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Press Release Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (MCDHH) Celebrates 35 Years of Service Delivery, Education, and Advocacy

Virtual Kick-Off Event featured special performances, award presentations, and remarks from Governor Baker, Secretary Sudders, MCDHH Commissioner Sotonwa, and more
For immediate release:
7/22/2021
  • Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
  • Executive Office of Health and Human Services

Media Contact for Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (MCDHH) Celebrates 35 Years of Service Delivery, Education, and Advocacy

Kayla Rosario-Muñoz, Media Communications Manager

BostonGovernor Charlie Baker, Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders, Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (MCDHH) Commissioner Opeoluwa Sotonwa, MCDHH Statewide Advisory Council Members, and members of the Deaf, Hard of Hearing, and Late-Deafened Community came together yesterday for a virtual celebration to kick off MCDHH’s 35th Anniversary. The event signaled the beginning of a year-long celebration of 35 years of service delivery, education, and advocacy on behalf of the Commonwealth and the communities that they serve.

The virtual event featured remarks from Governor Baker, Secretary Sudders, MCDHH Commissioner Opeoluwa “Ope” Sotonwa, and MCDHH Statewide Advisory Council Chair Michelle Dardeno, and Vice Chair Kerry Thompson provided context on the agency’s formation, major milestones in its history, and reflections on the critical role MCDHH plays in the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Yesterday’s virtual program also featured stories about MCDHH’s history, special performances, and presentations of the Lifetime Achievement Award, as well as the Gail Sallop Interpreter Award, named for Massachusetts’ first state interpreter, and the BJ Wood Trailblazer Award, named for the first MCDHH Commissioner.

“MCDHH’s 35th anniversary is an important milestone in the history of our Commonwealth,” said Governor Baker. “Its creation was the result of the community advocating for a dedicated agency focused on Deaf, Hard of Hearing and Late Deafened individuals, which represents 20 percent of the population who has some degree of hearing loss. As we take a moment to look back on MCDHH’s accomplishments, we can also celebrate the exciting work that lies ahead.”

The Massachusetts Office of Deafness operated under the auspices of the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC) for many years. In 1986, MCDHH was officially established after the community successfully advocated for a standalone agency solely focused on Deaf, Hard of Hearing and Late Deafened individuals. Since then, MCDHH has been the principal agency for individuals who are Deaf, Late Deafened, and Hard of Hearing.

“This has been an exceptionally difficult year for all of us in so many ways, and I am proud of how MCDHH continued to support the community,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Sudders. “They continued to deliver essential services and increased communication access during the pandemic, including regularly staffing the Governor’s COVID-19 press briefings – and the Boston and Springfield Mayors’ press briefings – while simultaneously providing direct services, technical assistance, and communication access to consumers across Massachusetts. As we have welcomed Commissioner Sotonwa to Massachusetts, I am confident MCDHH will continue to thrive for many years to come.”

“This event marks the first of a series of moments throughout MCDHH’s 35th anniversary year to celebrate our proud heritage of service, training, education, and advocacy in partnership with the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services and with our community partners,” said MCDHH Commissioner Sotonwa. “These award winners represent the best of our community – each displaying commitment and excellence. Thanks to these individuals, we have a strong and rich foundation to build upon.”

About the awards and the awardees:

  • The BJ Wood Trailblazer Award is named for BJ Wood, the first Commissioner at MCDHH. Her accomplishments include establishing Deaf and Hard of Hearing Independent Learning Services (DHILS) in 1986 and expanding the availability of Interpreter and CART services for the community, with a firm emphasis on training and outreach.
    • This award was presented to Ivy Velez, of Marlborough, who has dedicated her 30+ year career to the betterment of the Deaf Community and the Deaf Latino Community. She founded the Boston Latino Deaf Association in 1994 and the New England Latinos Deaf Association in 2018. She is the Founder and Charter Board member of SOUND OFF theatre and has held leadership roles at MSAD and been an active member since 1988. Like BJ herself, Ivy Velez has a big vision, unending dedication, drive and determination to achieve positive change for the Deaf and hard of hearing community.
  • The Lifetime Achievement Award went to individuals who have demonstrated true commitment. They are well known and respected individuals and have dedicated a significant amount of time, energy, and effort working on behalf of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community. Nominations for this award were accepted from MCDHH staff members.
    • This award was presented to two individuals: Terry Malcom, of Randolph, awarded for her work as a Certified Deaf Interpreter working in medical, mental health, deaf-blind and a variety of other government settings as well as volunteering with Our Deaf Survivor Center to help make a difference for those experiencing domestic violence; and Congetta Koetteritz, AKA Jett, of Worcester, an MCDHH community and customer service representative awarded for her patience, attention to detail, and willingness to listen to each consumer with full focus.
  • The Gail Sallop Interpreter Award is named for Gail Sallop, who became the very first state interpreter position back in 1974 and developed the Interpreter Screening, an important concept to ensure interpreters are both qualified and competent, which lives on today at MCDHH.
    • This award was presented to two individuals: MSAD President, Deaf interpreter, and community organizer Stephanie Hakulin, of Grafton, who has demonstrated commitment to providing communication access at press conferences, support of families through her work at the Walden School, and her involvement in community organizations; and Diane Stains, of Berkley, for her advocacy with the Educational Interpreting community and proactive work during the pandemic to create resources for teaching, interpreting, technical needs, as well as mask and sanitation requirements.

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Media Contact for Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (MCDHH) Celebrates 35 Years of Service Delivery, Education, and Advocacy

Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing 

The Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (MCDHH) is the principal agency in the Commonwealth on behalf of people of all ages who are deaf and hard of hearing, established by Chapter 716 of the Acts of 1985, which amended Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 6 §191-197. MCDHH provides accessible communication, education, and advocacy to consumers and private and public entities so that programs, services, and opportunities throughout Massachusetts are fully accessible to persons who are deaf and hard of hearing. MCDHH’s vision is a Commonwealth where universal access is the standard for ensuring that Deaf and hard of hearing people fully participate in all areas of life.

Executive Office of Health and Human Services 

The Executive Office of Health and Human Services is the largest secretariat in state government and is comprised of 12 agencies, in addition to 2 soldiers’ homes and the MassHealth program. Our efforts are focused on the health, resilience, and independence of the one in four residents of the Commonwealth we serve. Our public health programs touch every community in the Commonwealth.
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