The Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths and Adults (HKNC) is the only national rehabilitation center of its kind, educating those with a combination of vision and hearing impairments in its residential program in Sands Point, New York. The HKNC has produced some of our nations most successful and noteworthy deaf-blind advocates, one of which was Robert Smithdas. In addition to being a long-time advocate at HKNC, Smithdas was also the first deaf-blind individual to receive a masters’ degree, with a legacy that stretched from the middle of the 20th century all the way to his retirement in 2009. With Smithdas’ passing in 2014, the HKNC established the Robert J. Smithdas award, given every year to a select few deaf-blind educators and advocates who have demonstrated a long track record of service to the community.
We’re proud to announce that this year one of the two award recipients is our Director of Rehabilitation, Kathy Abrahamson.
A representative from HKNC came to the LightHouse at the end of July to personally present Kathy with the award. Kathy shares this honor with Ingrid Halvorsen, a longtime deaf-blind educator in Illinois. “Dr. Robert J. Smithdas was reknowned for his tireless advocacy and leadership influencing the development of services for individuals who are deaf-blind,” said Sue Ruzenski, HKNC’s Executive Director, “Both Kathy and Ingrid embody Dr. Smithdas passion for empowering the deaf-blind community.”
Direct from the Helen Keller National Center:
Kathy Abrahamson is the Director of Rehabilitation at the LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco, California. The LightHouse has a long history of providing services to the deaf-blind community beginning in the 1950’s with the establishment of Enchanted Hills Camp, and the formation of a deaf-blind social and recreational club in the early 70’s. Kathy has continued this tradition, and has been a strong champion of deaf- blind services since she began at the LightHouse in 1986. She exemplifies the true spirit of the HKNC Affiliate Program by always maintaining a deaf-blind specialist at the LightHouse since 1992. Her leadership with the California National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program has afforded a unique collaboration with HKNC, and has brought technology to over 300 deaf-blind Californians the past three years. “She’s not afraid to get her hands dirty in the kitchen every year, slinging turkey and dressing at the annual deaf-blind holiday party, and she may be our biggest ally in trying to establish additional deaf-blind services on this coast, from statewide Support Service Provider (SSP) services to residential training,” said Cathy Kirscher, HKNC’s regional representative for California. “She is a very deserving individual whose presence and advocacy, along with her fantastic team at the Lighthouse, continues to benefit deaf-blind individuals on a daily basis.”
Without a doubt, Kathy is one of our most valuable assets here at the LightHouse, and it gives us great pleasure and pride to see her recognized on a national level. Congrats, Kathy!