Howard Rosenblum leads a life of advocacy

Written by St. Cloud State University students: Tricia B. Simon and Jaime L. Jensen

Howard Rosenblum

Howard Rosenblum is a man who has so seamlessly comingled his personal and professional missions of advocacy for the deaf community that he plans his vacations around opportunities to travel the world to meet deaf people, engrossing himself in learning their sign languages and the nuances of their respective cultures. From his very first job as a camp counselor for children with cognitive disabilities, to his current role as CEO of the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), Rosenblum has been dedicated to advocating for human rights, for not only those in the deaf community, but for all persons with disabilities.

How does a young man from Chicago come to lead the nation’s premier civil rights organization of, by, and for deaf and hard of hearing individuals in the United States? He attributes it to having great parents.

At age two, Rosenblum lost his hearing due to a case of meningitis. His parents, who had not known any deaf persons prior to their son’s hearing loss, immediately immersed themselves and their young son in learning about his new community and ensuring he had the educational resources to achieve any goal he set for himself.

Like many parents, Rosenblum’s family had big dreams for their child. While they preached to him that he could be anything he wanted to be, they also not so subtly guided him toward becoming a doctor or lawyer. One of these “nudges” came when Howard was only 12 years old. In his words, Rosenblum’s parents, “dragged me to watch a presentation by Lowell Myers, one of the earliest deaf lawyers in this county. Seeing a deaf lawyer at that age inspired me to believe that deaf people could do anything including suing hearing people!”

Despite a supportive childhood in Skokie, Illinois, the road to becoming a lawyer was not all smooth sailing. Rosenblum graduated from Evanston Township High School and went on to pursue an undergraduate degree in Computer Engineering at the University of Arizona. This experience was one of personal growth and self-discovery for Rosenblum as it was here he began to realize he had a calling to engage in advocacy work with the deaf and disability communities. Still unsure of what the future would hold, Rosenblum determined law school was a natural next step.

A CALL TO ACTION

While applying to law school and during his tenure at the Illinois Institute of Technology/Chicago-Kent College of Law, Rosenblum remembers thinking he would combine his engineering major and law degree to go into the field of Intellectual Property (IP) Law. However, when it came time to seek out internships with IP law firms, no one was willing to give him a chance. Even after graduation, IP law firms were not forthcoming with offers. Instead, while he was a law student, Rosenblum accepted an internship with a disability law clinic at Northwestern University and subsequently passed the Illinois Bar exam in 1992, two years after the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law. Shortly thereafter, he began a decade-long stint at a small law firm focused on Disability Rights, Special Education Law, Mental Health Law, Non-Profit Law and Probate Law. Little did he know he was setting the foundation for much of what he does now as the CEO of the National Association of the Deaf (NAD).

In the early 1990’s, Rosenblum was the only Culturally Deaf attorney in Illinois. Word spread quickly through the Deaf Community and soon Rosenblum found himself turning down a multitude of cases outside of the scope and practice of his firm. Even though the ADA required attorneys to provide Deaf clients with effective communication options, many were not aware of this obligation or simply did not care to comply.
Rosenblum recalls,

“This lack of access to legal services bothered me greatly, so I decided to do something about it. At first, I would find friends of mine from law school who could take on deaf clients in various types of law and would be willing to provide a sign language interpreter for the communications of those deaf clients. But I began to get requests from more and more deaf people who needed legal representation that was accessible to them and not just from the Chicago area, but the state of Illinois as well as across the Midwest.”

Thus, the Midwest Center on Law and the Deaf (MCLD) was born with the mission to find “deaf-friendly lawyers to represent deaf and hard of hearing people from across the Midwest who needed legal representation in any area of the law.” MCLD was the catalyst for Rosenblum later bringing this concept to NAD and building it into a nationwide service.

Getting Involved with the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) The NAD and Rosenblum were acquainted long before he became CEO. At the start of his legal career, Rosenblum developed an ongoing dialogue with the NAD and Attorney Marc Charmatz who has faithfully served the NAD since 1977. Rosenblum would occasionally check in with the NAD to discuss ongoing civil rights cases as well as legislative efforts. 

In 2004, the NAD invited Rosenblum to serve on a committee to propose changes to its operations and structure. Following that two-year endeavor, he served as chair of the Policy Committee from 2006 to 2011. In 2011, the NAD welcomed Howard Rosenblum as Chief Executive Officer, tasked with leading the agency’s long-standing mission to preserve, protect, and promote the civil, human, and linguistic rights of all deaf and hard of hearing people in the country.

Today, Rosenblum and his team at NAD work tirelessly in their advocacy work to impact national and worldwide policy makers in an effort to support the human rights of persons who are deaf or hard of hearing through initiatives including early intervention, education, employment, health care, technology, telecommunications, and youth leadership opportunities such as National Deaf Youth Day, Youth Leadership Camp, College Bowl, Jr., and the annual Pitch Competition for young adults.
Words of Wisdom When asked for parting words of wisdom regarding his advocacy work and that of the NAD, Rosenblum shared, “Deaf people and disabled people do not want pity. We want education, employment, equality, and enjoyment of life. Include us in everyday life and respect us, that’s all we ask. The National Association of the Deaf is here to work with anyone who wants to make their programs and services accessible to 48 million deaf and hard of hearing people. Failing that, we’ll see you in court, smile!”

For more information on NAD’s programs and services, or to make a donation, please visit www.nad.org