Visionary Leader - September 2014

John Lopez

John Lopez, '66, is Gallaudet University's Visionary Leader for September 2014. Known as a leader and an advocate of the deaf and Hispanic communities, Lopez contributed to making strides in telecommunications laws, primarily by working to improve access to 911 emergency services.

Lopez was born in 1940 in Arizona, the youngest of three children in his family. He attended the Arizona School for the Deaf and then Gallaudet College, where he majored in history. After Lopez graduated from Gallaudet, he became dean of students at his alma mater in Arizona and then at the Louisiana School for the Deaf.

He later switched careers and moved to northern California, where he became a vocational rehabilitation counselor. In 1973, Lopez became a member of the National Leadership Training Program at California State University-Northridge. Eventually, he returned to Washington, D.C., and became a member of the 911 Access Committee, which sought to improve access to emergency phone services for Americans who call through text telephones (TTYs) and other visual communication devices. Lopez was actively involved with Telecommunications for the Deaf Inc. (TDI), edited the organization's GA-SK publication, and helped bring in grants to support projects.

As chair of TDI's Emergency 911 Access Project in 1988, Lopez tested and researched the emergency call systems in the D.C. metro area. He found that the systems were not accommodating of TTY users and the standards of communication were insufficient. Some people waited up to two hours for assistance in emergency situations due to issues such as faulty printers. In Lopez's national surveys, deaf respondents were candid about the anxieties they felt when it came to emergency situations and responses by police and fire services.

Lopez would not rest until changes were made, and TDI announced that federal legislation was necessary to fix the 911 accessibility problem. Lopez worked with other advocates - including Frank Bowe and Karen Peltz Strauss - and members of Congress to insert language in legislation that required access through TTYs and the relay to public safety call centers.

"There are insufficient 911 services, so we feel this is a national issue and we are working at making a national effort to get Congress to recognize our problem of equal access to 911 emergency services," Lopez said.

Lopez and his fellow advocates faced many barriers, and Congress remained resistant for a number of years. Finally, in May 1990, Capitol Hill legislators added a line into ADA law: "Municipalities must provide direct TTY access." Lopez's mission became a victory for all.

During Lopez's last years in D.C., he worked in the White House Policy Office for President William Clinton's administration and remained active in national deaf organizations. He was a member of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Consumer Advocacy Network (DHHCAN), developing strategies to solve common access issues that deaf and hard of hearing people face. He served on the National Mission Advocacy Panel for the Laurent Clerc National Deaf Center and volunteered as a writer and speaker for Friends of the Library Deaf Association, created by Alice Hagemeyer. He also received a Juris Doctorate from Harvard University.

As an advocate of the Latino experience, Lopez was the first chairperson of the National Latino Council for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, established in 1992. He also was a member of the Hispanic fraternal organization La Raza. Lopez is remembered as someone with a good sense of humor. He often enjoyed political discussions and socializing with friends and was always determined to improve the lives of people in communities with which he closely identified.

He was a role model to many young deaf student leaders and was a respected friend and colleague. He volunteered his time with the Junior National Association for the Deaf and the NAD's Youth Leadership Camp. He always had his eye on young people with potential, making sure they received better opportunities to succeed with the help of scholarships and mentors.

Lopez passed away in 2008, but his spirit lives on through the John Lopez '65 Scholarship Fund, founded in 2009 by Franklin Torres, Elvia Guillermo, and Leticia Arellano to help deaf Latino students finance their education at Gallaudet. More information about the scholarship

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Unless otherwise indicated, photos courtesy Gallaudet Archives


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John Lopez, 1966 class photo. He's wearing a dark suit and tie, with a white shirt. Arizona School for the Deaf and Blind. Two boys leaning out of bus windows, while seven boys lean against the bus.

Lopez (on right; leaning out of the bus window) poses with classmates from the Arizona School for the Deaf and Blind (Photo circa early 1960's; courtesy the estate of John Lopez).

John Lopez in striped shirt, blue jeans. Chalkboard behind him

Lopez speaking to campers at the Junior National Association of the Deaf Youth Leadership Camp in Pengilly, Minn. in 1986. (Photo courtesy the estate of John Lopez)

John Lopez in a tuxedo. White brick wall behind him and a glass doorway. He's propping his foot against a railing, standing on a brick porch.

Lopez dressed for a gala event (Photo date and location unknown; courtesy Jim House).

John Lopez sits at a table with another man, watching a woman sign in ASL

Lopez (center) joined Cheryl Heppner, executive director of the Northern Virginia Resource Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Persons and former Gallaudet Board of Trustees member, and Alfred Sonnenstrahl, E-'84, former executive director of Telecommunications for the Deaf, Inc, at a 911 panel discussion on Capitol Hill in 1989. (Photo courtesy the estate of John Lopez)

John Lopez has his hand on Franklin Torres shoulder. He's wearing a blue shirt, yellow tie. Franklin has a pink shirt and a tie, and he's holding his framed award

Lopez congratulates friend Franklin Torres, G-'02, on his being awarded the GUAA's Outstanding Young Alumnus Award in 2004. (Photo courtesy Franklin Torres)