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Fresno State's Silent Garden Lecture Focuses on Families of Deaf Latino Children
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By News
Published 2 months ago on
February 16, 2024

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Dr. Omar Ruiz will share his personal journey from losing his hearing as a child to becoming a college professor during the 12th annual Silent Garden Lecture.

Ruiz will also moderate panel discussions with Latino parents and siblings.

Silent Garden fosters understanding and awareness for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community.


Omar Ruiz was only 5 years old when his world became silent. Raised in Ensenada, Mexico, life before then was carefree for Ruiz – the curious son of a widowed father. Days were spent playing his favorite sports and activities until the unimaginable happened.

While sick and home from school, and while his father was at work, Ruiz grabbed a bottle from a cabinet, thinking it was medicine. He took one pill and the next thing he recalls was waking up in a hospital bed with an oxygen mask and wires connected to his body. He could see his father and brother speaking to him, but he could not hear anything they were saying.

It turns out the chemicals in the pill Ruiz took caused nerve damage so severe it caused him to lose his ability to hear.

“I am often asked, if given the chance, would I become hearing again,” Ruiz said. “I tell them no. This is who I am. I am fulfilled and happy with my life.”

Ruiz will share his personal journey – from his sudden deaf diagnosis, to earning a doctorate in education at Fresno State and becoming a college professor – during the 12th annual Silent Garden Lecture, “Building a Bridge to my deaf Child’s Success; Vamos, sí se Puede!” from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 24, at the Lynda and Stewart Resnick Student Union at Fresno State.

Registration is free and open to the public. Continuing education units through the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, the Board for Evaluation of Interpreters and the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association or Fresno State are $35. Free parking is available in lots P30 and P31.

Keynote Speakers

Ruiz will join other keynote speakers in sharing resources, insights, and personal experiences. Presentations include:

  • Omar Ruiz, American Sign Language professor at Clovis Community College, presenting “My Road to Success / Aun Se Puede! Mi Camino Al Éxito!”
  • Mark Apodaca, director of finance and chief procurement officer at the New Mexico School for the Deaf, presenting “Parenting in Multicultural Families / La Crianza de los Hijos en Familias Multiculturales.”
  • Evelyn Pena, advocate for the deaf and hard of hearing, presenting “Siblings: The Unbreakable Bond / Hermanos: El Vínculo Inquebrantable.”
Dr. Omar Ruiz

Ruiz will also moderate a series of panel discussions with both Latino parents and siblings, as well as Latino adults who have achieved success in their respective careers. This year’s lecture is personal for Ruiz, who also served as co-chair of the planning committee alongside Silent Garden founder Dr. Paul Ogden. A three-time alumnus of Fresno State, Ruiz earned his doctorate in educational leadership, master’s in multilingual multicultural education and bachelor’s in sociology.

The lecture is part of an endowment by the Silent Garden, a program within the College of Health and Human Services at Fresno State that fosters opportunity, understanding and awareness for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community. This year’s lecture is made possible by the Robert R. and Donna E. Davila Endowment in the Silent Garden, which supports Spanish-language programming.

Shared Experience

Having grown up in a predominantly Spanish-speaking home, Ruiz knows firsthand the difficulties families face when seeking support for their deaf and hard-of-hearing children. He recalls having very few resources growing up and being forced to adapt to a world that did not accommodate his disability, from having to lip read to taking extra classes in grade school and college just to keep up with his peers. In fact, before coming to Fresno State, Ruiz almost gave up on higher education.

“Navigating the educational system was a challenge,” Ruiz said. “When I moved to California and entered high school, I was the only deaf Latino kid. In college, I didn’t have an interpreter for most of my classes, which made it hard for me to learn and participate in discussions. It was at Fresno State that I realized the problem was not me all along. It was really the lack of accommodations and opportunities holding me back. The university gave me the resources to keep going in school, which led to achieving my doctorate in 2022.”

Ruiz is now a professor and coordinator of the American Sign Language program at Clovis Community College. He hopes to inspire participants of this year’s lecture and provide them with the tools and support needed for their deaf child or student to thrive.

Lecture Presented in Spanish

The lecture will be presented entirely in Spanish with English interpretation transmitted via headsets for non-Spanish speakers, as well as in American Sign Language.

“By having this conference presented in Spanish, we want people to feel comfortable and to feel at home in this environment,” Ruiz said. “Too often, the deaf Latino community feels like there is no space for them, but we want them to know that Fresno State and our community values them.”

The endowment’s namesake, Dr. Robert R. Davila, contracted spinal meningitis at the age of 8, resulting in his deafness. The son of migrant workers in the San Joaquin Valley, Davila went on to have an esteemed career that included serving as president of Gallaudet University – the premier higher education institution in the U.S. for the deaf and hard of hearing. Prior to his presidency, he became the first deaf and Hispanic individual appointed by a U.S. sitting president to serve as the assistant secretary of education overseeing the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services.

The endowment will allow the Silent Garden to offer a Spanish-language conference every few years, bringing together world-class presenters representing a variety of experiences in raising and educating Hispanic children who have hearing loss.

“Dr. Davila has been among the most consummate, passionate, caring supporters of our Silent Garden program since it was founded 15 years ago,” Ogden said. “His presence and enthusiasm is evident with this generous endowment, which will allow us to continue supporting and uplifting Spanish-speaking families with deaf and hard of hearing children for years to come, and hopefully they will be inspired to pursue the path Dr. Davila took to becoming a successful role model and leader in the deaf Latino community.”

For more information or to register for the lecture, visit the Silent Garden website.

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