Catherine Clark, associate professor, National Technical Institute for the Deaf, Rochester Institute of Technology, was honored for her “Outstanding Dedication to Service” by Visions Global Empowerment during its annual awards ceremony in April.
Clark, who has worked at NTID for 30 years and is also an audiologist and cochlear implant specialist, was recognized for her volunteer work with deaf and hard-of-hearing children and adults in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia. During several visits to Ethiopia between 2014 and 2016, Clark administered hearing tests—the first for most in that area—and collaborated with a regional center that provides tutoring and preschool services to deaf children. In addition to hiring deaf teachers, the center established classes for deaf and hard-of-hearing learners; distributed sign-language dictionaries; taught Ethiopian Sign Language to deaf and hard-of-hearing children, adults, families, teachers, school administrators, university students and doctors; and developed a deaf entrepreneurship program. The staff invited Clark to establish an audiological assessment and intervention center to complement their educational efforts.
During a 2015 trip to the region, Clark consulted for a program that conducts community screenings, assessments and public education programs, and created a clinical audiology manual. She also helped with teaching parents about hearing-aid use and maintenance for their children. Since 2014, 111 individuals have received audiology services, 48 individuals have received hearing aids and 130 individuals have been examined by Ethiopian ear, nose and throat specialists. According to Clark, the Ethiopian deaf and hard-of-hearing community also served as audiology assistants.
“Many years ago, I mentioned to someone that one of my personal and professional goals was to open up a clinic for deaf and hard-of-hearing people of color,” said Clark. “Little did I know that I would end up doing this for the people in Ethiopia. Volunteering is a new piece of the puzzle for me, and the community in Bahir Dar is so appreciative of those who volunteer. It’s nice to go back every few months and bring a skill that I was trained to do in the form of audiology testing and directly impacting the deaf and hard-of-hearing community there. I really can’t wait to go back to Bahir Dar to see the kids and bond with the deaf adult community. There are similarities between American Sign Language and Ethiopian Sign Language. As a result, we have a language in which we can all understand each other.”
Gerry Buckley, NTID president and RIT vice president and dean, added: “I, along with the NTID community, admire Catherine for her dedication to improving the lives of deaf and hard-of-hearing people in Ethiopia, and we are all grateful for the amazing and impactful work that she does here on campus. We can all learn from her willingness to give of herself.”
Clark plans to return to Ethiopia this summer to continue her work.
Visions Global Empowerment is a global nonprofit organization dedicated to youth education and empowerment and changing patterns of inequality by supporting educational initiatives for youth affected by poverty, conflict and disability.