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October 3, 2005

Gregory Hlibok 'Takes Five'

From: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - Milwaukee,WI,USA - Oct 3, 2005

Advocate for the deaf focuses his efforts on education, employment, empowerment

Posted: Oct. 3, 2005

Gregory Hlibok stepped into the national spotlight in March 1988 as an outspoken advocate of the rights and abilities of deaf and hearing-impaired citizens. As president of the student body at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., he was one of the so-called "Gallaudet Four" student leaders of the "Deaf President Now" protests. After the protesters succeeded in forcing the school's Board of Trustees into naming the first-ever deaf leader of the campus, ABC News named Hlibok "Person of the Week" in mid-March of that year. He graduated from Gallaudet University in 1990 and Hofstra University Law School in 1994. Today, Hlibok is an attorney adviser with the Federal Communications Commission, where he drafts federal rules on telecommunications access for people with disabilities. He was in Milwaukee recently to talk about "deaf empowerment." Professional Interpreting Enterprise, a sign language interpreting company in Greenfield, invited Hlibok to Milwaukee to commemorate Deaf Awareness Week and the 125th anniversary of the National Association of the Deaf. Hlibok communicated with Don Behm of the Journal Sentinel staff in e-mails and in a telephone interview with the assistance of an interpreter.

Q. Why did you become involved in the "Deaf President Now" protest at Gallaudet University?

A. As a deaf person coming from a deaf family, I've always searched for better opportunities and access for deaf people. I was involved with the committee to encourage the (university) board to choose a deaf president because I felt strongly that it was important for us to have a deaf role model after a 124-year history of no deaf person leading a deaf institution.

Q. How did that experience influence your life and career?

A. It confirmed my lifelong interest in becoming a lawyer for the deaf. I was a lawyer with a general practice serving deaf clients in New York for a couple of years, right after graduating from Hofstra.

Q. What is your job at the Federal Communications Commission?

A. I draft policies related to telecommunications access, such as telecommunications relay service, closed captioning on television and hearing aid compatibility. I do not personally respond to complaints (of deaf citizens) as we have a complaint specialist, but some of the difficult questions escalate to my attention. You can view our Web site at the disability rights office under the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau at the FCC. The Web site address:

Q. What are the current issues facing deaf citizens?

A. Deaf education and employment are the top two matters. The employment rate among deaf people is lagging behind all segments of the population with disabilities, except for the mentally challenged. Although employers cannot use lack of access to telephones as an excuse because of the availability of telecommunications relay service, deaf people are not getting jobs or promotion. Many are underemployed.

Q. How do you define "deaf empowerment"?

A. It is how deaf individuals become involved with the issues that affect them. It is not about staging a protest but about being able to participate in the society by being visible and able to provide input to appropriate officials or decision-makers.

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