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Hearing the Call for Action

Heather West ’97, along with other members of the Deaf and Deaf-Blind Committee on Human Rights, were fresh off the road last August, having just joined the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign at a March for Our Lives rally in New York.

“We’re here because our basic human rights are being violated,” said West, echoing the frustration of the deaf and deaf-blind community with whom she passionately works.

Since 2000, she has served as advisor and later executive director of the Deaf and Deaf-Blind Committee on Human Rights, a grassroots organization in North Olmsted, Ohio, that she cofounded in 1998. Many of the 100 dues-paying members participate in demonstrations around the country, including picketing hospitals for a lack of interpreters and taking a stand against discrimination in the workplace.

DDBCHR is an active member of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign, which works to build the voices of impoverished citizens who may be denied their rights to housing, health care, education, and living-wage jobs.

During her senior year at Oberlin, West attended Gallaudet University, a school for the deaf in Washington, DC, as part of an Oberlin exchange program. Fueled by her experiences there, she organized a weekend of lectures and a panel discussion, hoping to bring the issues of deaf studies and deaf culture to the Oberlin community.

After graduation, she searched for a way to combine her interest in the deaf community and her community-organizing skills. In 1998, at the Poor People’s Summit in Philadelphia, she met Roland Emerson, a leader in the deaf community. Joining forces, they held an informational meeting a month later that drew about 30 people.

“While at first I thought it would be wrong for a hearing person to be the director of an organization like this, I realized I have skills that are very much needed here,” says West. “We’re not a service organization; we don’t say: ‘I'm hearing, so let me help you.’ We instead work with people behind the scenes by helping them to organize. I feel like it was my calling to do this.”

Regional Roundup

What’s happening in your region? Find out at ObieWeb,

Book Corner
Washington, DC – Michael Duffy ’80, Time magazine’s Washington bureau chief, helps celebrate the first novel of friend Rachel Cline ’79, author of What to Keep, during a publicity tour last summer.
Nature Walk
Western Mass. – Obies enjoyed a three-mile hike amongst the colorful foliage of the Hilltowns in October, followed by a potluck dinner at the home of Robert ’61 and June Persing in Plainfield, Mass.
Fantastic Destinies

Peru – Obie travelers enjoyed a two-week journey through Peru with Oberlin historian Steve Volk in October. The tour included overnight stays in Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley, as well as visits to Lake Titicaca and Cuzco.


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