CommunicationFIRST is excited to announce the following additions to its leadership team:
- Our new Vice Chair is Pancho Ramirez
- Our new Secretary is Gita Gupta
- Haben Girma was elected to the Board of Directors
- Alice Wong has joined our Advisory Council
Their biographies can be found below. Please join us in congratulating the new members of the leadership team!
Pancho Ramirez (Vice Chair)
Pancho Ramirez (he/him) was elected to the Board of Directors of CommunicationFIRST in 2021 and became Vice Chair in April 2023. As a Mexican immigrant farmworker, he acquired his speech disability in 2003 at age 20 from a brain stem stroke after a car accident, and has lived in hospitals and nursing homes in Northern California ever since. Mr. Ramirez has taught himself English, earned his GED and a web developer certificate from Santa Rosa Junior College, started learning French, and has become an instrumental member of a research team at the University of California, San Francisco, that is developing groundbreaking communication technology to produce words from thought. A one-minute video about this technology featuring Mr. Ramirez can be accessed here. He was profiled in the July 2021 New York Times article “Tapping Into the Brain to Help a Paralyzed Man Speak.” When not designing websites and participating in pioneering research, he visits his local community in his power wheelchair as much as possible. Mr. Ramirez currently communicates using facial expressions, gestures, a head mouse to type on a computer, and a laser pointer to point at a laminated letterboard.
Gita Gupta (Secretary)
Gita Gupta, MS, MSE (she/her), is the Secretary of CommunicationFIRST and is a disability advocate, community organizer, researcher, and Executive Director of the Anurag and Gita Gupta Foundation. She spent over 20 years in Silicon Valley in senior executive roles focused on market strategy and marketing execution in both startups and global Fortune 100 companies, including SAP and Oracle. For the past decade, she has managed a several-thousand-member global online forum to help raise awareness and disseminate pioneering medical research to help families find answers to complex medical symptoms. Ms. Gupta has a special interest in scientific developments surrounding the pathophysiology of autism, and collaborates with researchers in the fields of neurology, mitochondrial disorders, metabolic medicine, immunology, and the microbiome. Ms. Gupta received a Bachelor of Engineering (Computer Science) degree from Anna University in Chennai, India, Master of Science (Computer Science) from Rutgers University, and Master of Science in Engineering (Information Systems Management) from Purdue University. She lives in the San Francisco Bay area, and communicates most effectively with speech.
Haben Girma (Director)
The first Deafblind person to graduate from Harvard Law School, CommunicationFIRST Board member Haben Girma (she/her) is a human rights lawyer advancing disability justice. President Obama named her a White House Champion of Change. She received a spot on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list and TIME100 Talks. President Bill Clinton, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Chancellor Angela Merkel have all honored Haben. Haben believes disability is an opportunity for innovation, and she teaches organizations the importance of choosing inclusion. The New York Times, Oprah Magazine, and TODAY Show featured her memoir, Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law. Haben provides consulting and public speaking on accessibility, diversity, and leadership. Her presentations have touched organizations as wide-ranging as Apple, GE, Lenovo, Microsoft, the New York Times, Oxford Law, Pearson Education, Stanford, and SXSW. The daughter of refugees from Ethiopia and Eritrea, and a black disabled woman, Haben built her path to success on the belief that inclusion is a choice. Written English is her strongest form of communication, but depending on the person she is communicating with, she may use sign language, type text, voice in another language, or work with an interpreter. Adapting to the abilities of others and the restraints of the environment are essential to communication. Whether through movement, written words, spoken words, or other cultural symbols, people connect when they search for shared symbols and adapt to each others’ abilities. Haben was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she currently lives.
Alice Wong (Advisory Council)
Alice Wong (she/her) is a disabled activist, writer, media maker, and consultant. She is a relatively new AAC user and nonspeaking person. Alice is the founder and director of the Disability Visibility Project, an online community dedicated to creating, sharing, and amplifying disability media and culture. Alice is the editor of Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century, an anthology of essays by disabled people and Disability Visibility: 17 First-Person Stories for Today, an adapted version for young adults. Her debut memoir, Year of the Tiger: An Activist’s Life, is available now from Vintage Books. Disability Intimacy, her next anthology, will be out in 2024. Twitter: @SFdirewolf.