I love this time of year, when we count down to warmer weather and all the quintessential signs of spring. It’s also the time we celebrate Deaf History Month, which runs from March 13 to April 15, as well as opening day of Major League Baseball – two events that intersect in some very interesting ways.
Many baseball fans know the story of William Hoy, the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Famer who set numerous records from 1899 to 1902. Hoy, who was deaf, is remembered as one of the most accomplished players with a disability in MLB history.
I learned about this historic figure from another accomplished baseball player who is deaf, Curtis Pride, who has a special relationship with the department’s Office of Disability Employment Policy. Pride is a former MLB outfielder, current head baseball coach at Gallaudet University and MLB’s latest Ambassador for Inclusion. He relays Hoy’s story in a powerful public service announcement developed as part of our partnership with the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society.
“I played in the Majors for 11 years because baseball judged me for my arm, for my speed and my desire to play the game,” he says. “The history of baseball is full of players who were accepted for their talents regardless of their disability.”
Of course, important moments in deaf history and employment extend far beyond professional sports. Thomas Edison changed history forever by inventing the incandescent light bulb and the electric power system. Juliette Low enriched the lives of generations when she founded the Girl Scouts of the USA. And Ludwig van Beethoven became one of history’s greatest composers and pianists. All were deaf or hard of hearing, and all shared a drive to succeed in professions that they loved.
Past and present day, there are countless examples of deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals who have made indelible marks on history and within their professions. But I’m also reminded of the other millions who serve as an integral part of our workforce.
Through our work in ODEP, we’ve had the pleasure of meeting many of these talented individuals. One that comes to mind is Munir Bashir, a team leader at a large electronics retailer who expertly manages his store’s product flow from the loading dock to the sales floor. Cheryl Collier, one of the stars of our “I Can” PSA, is an elementary school teacher, mentor and volleyball coach who makes a positive difference in her students’ lives daily. And then there’s Bogdan "Bob" Vitas and Anthony Baskin, both alumni of the Workforce Recruitment Program, who got their start working for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Highway Administration respectively.
These individuals may not be famous, but they are absolute stars in my book. Every day, they—like so many other people who are deaf or hard of hearing—bring their talents to work and deliver lasting results for their employers. They’re proving that abilities matter, and collectively they’re playing a crucial role in the history of a more inclusive workforce.
Renee Tajudeen is the director of policy communication and outreach for the department’s Office of Disability Employment Policy.