Melissa "echo" Greenlee: Founder & Fighter for Change

Posted by: Elise Whitworth on May 1, 2016

When I was a kid, I played in the meadow and chased the cows through riverbanks. I rocked out to 80’s music, sang along with Madonna and danced to “Lucky Star” and “Holiday”. I never thought that, at the age of 8 years old, one of my senses would leave me and my life would take a drastic turn. Growing up over the years with hearing loss, I struggled to understand those around me including my parents, my teachers, and my 5 siblings. I couldn’t place telephone calls, understand the television, classroom instruction, nor the radio.  None of my peers were like me and I was confused, angry and alone. By the age of 18, I had a profound hearing loss and could no longer hear Madonna’s voice over my pink ghetto blaster.

One year later at the age of 19, I moved from Lake Tahoe, CA to Seattle, WA. I connected with my first cultural deaf person. I was vulnerable and full of fear and went through an identity crisis. Their flying hands and facial expressions intimidated me. I told myself that I cannot possibly be like them. I put a wall up and shut them out. Yet, slowly over time, I made small strides. I learned to improve my Sign Language, I socialized 1:1 with deaf people, learning to take my wall down and embrace my deafness as a positive aspect of my identity. I found a community of people like me, who share a language, a history, triumphs and challenges.

And speaking of challenges, let me tell you that living as a deaf person in a hearing world is not easy! The biggest challenge of all is the constant communication barrier that exists between deaf and hearing people. This communication barrier coupled with the fear and ignorance about the deaf community adds up to a lot of unnecessary hardship. As much as I miss Madonna singing, I miss getting by in this world without struggling to communicate a gazillion times more.

As a deaf consumer, I face this communication barrier on a daily basis. From getting my questions answered about a new product I want to purchase, to placing an order at a restaurant, or mailing a package out at the post office – the daily struggles living as a deaf person add up. They come in the form of eye-rolls when the retail clerk, sandwich artist, or beautician (take your pick) learns I am deaf and has to slow down their speaking or write things down. If it’s not an eye-roll, it’s a place of business that flat out refuses to serve me, such as a restaurant. If it’s not an eye-roll or refusal to serve me, it’s a barista who stands and stares as if she is looking at an alien from another planet. And, don’t get me started about the doctors who refuse to provide a Sign Language Interpreter to my medical appointment, as if a complete understanding of my medical situation is not important?     

Challenges aside, I have really big things going for me; I am an optimist with incredible vision that is laser-focused, results-driven and passion-perfect. Through all the triumphs and challenges that hearing loss has brought me, it has also brought me my most cherished gift. My life’s work or my “Lucky Star”-- to make the daily lives of 38 million deaf and hard of hearing consumers easier. I truly believe that with mutual education, hand-holding and a little bit of patience between all people, we can create a deaf-friendly world.  

I am looking for people who believe accessibility for deaf and hard of hearing people in the world is important. I am looking for passionate people to join me in creating change on a large scale. Together, we can erase misconceptions, increase knowledge and spread compassion through the world. If you’re interested in joining me on this journey, please e-mail me. I’d love to connect.

 -- Melissa "echo" Greenlee, Founder

Board Member

Disability Rights Advocates, www.dralegal.org

With offices in California and New York, Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) is one of the leading nonprofit disability rights legal centers in the nation. Its mission is to advance equal rights and opportunity for people with all types of disabilities nationwide. DRA is run by people with disabilities for people with disabilities. 

DRA provides free legal representation to people with disabilities whose civil rights have been violated.  It represents people with the full spectrum of disabilities including mobility, sensory, cognitive, and psychiatric in complex, system-change class-action cases. 

DRA uses litigation, structured negotiations, advocacy, community education, and media to reform systems and practices that discriminate against people with disabilities. 

DRA is small but mighty. In the organization’s 20+ year history, DRA has taken on more than 400 cases and won almost all—achieving dramatic improvements for people with disabilities seeking health care, employment, transportation, education, disaster preparedness planning, voting and housing.   

Awards and Honors

Marilyn J. Smith Inspiration Award. www.adwas.org

February, 2015

In 1986, Marilyn J. Smith, established the Abused Deaf Women's Advocacy Services (ADWAS) in Seattle, WA. This organization has not only had an impact on Seattle, but all over the USA. This year, ADWAS is excited to present the Marilyn J. Smith Inspirational Award to Melissa "echo" Greenlee. This award is given to an individual who has a great impact on the Deaf community and inspires us with their social work, enthusiasm and leadership.

The critera in choosing each nominee - 

Dedicated. This individual has given their time, energy and has actively done so much to improve quality of the Deaf community.

Visionary. This individual is a reflection of all the experiences that have an impact on us today and continue to support the future of the community.

Mission-Centered. This individual creates an impact through their vision while also contributing to social justice.

Collaborative. This individual holds collaboration as an important value, not only for our Deaf communities, but with outside communities too.

Ability to inspire. This individual has inner inspirations that can be passed on to those around them, for our community.

To watch Vlog of award criteria, go here: https://youtu.be/AX7nAVlHqgs 

Washington Access Fund - Ron Adam's Outstanding Client Award. www.washingtonaccessfund.org

November, 2014

The 2014 awards were given to businesses, organization and individuals who have made noteworth efforts to include, serve and help people with disabilities across Washington state.

Comment Policy

We’re aware that issues facing the Deaf, Deaf-Blind, and Hard of Hearing Community can become quite passionate and divided. What can we say, we’re a group of passionate people! While we fully support a community full of passion, we also require that comments are respectful. We think negative attitudes and disrespect are a waste of everyone’s time and energy. This doesn’t mean you can’t disagree with people, you just need to do it respectfully. We reserve the right to delete or edit any comments we feel are judgmental, rude, or of attacking nature.

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