Dr. Opeoluwa Sotonwa is the Commissioner for the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (MCDHH). Before being hired in February 2021, he served as the Executive Director of the Missouri Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. An accomplished international thought leader, Dr. Sotonwa has been involved with disability rights issues since becoming a civil rights lawyer in Nigeria. He was instrumental in the drafting and passage of Nigerian disability rights law.
Dr. Sotonwa has dedicated his tenure to partnering with purposeful organizations, community leaders, and sister agencies to improve the quality of life for the Deaf, Hard-of-Hearing, and Late-Deafened individuals in the Commonwealth. He is a passionate advocate for responsive government to the needs of the underserved community. Under his leadership, MCDHH has expanded its programs and services, increased rates for communication access providers, and implemented agency reorganization and inclusive strategic planning that has improved staff welfare, including internal promotions, job reclassifications, and more diverse hiring. Under his leadership, MCDHH has had its largest budget increases since its inception.
In Missouri, he was involved in drafting and passage of over twenty pieces of legislation – some of which have established preeminent programs such as hearing aid distribution programs for low-income individuals, the establishment of a statewide support service program for Deafblind individuals to live a more independent life, a Commercial Driver License law that paved the way for Deaf people to obtain licenses, 911 service legislation that repositioned the Missouri 911 Service for Next-Generation 911 service, overhauling the Missouri state Interpreter Certification System, and collecting statewide data to identify the Deaf and Hard of Hearing population in Missouri. He held two Missouri gubernatorial appointments as a board member of the 911 Service Board and the Governor’s Council on Disability. He was a member of the Relay Missouri Advisory Committee, the Missouri Department of Mental Health Deaf Advisory Council, and the Missouri Deafblind Technical Assistance Project Advisory Committee.
As part of his commitment to giving back to his native country, Dr. Sotonwa founded the Opeoluwa Sotonwa Foundation. The Foundation provides annual scholarships to indigent Deaf and Hard of Hearing college students in Nigeria. He has played key roles within and outside Deaf communities in the United States and African countries. He was formerly the Vice President of National Black Deaf Advocates (NBDA), the nation’s foremost civil rights organization serving the Black Deaf community. He was also the Chair of the NBDA Board of Directors. He serves on several think-tank organizations and frequently consults on disability rights advocacy.
Dr. Sotonwa graduated with a Law degree from the University of Ilorin. He holds a Master of Laws (LLM) degree from Howard University School of Law. He also has a Doctor of Law and Policy (LPD) degree from Northeastern University. He conducted his doctoral dissertation on “The Lived Experiences of Deaf Suspects during Police Interrogations: An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis.” A recipient of numerous awards, he was named the recipient of the prestigious Judge Arnold Krekel Trailblazer Award for Human Rights in 2020.