If Barack Obama is POTUS, the president of the United States, Leah Katz-Hernandez is ROTUS, the receptionist of the United States. And she's become a pioneer in the White House. Katz-Hernandez is deaf, but she isn't defined by her disability.
Katz-Hernandez first got into politics as a freshman at Gallaudet University where she was elected president of her freshman class. When Gallaudet's board members attempted to appoint a university president that the student-body felt was out of touch with its deaf students, protests erupted and Katz-Hernandez got actively involved. The so-called "Unity" protests were successful, and the young activist realized that her voice made a difference.
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After college, Katz-Hernandez began tracking the presidential election and related deaf issues on her blog, The Deaf Perspective. She used grassroots efforts to get deaf people registered to vote and involved in the political process. She worked on Obama's re-election campaign before being hired onto the staff of FLOTUS (Michelle Obama.)
“It was my first week on the job,” Katz-Hernandez told Fox News Latino. “I was having lunch at my desk when a staffer from the West Wing came by and said, ‘I want to introduce you to the first lady.’ The next thing I know, the first lady is standing in front of me. She said, ‘Hi, my name is…’ and then she finger-spelled her name. It was really a wonderful moment. I knew I’d arrived in a great place and felt really motivated to work hard for her.”
Now, in her new role as ROTUS, Katz-Hernandez is the first to greet anyone — from world leaders to ordinary Americans — who has a meeting with the president or any of his top-level staff. With the help of a sign language interpreter, she also oversees the White House guest book and the Roosevelt Room, the West Wing meeting room.
“The White House is really a model for accessibility for people with disabilities — and especially for deaf people,” she told Fox News Latino. She says her own story “sends a good message about the abilities of people who are deaf and Latino to be successful anywhere.”