Interview conducted, condensed and edited by Allison Sherry
WASHINGTON – Minnesotan Bobbi Cordano is the new president of Gallaudet University, a private university for the deaf and hard of hearing in Washington, D.C. In a Star Tribune interview, she talks about maintaining state ties and challenges still facing people who are deaf and hard of hearing. Cordano, who is deaf, was formerly vice president of programs for the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation in St. Paul. She was also an assistant attorney general in Minnesota and an assistant dean at the Hubert Humphrey School for public affairs at the University of Minnesota. Her parents are both Gallaudet alumni. She took over the helm of the university Jan. 1.
Q: With the Americans for Disability Act in its third decade, where do you still see it unenforced?
A: We continue to be denied access to full civic participation in our community, particularly in the area of employment. An ongoing issue relates to those who require ongoing accommodations, such as regular access to sign language interpreters. These are not one-time expenses, like fixing an elevator or a sidewalk ramp. Last year I testified before the Minnesota state Legislature for the establishment of a centralized accommodation fund that was passed in the last session.
Q: Many universities are toiling to bring courses and technology up to speed in a rapidly changing world. How do you see your university fitting into that?
A: Gallaudet is the beneficiary of a deaf community on the leading edge. A good example is deaf people’s use of videophones to talk to each other long before the ascension of FaceTime and Skype. Another example is Gallaudet’s Technology Access Program, which has a patent for real-time texting, which is particularly important in emergency situations and for people, deaf and hearing, to communicate via text in real time with emergency responders should voice communication not be an option.
Q: What is the biggest challenge facing hard of hearing or deaf people?
A: The most important challenge for the deaf and hard of hearing continues to be the matter of full civic participation in American life, which affects unemployment and underemployment. There are still significant challenges and barriers to success in the workplace for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Q: Why make the move to D.C. at this point in your career? Will you maintain an attachment to Minnesota?
A: Serving Gallaudet is calling for me at this stage of my career, especially with my strong family connection and history with Gallaudet. My experiences in Minnesota have prepared me well for this leadership role, including my experiences in the deaf community, especially helping build two bilingual charter schools for deaf, hard of hearing and deaf-blind children. Our family plans to keep a base in Minnesota and to maintain a strong connection to the deaf community — one of the most vibrant in the U.S.