as an advocate for increased government protections and programs for deaf people. Dr. Lee is an adjunct professor at Gallaudet University and works as a consultant with the Department of State.

Dr. Lee has an M.A. in Deaf Studies from Gallaudet University (’04) and an M.A. (’06) and Ph.D (’12) in Anthropology from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

[Black and white image of Caucasian woman with long hair down]

Dr. Kim B. Kurz

Board Member

Dr. Kim Kurz is the Chairperson of the American Sign Language & Interpreter Education department at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). She earned her doctorate in education with emphasis on deaf and hard of hearing students from the University of Kansas. Her areas of expertise include ASL pedagogical methods, ASL national standards, and ASL learning outcomes. She is the co-author of the American Sign Language and Deaf Culture series and is primary author of Learning Outcomes for American Sign Language Skills: Levels 1-4. She was a consultant for “Outcomes for Graduates of Baccalaureate Interpreter Preparation Programs Specializing in K-12th Grade Settings”. She is a member of the American Sign Language Standards National Committee.

Dr. Kurz serves as Chair of the Board of Directors of Mark Seven Deaf Foundations, a non-profit organization that provides camp programs for deaf and hard of hearing children, children of deaf adults, deaf senior citizens, and ASL learners, in the beautiful Adirondacks.

Shelley Oishi

Board Member

Shelley Oishi, a proud Japanese-Canadian, obtained her Bachelor of Fine Arts in graphic design from Rochester Institute of Technology and a Master's degree in Rehabilitation Counseling for the Deaf from Western Oregon University. She then spent 12 years in various positions ranging from Mental Health Counselor, Job Developer, and Youth Transition Specialist. She then transitioned into the Telecommunications industry conducting sales for Sprint Relay and Purple Communications as Enterprise Account Manager and Regional Sales Director.

From 2007 to 2013, she served on the Board for Deaf Women United. Currently, she is working on establishing a chapter for the Asian Deaf Chapter in Austin, Texas and looks forward to serving on the board with Discovering Deaf Worlds.

Dr. Benjamin J. Soukup

Board Member

Dr. Benjamin J. Soukup is President, owner and founder of Soukup Companies, a new private, for-profit business with holdings in several different investments and entities including: real estate, communications, beverage and product ventures, and other developments.

Ben was the founder and chairman of the board of Communications Services for the Deaf (CSD), an international nonprofit organization serving deaf and hard of hearing individuals. Ben is widely acclaimed for having spent nearly 40 years as a human rights advocate for deaf and hard of hearing people. He has built a sterling reputation as an entrepreneur, humanitarian, lobbyist/political activist, educator, inspirational role model and leader in the area of disabilities.

Ben served on Gallaudet University’s Board of Trustees from 2001 – 2007 and as Chair from 2007 – 2014.

As former president of the National Association of the Deaf and as a former U.S. delegate to the World Federation of the Deaf, he has met with world leaders, presidents and members of Congress in an effort to improve public accessibility and increase public awareness of issues affecting deaf and hard of hearing individuals worldwide.

He served on the Interactivity Foundation’s policy panel focused on first-generation college students and has served on two other policy panels: “Future of Civil Rights” and “Future of Childhood”. He spent 8+ years as a “Big Brother.” Steven has a Master’s degree in Human Services Administration from Spertus College in Chicago; he became a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE) in 2007.

David Justice

Co-Founder

Native to Rochester NY, Justice is a co-founder of DDW and dedicated over 12,000 volunteer hours to the start up of this organization since its inception in 2006. He is currently serving a Staff Support position, is an active member of DDW’s Executive, Strategic Planning, Fund Development, and Governance Committees, and has had in-depth involvement with DDW’s management and operations.

Under grants funded by the US Department of State and US Agency for International Development, Justice has served as DDW's Program Coordinator to provide capacity building and organizational development training to the Philippine Federation of the Deaf. He also coordinated DDW Journeys to Costa Rica, Thailand, and Cambodia. In addition, Justice has networked with approximately 300 Deaf schools and associations in fifty countries on behalf of DDW.

Justice first learned American Sign Language in 2000 and quickly became involved with the Deaf community. He formerly served as a counselor for the Aspen Camp School for the Deaf, worked on language development research for the Colorado Home Intervention Program, and as an ASL/English interpreter. Justice also established a supportive employment service center for the Southwest Washington Center of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and worked part time as a job developer for D&T Services and the Rochester School for the Deaf. He earned a B.A. in Sociology from Ithaca College with concentrations in Clinical Sociology and the Criminal and Juvenile Justice System and studied abroad in London, England and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. He holds an A.A.S. in ASL/English Interpreter Preparation from Front Range Community College.

Justice believes the power of education is an essential tool to eliminating ignorance and strives to be an intermediary of cultural understanding between Deaf and hearing worlds. When not on the go with DDW, he is running, skiing, or seeking new adventures.

Davin Searls

Co-Founder

Searls, a Deaf person and native American Sign Language user, hails from Rochester, NY, from a culturally Deaf family. Searls joined DDW in 2008 after spending nearly a year teaching at a deaf university in Changchun, China, and was the catalyst behind DDW’s move to non-profit status. He served as a full-time volunteer from 2008 until 2013, at which point he became a paid employee of DDW as Executive Director.

Under direction of DDW’s Board of Directors, Searls was responsible for leading DDW toward the realization of its vision and consistent achievement of its organizational mission, strategic goals and financial objectives. Searls has managed two federal grants with a cumulative budget of over $600,000.

Searls has given presentations on human rights, advocacy, and diversity within the global Deaf community to audiences from around the world. He has also conducted leadership, teambuilding, and organizational development training with Deaf community leaders in several regions of the Philippines and throughout five cities in India, including over 400 representatives at the National Association of the Deaf Grassroots Leadership Conference.

Since 2012, Searls has chaired the International Experts Group of the National Association of the Deaf, the premier civil rights organization of, by and for deaf and hard of hearing individuals in the USA.

A lifelong advocate, perpetual traveler, and visionary, Searls holds a BA in Liberal Arts from Sarah Lawrence College.

Chrsity Smith

Co-Founder

Christy Smith is a co-founder of Discovering Deaf Worlds. During DDW's 2007-2008 World Tour, she connected with over 100 deaf associations, schools and non-profit organizations and interviewed community leaders in eight countries. Smith co-directed DDW’s first documentary, Discovering: Shuktara and has served as a volunteer coordinator for Shuktara.

Originally from Basalt, CO, Smith graduated from Gallaudet University with a B.A. in Criminology and Sociology. After surviving 33 out of 39 days as a contestant on CBS's Survivor: The Amazon (2003), she became a well known role model to the deaf community. Smith directed and co-produced a children's television show called Christy's Kids: Challenge Yourself, and has visited over 100 schools and organizations across North America as a motivational speaker. She is currently pursuing her Master of Science degree in Secondary Education at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

History Estill-Varner

Co-Executive Director

Estill-Varner became involved with the Deaf community in 2005 and after spending an academic year in Costa Rica, shifted focus to working with international deaf communities.

In May of 2015, she graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in American Sign Language/English Interpreting and International Studies from the Rochester Institute of Technology. Shortly after, she was awarded a Fulbright U.S. Student Research grant to conduct research in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Her project titled “Improving Deaf Access in the DR: Researching Service Deficiencies, Creating an ITP”, collaborated with the Dominican Republic’s National Deaf Association as well as the National Interpreting Association to research service deficiencies and contribute to the ongoing effort of establishing an interpreter training program.

Through her research, she learned of the challenges, concerns, and goals of the community which allowed her to identify shortcomings in interpreting services. Upon completion of her research, she provided the interpreting association with recommendations that would enable interpreters to better serve and empower the Deaf community.

In addition to serving as DDW’s Co-Executive Director, Estill-Varner works as a freelance interpreter in Washington, D.C. providing interpreting services for a variety of federal government agencies. She also serves as a Fulbright Alumni Ambassador promoting the Department of State’s flagship program at conferences, colleges and universities across the United States.

In her free time, Estill-Varner enjoys exploring and has spent nearly 2 years traveling and living outside of the U.S. When she isn’t working or planning her next adventure, she can be found at the local Latin dance club dancing salsa, bachata, kizomba, and zouk.

Sachiko Flores

Co-Executive Director

Sachiko Flores was born profoundly Deaf in New Mexico and grew up in Texas with her Japanese-Mexican family. She graduated with a Bachelors of Science in Wildlife and Fishery Sciences at Texas A and M University in 2011. When she went on study abroad in Fiji and Australia, she was inspired to study more about natural resources and conservation, so she decided to joined AmeriCorps and worked in various conservation corps programs.

Working with local communities and in conservation field influenced her decision to graduate with a Masters in International Development from Gallaudet University in 2014. From there, she worked for Asia Pacific Development Center on Disability in Thailand for almost 2 years. She assisted to initiate a project, 60+ Bakery and Cafe, that promote an accessible and barrier-free, inclusive bakery and cafe for all people in society. She also facilitated a regional training of women with disabilities in South Asia to take part in the discussion process of the Beijing+20 Review at the Asian and Pacific Conference on Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment.

After coming back to the U.S., she saw the chance to create a new opportunity in expanding Deaf representatives in the outdoor community. This led her co-founding an non-profit organization, CorpsTHAT, in 2016. Not only she is dedicated to community involvement, she also promotes Deaf ecosystem.

Other than engaging with international community, she enjoys doing some hobbies including hiking, running, crafting, sewing, woodworking and repairing bicycles.

Shane Feldman

President

Shane Feldman is Director of Strategic Partnerships and Development at the Communication Service for the Deaf where he supports a passionate team devoted to providing innovative technology and services that will transform the Deaf community’s experience with their access to communication. CSD's philosophy is centered around providing its technology and services through partnerships with key agencies, corporations, organizations that serve the community.

Prior to his current position, Feldman served as Executive Director of the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) and prior to that, as the Chief Operating Officer of the National Association of the Deaf (NAD). At both organizations Feldman created systematic changes that led to renewed focus on the organization’s mission, strategic plan, and sustainable financial management. These efforts brought the organizations to a higher level of advocacy, efficiency and accountability.

Feldman holds a Certified Association Executive (CAE) designation from the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE), an association of nonprofit professionals who manage and lead trade, membership, and charitable organizations across the nation and worldwide. He received his Master’s degree in Management and Graduate Certificate in Nonprofit Financial Management from the University of Maryland University College and his Bachelor’s degree in Professional and Technical Communication from the Rochester Institute of Technology.

Feldman has a distinguished history of civic involvement and advocacy. He served as Co-Chair of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Video Programming Emergency Accessibility Advisory Committee Working Group, which submitted recommendations to the FCC for Internet Protocol captioning regulations in response to the Twenty-first Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act. He served as an officer of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Consumer Action Network (DHHCAN), where he helped lead the development of the Consumer Group Telecommunications Relay Service Policy Statement, which established consumer’s expectations for telecommunications including video relay services (VRS) and guides the policy advocacy of a coalition of organizations representing deaf and hard of hearing people. In the past he also served as Chair of the Maryland Governor’s Office of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Advisory Council and as a member of the Maryland School for the Deaf Board of Trustees.

Dr. Maribel Gárate-Estes

Vice President

Dr. Maribel Gárate is a Professor and Chair of the Department of Education at Gallaudet University in Washington, DC. She has Masters degrees in Deaf Education: Elementary and American Sign Language Linguistics and a Ph.D. in Deaf Education with a focus on Bilingual Education. Her research interests focus on the implementation of bilingual methodologies to allocate ASL and English in classrooms for Deaf and hard of hearing children, and the ways in which teacher beliefs about ASL/English Bilingual Education influence their practice. She regularly conducts trainings and gives presentations to teachers, parents, and school administrators and consults with schools for Deaf students both nationally and internationally. She is the co-editor of Maximizando el Potencial de los Niños, Jovenes y Adultos Sordos [Maximizing the Potential of Deaf Children, Youth and Adults.], author of Educating children with cochlear implants in an ASL/English bilingual classroom, Developing bilingual literacy in Deaf children and co-author of Collaboration for Communication, Language and Cognitive Development among others. Her book, articles and book chapters have been published in the United States, Italy, Germany, Panama and Japan. Dr. Gárate is also the current Vice-Chair of DAWN's Board of Directors. She is originally from Texas and resides in Washington. DC.

Michael Servé

Treasurer

Mike Servé served as NTID's Assistant Vice President for Finance and Budget. He began his career with NTID in 1980, and since 1982 managed the office that is responsible for all of NTID’s financial operations. He was responsible for ensuring that NTID’s budget was in balance and that all of the college’s expenditures conformed to the rules and regulations of the federal government. He worked closely with other RIT divisions and provides assistance to NTID’s president in working with Congress and the U.S. Department of Education to secure the federal funding necessary to support NTID programs.

In 1992, Servé was awarded the NTID National Advisory Group’s Outstanding Service Award, and in 2001, he received the RIT Staff Recognition Award for Excellence in Increasing Work Productivity. Again in 2012 he recieved the RIT Staff Recognition Award for his contribution as a part of the Campus Advocacy and Response Team. He has served on a number of NTID and RIT committees, including the NTID Strategic Planning Committee, and is a past president of RIT’s Staff Council.

Servé earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business from RIT. Prior to joining NTID, he worked for the Monroe County Department of Social Services and the Hearing and Speech Center of Rochester.

He lives in Pittsford with his wife, Barbara. They have three sons and six grandchildren. He retired from NTID in August 2014.

Sarah Gordon

Secretary

Leah Katz-Hernandez

Board Member

Leah Katz-Hernandez is a leading expert on disability and diversity issues, public communication strategy, and civil rights.

Currently serving as Manager of Special Projects at Gallaudet University President’s Office, Leah is arguably best known as the celebrated ROTUS, Receptionist of the United States, for President Obama. The first ever deaf person to hold the position, Leah was appointed to the West Wing after serving in First Lady Michelle Obama’s communications office and for the Obama campaign during the 2012 election cycle. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Leah’s groundbreaking grassroots digital communications resulted in an award-winning blog and international attention. Throughout her career at the White House, in the non-profit sector, political campaigns, and on Capitol Hill, Leah has consistently used her specialty knowledge to urge equal access for the deaf, disability and Latina communities.

With more than a decade’s worth of experience to share, Leah is a dynamic contributor to the U.S. Speaker Program vis the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs. In 2017, Leah joined as a Board Member to the American Association of People with Disabilities and served as an advisor with the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation Advisory Committee.

Leah earned her MA in Strategic Communication from American University and a BA in Government from Gallaudet University. In addition to being bilingual in written English and American Sign Language, Leah enjoys learning new sign languages from deaf communities all over the world.

Fatima Muhammad

Board Member

Fatima Muhammad was born in Lahore, Pakistan, and raised in Pittsburgh, PA. She enrolled in Rochester Institute of Technology and received a Bachelor’s Degree in Marketing. She later received her MBA from University of Maryland University College. She is currently employed full time with the federal government as a Contracting Officer and lives in Howard County, Maryland.

Since 2007, She has been with Global Deaf Muslim (GDM), a non profit organization that mainly focuses on providing full access to Islamic education for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Muslims all over the world, as a member on the executive team as well as a volunteer. Through GDM, she was involved with two international conferences for the Deaf in Qatar and Malaysia.

Caroline K. Koo

Board Member

Caroline K. Koo, originally from New York City, has multiple roles in Austin, Texas, her hometown. She is an Adjunct Professor of the Strategies for College Success course and a Tutoring Specialist at Austin Community College. She also assists the Deans with registration during each session. Moreover, she is a doctorate student in Deaf Studies Deaf Education at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas. Her research interests include mental health, language deprivation, and intersectionality. She enjoys giving back to her community through volunteer work with different projects. She also loves spending quality time with family and good friends, reading, and pursuing creative arts. She dotes on her nephew, a toddler, in Hong Kong.

Dr. Jessica Lee

Board Member

Dr. Jessica Lee is an expert in Monitoring and Evaluation for foreign assistance programs and an anthropologist who has been studying deaf people and communities since 2001. She was the first hearing student to graduate from the Deaf Studies M.A. program at Gallaudet University and won the Veditz Deaf Studies Student of the Year award in 2004. She has spent years studying deaf communities in East Africa, specifically Tanzania, and has worked as an advocate for increased government protections and programs for deaf people. Dr. Lee is an adjunct professor at Gallaudet University and works as a consultant with the Department of State.

Dr. Lee has an M.A. in Deaf Studies from Gallaudet University (’04) and an M.A. (’06) and Ph.D (’12) in Anthropology from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Gregoire Youbara

Board Member

Gregoire is a faculty member of the Department of World Languages and Cultures at Gallaudet University in Washington DC, teaching French and Spanish. He obtained a Masters of Arts in Spanish Languages and Literatures from Texas State University-San Marcos, and a Master of Sciences in Deaf Studies and Deaf Education from Lamar University, Beaumont, TX. Deaf since the age of 8, Gregoire discovered during his early school years a passion for foreign languages learning.

One of his chief interests is advocating for equal educational access for the Deaf, particularly in francophone Africa where public institutions for the deaf are quasi nonexistent. Through his role as a board member and vice president of Strategies to Advance and Network Deaf Africans for Ubuntu, Inc. (STANDU) a non-profit organization aimed at advancing Deaf Africans, he is currently engaged in capacity building projects with Deaf communities in Africa - particularly with Deaf youth.

Since 2017, Gregoire has co-coordinated a pre-institute program for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Mandela Washington Fellows from African countries, a Program sponsored by the US Department of State at Gallaudet University. He is also on the board of the Mark Seven Deaf Foundation which oversees programs such as Camp Mark 7, Deaf Film Camp.

Dr. Roslyn Rosen

Board Member

Dr. Roslyn "Roz" Rosen is wearing a new hat as a retiree. She was the director of the National Center on Deafness at California State University, Northridge and the principal investigator for Postsecondary Education Network (PN2). At Gallaudet, she was a faculty member, dean and vice president of academic affairs. Roz's leadership and community service included serving as a board member and/or officer with the National Association of the Deaf, World Federation of the Deaf, and the American Society of Deaf Children. She is currently on the core team of the national LEAD-K advocacy coalition, an expert consultant on education for NAD and WFD, and a board member of WVSDB, as well as a lifetime honorary board member of WFD. She has authored a number of articles and is active as a presenter/trainer/activist in the areas of leadership, human rights, bilingualism, and educational issues.
[Black and white image of Caucasian woman with long hair down]

Dr. Kim B. Kurz

Board Member

Dr. Kim Kurz is the Chairperson of the American Sign Language & Interpreter Education department at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). She earned her doctorate in education with emphasis on deaf and hard of hearing students from the University of Kansas. Her areas of expertise include ASL pedagogical methods, ASL national standards, and ASL learning outcomes. She is the co-author of the American Sign Language and Deaf Culture series and is primary author of Learning Outcomes for American Sign Language Skills: Levels 1-4. She was a consultant for “Outcomes for Graduates of Baccalaureate Interpreter Preparation Programs Specializing in K-12th Grade Settings”. She is a member of the American Sign Language Standards National Committee.

Dr. Kurz serves as Chair of the Board of Directors of Mark Seven Deaf Foundations, a non-profit organization that provides camp programs for deaf and hard of hearing children, children of deaf adults, deaf senior citizens, and ASL learners, in the beautiful Adirondacks.

Shelley Oishi

Board Member

Shelley Oishi, a proud Japanese-Canadian, obtained her Bachelor of Fine Arts in graphic design from Rochester Institute of Technology and a Master's degree in Rehabilitation Counseling for the Deaf from Western Oregon University. She then spent 12 years in various positions ranging from Mental Health Counselor, Job Developer, and Youth Transition Specialist. She then transitioned into the Telecommunications industry conducting sales for Sprint Relay and Purple Communications as Enterprise Account Manager and Regional Sales Director.

From 2007 to 2013, she served on the Board for Deaf Women United. Currently, she is working on establishing a chapter for the Asian Deaf Chapter in Austin, Texas and looks forward to serving on the board with Discovering Deaf Worlds.

Dr. Benjamin J. Soukup

Board Member

Dr. Benjamin J. Soukup is President, owner and founder of Soukup Companies, a new private, for-profit business with holdings in several different investments and entities including: real estate, communications, beverage and product ventures, and other developments.

Ben was the founder and chairman of the board of Communications Services for the Deaf (CSD), an international nonprofit organization serving deaf and hard of hearing individuals. Ben is widely acclaimed for having spent nearly 40 years as a human rights advocate for deaf and hard of hearing people. He has built a sterling reputation as an entrepreneur, humanitarian, lobbyist/political activist, educator, inspirational role model and leader in the area of disabilities.

Ben served on Gallaudet University’s Board of Trustees from 2001 – 2007 and as Chair from 2007 – 2014.

As former president of the National Association of the Deaf and as a former U.S. delegate to the World Federation of the Deaf, he has met with world leaders, presidents and members of Congress in an effort to improve public accessibility and increase public awareness of issues affecting deaf and hard of hearing individuals worldwide.

He served on the Interactivity Foundation’s policy panel focused on first-generation college students and has served on two other policy panels: “Future of Civil Rights” and “Future of Childhood”. He spent 8+ years as a “Big Brother.” Steven has a Master’s degree in Human Services Administration from Spertus College in Chicago; he became a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE) in 2007.

Davin Searls

Co-Founder

Searls, a Deaf person and native American Sign Language user, hails from Rochester, NY, from a culturally Deaf family. Searls joined DDW in 2008 after spending nearly a year teaching at a deaf university in Changchun, China, and was the catalyst behind DDW’s move to non-profit status. He served as a full-time volunteer from 2008 until 2013, at which point he became a paid employee of DDW as Executive Director.

Under direction of DDW’s Board of Directors, Searls was responsible for leading DDW toward the realization of its vision and consistent achievement of its organizational mission, strategic goals and financial objectives. Searls has managed two federal grants with a cumulative budget of over $600,000.

Searls has given presentations on human rights, advocacy, and diversity within the global Deaf community to audiences from around the world. He has also conducted leadership, teambuilding, and organizational development training with Deaf community leaders in several regions of the Philippines and throughout five cities in India, including over 400 representatives at the National Association of the Deaf Grassroots Leadership Conference.

Since 2012, Searls has chaired the International Experts Group of the National Association of the Deaf, the premier civil rights organization of, by and for deaf and hard of hearing individuals in the USA.

A lifelong advocate, perpetual traveler, and visionary, Searls holds a BA in Liberal Arts from Sarah Lawrence College.

David Justice

Co-Founder

Native to Rochester NY, Justice is a co-founder of DDW and dedicated over 12,000 volunteer hours to the start up of this organization since its inception in 2006. He is currently serving a Staff Support position, is an active member of DDW’s Executive, Strategic Planning, Fund Development, and Governance Committees, and has had in-depth involvement with DDW’s management and operations.

Under grants funded by the US Department of State and US Agency for International Development, Justice has served as DDW's Program Coordinator to provide capacity building and organizational development training to the Philippine Federation of the Deaf. He also coordinated DDW Journeys to Costa Rica, Thailand, and Cambodia. In addition, Justice has networked with approximately 300 Deaf schools and associations in fifty countries on behalf of DDW.

Justice first learned American Sign Language in 2000 and quickly became involved with the Deaf community. He formerly served as a counselor for the Aspen Camp School for the Deaf, worked on language development research for the Colorado Home Intervention Program, and as an ASL/English interpreter. Justice also established a supportive employment service center for the Southwest Washington Center of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and worked part time as a job developer for D&T Services and the Rochester School for the Deaf. He earned a B.A. in Sociology from Ithaca College with concentrations in Clinical Sociology and the Criminal and Juvenile Justice System and studied abroad in London, England and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. He holds an A.A.S. in ASL/English Interpreter Preparation from Front Range Community College.

Justice believes the power of education is an essential tool to eliminating ignorance and strives to be an intermediary of cultural understanding between Deaf and hearing worlds. When not on the go with DDW, he is running, skiing, or seeking new adventures.

Chrsity Smith

Co-Founder

Christy Smith is a co-founder of Discovering Deaf Worlds. During DDW's 2007-2008 World Tour, she connected with over 100 deaf associations, schools and non-profit organizations and interviewed community leaders in eight countries. Smith co-directed DDW’s first documentary, Discovering: Shuktara and has served as a volunteer coordinator for Shuktara.

Originally from Basalt, CO, Smith graduated from Gallaudet University with a B.A. in Criminology and Sociology. After surviving 33 out of 39 days as a contestant on CBS's Survivor: The Amazon (2003), she became a well known role model to the deaf community. Smith directed and co-produced a children's television show called Christy's Kids: Challenge Yourself, and has visited over 100 schools and organizations across North America as a motivational speaker. She is currently pursuing her Master of Science degree in Secondary Education at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

Affiliates