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Alumni Newsmakers | Artists' Quarter | Alumni Bookshelf | Breaking Down Barriers | A Blooming Business | In Memoriam

Breaking Down Barriers

Baltimore native Rachel Dubin, MA ’00, is living proof that one person can indeed move mountains. The GW political science doctoral student, who holds a master’s degree in international affairs, was diagnosed with profound hearing loss at the age of 3 and lost her hearing completely midway through kindergarten. Now a focused and motivated 24-year-old, Dubin has dedicated much of her life to advocating on behalf of people with disabilities.

She mastered the complexities of Capitol Hill before her 12th birthday, testifying before Congress as part of a successful four-year campaign that resulted in the release of $96 million to create the National Institute on Deafness and Communication Disorders. In her home state of Maryland, Dubin’s 1998 testimony before the House of Delegates helped lead to the passage of a law mandating the universal screening of Maryland newborns for hearing loss. Now she is hard at work advocating for health insurance coverage for hearing aids, as well as lobbying to create a hearing aid loaner bank in Maryland for infants and toddlers.

“My parents taught me that I can do anything if I just put my mind to it,” says Dubin. “When I lost my hearing at the age of five, they fought for me to be mainstreamed and taught me that I can make things better for myself and other disabled people by speaking out.”

Utilizing speech and lip-reading to communicate, Dubin works tirelessly to create a better world for individuals with disabilities. Her efforts have resulted in an impressive string of honors and awards, including, most recently, the 2000 Andrew Wood Advocacy Award from the Mayor of the District of Columbia’s Committee on Persons with Disabilities and the 2000 Eleanor Louise Armstrong Scholarship from the President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities. The state of Maryland named her Disabled Youth of 1995, sending her to Vienna as a guest of the Austrian government.

“Rachel’s commitment to the welfare and development of individuals with disabilities is extraordinary,” says Christy Willis, GW’s director of disability support services, who nominated her for the Wood Advocacy Award. “On campus, she’s been extremely outspoken and proactive about disability issues. She has regularly organized and participated in student panels to raise awareness, has been responsible for many outreach activities, and was instrumental in building GW’s Disability Resource Association. She certainly stands out in a crowd.”

Dubin is a frequent guest speaker on campus, delivering presentations on what it is like to have a profound hearing impairment and how deaf people can be successful, full participants in the world. She was a presenter at the 2000 International Convention of the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, where she discussed “Sounds of Freedom: College Survival 101.” Two years earlier, she addressed the same gathering on learning foreign languages, a topic that she is well familiar with. A gifted linguist, Dubin speaks Russian, French, and a bit of Hebrew, along with her native English.

Dubin says that she loves “anything international” and has a special interest in cultural attitudes toward disabilities. “In many countries, particularly in the developing world, people with disabilities are not seen as employable or teachable, and are often locked away in institutions for decades,” says Dubin. “These kinds of situations constitute human rights violations, and they cry out for intervention.” Most Western countries, on the other hand, generally work hard to help disabled people live fulfilling lives, she says. “The United States, Austria, the Netherlands, France, England, Canada, and Australia are on my short list when it comes to successfully integrating people with disabilities into society,” she says.

As for Dubin’s future, the sky is indeed the limit. “My ultimate goal is to become either a college professor specializing in political science and international relations or a government analyst in U.S.-Russian affairs,” she says. There is no doubt that she will also continue her stellar advocacy efforts on behalf of people with disabilities. “I want to do whatever I can to improve the lives of the disabled,” she says. “Things have gotten better in recent years, but we still have a long way to go.”
—Jamie L. Freedman