When Barbara “BJ” Wood ’75 was approached in 1986 by then Gov. Michael Dukakis to form a state agency to advocate for the deaf and hard of hearing in Massachusetts, she told him she had to think about it.
She left her desk on the 11th floor of her Boston office building and, instead of taking the elevator, walked down the 11 flights of stairs. By the time she reached the first floor, Wood decided to take on the challenge of establishing Massachusetts’ new Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. She then went on to head similar commissions in Colorado and New Mexico.
Since that moment 30 years ago, Wood, who is deaf, has worked tirelessly for the deaf and hard of hearing community, admitting to even spending several nights on a sofa in the commission’s office during its infancy. From lobbying legislators, addressing interpreter shortages to providing case management services, her goal has been to create better rights and access to services for the deaf and hard of hearing.
For her work, Wood has been recognized as this year’s Distinguished Alumna for NTID and will be honored during Distinguished Alumni Award Week, April 11-15, at various on-campus events and celebrations.
Wood has faced many challenges over the years, most notably awareness.
“I’ve had one state legislator say to me ‘Why are we still talking about interpreter shortages? Why can’t people just lip read?’” said Wood. “It’s repetitive and consistent education to the public about the needs of the (deaf) community.”
Perhaps the reason Wood is so passionate about advocating for the rights of the deaf and hard of hearing is because it was only when she came to RIT/NTID that she learned about deaf culture.
“Before I came to RIT/NTID, I didn’t even know how to sign,” Wood said. “There were no laws when I was growing up saying deaf and hard of hearing individuals need adaptive resources, so I was in hearing classes without communication support throughout my entire education up to that point.”
After working in an official capacity for three commissions, Wood has returned home to Massachusetts and is still working just as hard for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community as she had 30 years ago, organizing voter drives and continuing to lobby the state legislature.
“When I start something, I need to see it through.”
The Distinguished Alumni Award is presented to a certified alumnus/a who has performed with distinction at the highest levels of his or her chosen profession or who has contributed significantly to the advancement and leadership of noteworthy civic, philanthropic, or service organizations over the course of many years. Those honored have brought distinction to their colleges and RIT through their professional, community and/or philanthropic achievements. Check back every Thursday for more from RIT’s 2016 Distinguished Alumni.