Deaf Burundian refugee Isidore Niyongabo now co-chair of FCC Disability Advisory Committee


Isidore Niyongabo was appointed as the co-chair for the FCC’s Disability Advisory Committee. He represents the National Black Deaf Advocates. 

The DAC has multiple Deaf people on the committee representing various organizations. 

[Image of FCC’s DAC at a meeting] 

Niyongabo posted on his Facebook wall emphasizing he went from being a Deaf Burundian refugee to being the co-chair. 

[Facebook post: “From Burundian Deaf Refugee to Co-Chairman of the United States Federal Communications Commission’s Disability Advisory Committee. In many case, your passion to serve is your road map to success. Humbled and honored to be able to serve at this level while representing National Black Deaf Advocates and all people with disabilities. I’m grateful to everyone who paved the path for our accessibility and look forward to paying it forward. I am also grateful to work for @convo , a company that give me opportunity to thrive in serving my community on many levels.”

Alex: The Daily Moth had an interview with him. 

ALEX: Hello, Isidore (signs name).

NIYONGABO: Hello, Alex. Nice to reconnect with you.

ALEX: That committee has many members and many of them are deaf along with some hearing. Can you explain who these people on the committee are and what they represent?

NIYONGABO: Okay. We have a pretty good number…over 30 organizations and their representatives. Each, some members are interns from companies like Video Relay Service (VRS) providers, Real Time Texting (RTT), companies that provide captions, Deaf organizations and DeafBlind organizations.

Some of them were from Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile. All of these people have backgrounds mostly in disability communication technology accessibility groups. Diverse group of people.

ALEX: I saw your post on Facebook where you said you were a Deaf refugee fleeing Burundi and now, you’re a co-chairperson on a U.S. federal level committee. What has that journey been like, what has it meant to you and also to other refugees worldwide?

NIYONGABO: As I said in my post, it is true, that sometimes, in many situations, the individual passion to serve can become your best opportunity to be successful in life. Envisioning myself as a Deaf refugee from Burundi, I grew up on a farm where there’s no electricity, no internet and absolutely no technology of any kind including mobile phones, and after I moved here to America, now I have access to countless technology because of people here who believe in equal access for people with disabilities. It started with people who fought to implement the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). That gave us opportunities as individuals. You don’t have to be American-born nor be an U.S. citizen. It really feels like…throughout my education, opportunities and journey, I now have that level of access and that means I owe them a really big debt. I want to take on that responsibility to carry on that legacy. Fortunately, for all refugees… it is important to find a company like Convo for example, they are fully supportive of individual employees to continue to put their hearts into serving their communities. That’s where opportunities rise, and for my nonprofit, IDEAL. 

What I learn throughout my experiences, I bring it to the federal level where I can be a part of an opportunity to facilitate between companies who have an interest in profits with those who are users, the consumers who have rights and privileges. We bring them together working on proposals that we present to the federal level where it becomes law. Really, I look forward to continuing our work on that level which will impact people like me. Once, I had nothing and now I have that kind of access.

ALEX: That’s a big step indeed and an inspiration to others, for sure. You represent…

NIYONGABO: Thank you, thank you.

ALEX:…you represent the National Black Deaf Advocates (NBDA), how does that representation influence your position within FCC?

NIYONGABO: Okay. Really, here’s the point, looking back, I’m really thankful to NBDA member, Kari Cooke. She’s was the first member on the Disability Advisory Committee during the first term. Then it was my turn, she asked me to be involved and continue her work. I was a part of the second term and am now on the third term. Keep in mind, I was picked by the previous NBDA administration.

I was willing and comfortable with continuing this work. How does that influence my role? Really, it’s not much of a change. I still was selected as co-chair and still represent the National Black Deaf Advocates, but now as a co-chair, it means my responsibilities has increased. I have to keep in mind that I represent all people with disabilities. That means I have to maintain a balance for company interests and consumers in order to make sure we develop and propose the right law that will make eventual impact on everyone. It’s not just on the national level, but has a global impact because many countries love to copy the U.S.’ leadership.

ALEX: Understood. Do you have anything else you want to add? More comments or more thoughts?

NIYONGABO: Really, I want to encourage people and consumers using any communication technology to be more involved and send comments to FCC if you have any ideas or facing issues. Send, send, send them to us. We have a team that will take emails and filter through them. However, right now, we can’t just bring those comments to the FCC. They have priorities that they need to work on then they’ll pick the top priorities and give them to us to address and create proposals in the future.

The priority of different issues depends on what you bring to the table through the FCC so that we can better advocate for your needs and rights.

ALEX: That’s all the questions I wanted to ask. Thank you very much for representing all these groups on this level at FCC.

NIYONGABO: Thank you, Alex. I appreciate your commitment to making sure the community is included in our work.

Alex: Nice! Thank you for your time. For more information about the DAC and to watch a video of the FCC meeting, the link is in the transcript. 

I did an interview with Niyongabo several months ago about his life journey. The link is in the transcript. 

FCC DAC Information:

FB Post:

Video of DAC Meeting on April 10:

Moth Previous Interview: