Hundreds of Minnesotans who are deaf, deafblind, hard of hearing, and their family and friends gathered for their annual rally day this spring, with the theme of “Access Empowers Us.” Making access happen from the start and not as an afterthought, allows for individuals to fully participate in everyday activities and events. To do so, barriers need to be eliminated in order to make it inclusive for everyone regardless of ability.
Not only did the large crowd advocate for pending legislation, they also took time to salute those who make a positive difference for their community. Several Minnesotans were honored for their contributions to the deaf, deafblind, and hard of hearing communities through advocacy, community engagement, education, improving accessibility and other activities to improve the lives of community members.
Lifetime Achievement awards went to five people. These awards are for community members who have done distinctive work for and with deaf, deafblind, and hard of hearing Minnesotans for more than 20 years.
Ralph Fuechtmann was a recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award. He is a community-centric person who is known for his commitment to the deaf community for more than 40 years. Fuechtmann has been fondly known as the “Go to” for most community needs.
Fuechtmann has been involved with committees and served as a board member for many organizations and projects, including MinnePaul, International Catholic Deaf Association, Thompson Hall, Midwest Athletic Association, the Minnesota Association of Deaf Citizens, and Minnesota Deaf Senior Citizens. He has a big heart for volunteering within the community and is helpful, caring, resourceful, and happy to share with others.
In 2008, he was honored in the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf Alumni Association Hall of Fame.
He was a basketball player in the 1969 and 1973 Deaflympics, as a gold medalist on the U.S. team in Belgrade and Malmo, playing on the United States team. In 1987, he was added to the Deaflympics Hall of Fame.
Mary Bauer was recognized for her longtime service to the community through her work at the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS), Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services Division. Bauer recently retired after providing resources and support and helped improve the lives of people in the metro and Minnesota with varying hearing levels. She did a lot of work on age-related hearing loss, veterans with hearing loss, and accessible venues for people with hearing loss.
Bauer was the second child in her family with a hearing loss. She taught and then worked at a nonprofit before going to the state. She worked for the state for nearly 30 years, enjoying her clients and coworkers.
She also served on many accessibility advisory committees. As a result of her work on sport stadiums’ committees in the Twin Cities, there is now a national standard (requirement) to have at least one ticket window at stadiums that has a telecoil “loop” installed in it.
Cheryl Blue also received a Lifetime Achievement Award. Another longtime DHS employee, Blue served rural Minnesota in the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Division as a specialist. She’s made a difference in the Duluth community, including advocating for captions on the local news, accessible smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, and more.
Blue started her career working in mental health in Los Angeles and the Twin Cities, before joining the Minnesota Deaf Hard of Hearing Services Division in 1988. She moved from the metro office to Crookston/northwest region and then to Duluth/northeast region. Some of her most recent accomplishments include serving on the Arrowhead Agency on Aging, Advisory Committee on Aging for many terms. During that time, she worked with the agency director on an educational video project for the Senior Linkage Line. She also launched the North Shore ASL Community meetings that have been gone on for more than three decades. She recently retired from the state.
Another Lifetime Achievement winner is Paul Deeming. Deeming is a longtime interpreter, who provides language and cultural interpretation between users of English and ASL. He is a specialist in working with deafblind consumers who use low vision, tactile and/or Protactile techniques.
Deeming provide trainings related to best practices, communication and interpretation with deaf and deafblind people. He has been working as a sign language interpreter for 30 years and with the deafblind community for more than 26 years. Before starting his own firm, he worked at Deafblind Services and Metropolitan State University.
The fifth lifetime Achievement Award honoree is Amy McQuaid-Swanson. She was recognized for her work at the DHS Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services Division. She has more than 40 years’ experience with the state. In her division she is described as the glue that held things together through several transitions and worked to keep her division separate. She has also overseen the distribution of millions of dollars of state funding.
McDaid-Swanson holds a master’s degree in human services administration from the University of Minnesota, St. Mary’s graduate school.
Two people won the Youth Award. Mujahid Zafar was honored for advocating for captions at a local movie theater. Justin Smith was recognized for advocating for accessible housing.
Citizen Advocate Awards went to Avi Rosen for advocating for improved hospital accessibility and to Jessica Eggert for advocating for Braille prescription labels at pharmacies.
Stephanie Steidl and Leah Henrikson were honored with the Civic Engagement Award. They were recognized on behalf of parents who advocated for the Vivian Act, which led Minnesota to become the first state to screen all newborn babies for congenital cytomegalovirus, which can cause hearing loss in babies.
Education Excellence Awards were given to two people. Debbie Golos is a professor at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities and Deaf/Hard of Hearing licensure and M.Ed. coordinator. Michele Heise is a teacher and sports coach at the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf and sports coach.
The Access Award went to Kaylah Vogt for advocating for equitable employment hiring and onboarding practices.
The Humanitarian Award was presented to Wilderness Inquiry for the programs and opportunities provided to the deaf, deafblind, and hard of hearing community, connecting them to the outdoors.
The Minnesota Commission for the Deaf, DeafBlind and Hard of Hearing is a governor-appointed commission that advocates for communication access and equal opportunity with the 20 percent of Minnesotans who are deaf, deafblind and hard of hearing.