Leah Katz-Hernandez isn’t shy around the political arena – in fact, she welcomes the opportunity to give a voice to the deaf community and other individuals with disabilities. A 2010 Magna Cum Laude graduate of Gallaudet University, she gained national attention during the 2008 presidential election with her bi-partisan blog, The Deaf Perspective, which examined the political process through American Sign Language (ASL) video blogs (vlogs), which were also transcribed in English. Leah used this platform to emphasize the importance of being an informed voter.
Although she has been fascinated by politics her entire life, Leah didn’t consider it as a career path until choosing to major in government. In the summer of 2009, she participated in the American Association of People with Disabilities’ (AAPD) Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation Congressional Internship Program. The 10-week experience piqued her interest in disability advocacy and gave her insight into lawmaking and public policy development.
“I met many leaders with disabilities, and I wanted to be like them,” Leah explains. “I think it’s really important to find something you’re passionate about and keep working away at it.” Following her graduation, she interned for the White House Office of Public Engagement and was elected executive director of Deaf Youth USA, a social justice advocacy group.
Today, Leah serves as the 2011 HSC Foundation Youth Transitions Fellow at AAPD. Through her fellowship, Leah works closely with the Greater Washington Internship Coalition and the Youth Training Collaborative to expand career opportunities for transitioning young adults and Veterans with disabilities. Her responsibilities include coordinating event logistics, networking with students and representatives from various organizations and developing outreach materials for the program. Last fall, she travelled to colleges and universities across the nation to encourage students to seek internships and prepare for their careers.
Leah is also a fellow at the U.S. House of Representatives where she supports the Congressional Internship Program for Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities, which was established by the Committee on House Administration in partnership with George Mason University’s Mason LIFE Program. “It’s a really great program, because it gives individuals with intellectual disabilities, like Down’s syndrome or Fragile X Syndrome, the chance to intern on the Hill,” says Leah. She not only assists the director of communications with outreach about the program, but also coordinates the internship program orientation for Congressional staffers as well as day trips for the interns.
Along with using a sign language interpreter to communicate with hearing people during meetings, Leah relies on a video phone to make calls from her desk. “Technology innovation is extremely important to the disability community in terms of improving our lives. The future is in the Internet, and it must be accessible, no question about it.” In the future, Leah plans to get her law degree, while continuing to represent the deaf community and advocate for accessibility.