Talila A. Lewis, a faculty member in liberal studies at Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf, was one of nine disability advocates from across the United States selected as “Champions of Change” by the White House. A recognition event—which coincides with the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act—was held in Washington, D.C., earlier this summer.
Lewis, an activist and attorney whose research primarily focuses on creating equal access to the legal system for individuals who are deaf and for people with disabilities, created the only national database of deaf prisoners and is one of the only people in the world working on deaf wrongful conviction cases. Lewis advocates with and for hundreds of deaf defendants, prisoners and returned citizens and trains justice, legal and corrections professionals about various disability related concerns. In addition, Lewis has been the force behind social justice campaigns including #DeafInPrison, Deaf Prisoner Phone Justice, and the American Civil Liberties Union’s “Know Your Deaf Rights” campaign. Lewis is also the founder and director of Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of the Deaf, or HEARD, an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization that works to correct and prevent wrongful convictions of deaf people, end abuse of incarcerated people with disabilities, decrease recidivism rates for deaf returned citizens, and increase representation of the deaf in the justice, legal and corrections professions.
“I am so very humbled to be counted among disability justice advocates who are pushing us all to challenge the status quo,” said Lewis. “Endless gratitude to those who have supported this community-led effort and to those I serve who remind me daily, the power of community accountability, resilience and love-infused activism.”
According to the website, the Champions of Change program was created as an opportunity for the White House to feature individuals doing extraordinary things to empower and inspire members of their communities. To learn more about the White House Champions of Change program, go to www.whitehouse.gov/champions.