08-13-2012, 08:46 AM
Join Date: Jun 2006
Professor was champion for the deaf
Professor was champion for the deaf
EDMONTON - When Michael Rodda, a psychologist and former university professor, emerged from a coma after he was hit by a car last fall, he wanted to get right back to work supporting the organizations he loved.
The longtime advocate for the deaf and hard of hearing — who later developed hearing loss himself — was one of three directors with Bridges Psychological and Rehabilitation Support Services and was busy working on a Knights of Columbus fundraising campaign to send wheelchairs overseas.
“He was in a coma for about six weeks and then he came out, and I’ll tell you it was amazing how robust he was,” said Richard Rajotte, who met Rodda through the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic service organization. “He never, ever complained. He just carried on. He was itching to get out of bed and was on the phone getting things done.”
Shortly after he got out of the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital, Rodda secured an anonymous donation of $28,500 for the wheelchair fundraiser, Rajotte said.
Rodda was making a promising recovery after the hit-and-run outside his southeast Edmonton home in October. Then he was diagnosed with cancer several months ago. Rodda died July 27 at age 74.
“It’s so sad that his life had to end this way,” said Rodda’s 56 year-old wife, Connie Rodda. “There are still a lot of things that he wanted to do, lots of projects he was working on. He was a very special person.”
Rodda was also a loving dad to his five children, sons, Stephen and Phillip, daughters Susan and Ann, and stepdaughter Ariaane, she said.
The son of a coal miner, Rodda was born in England in 1937 to a family that emphasized education, said Susanne Martin, who worked as a director with Rodda at Bridges, a non-profit organization that specializes in working with people who are deaf and hard of hearing.
One of Rodda’s relatives in England had significant hearing loss, which might have inspired Rodda’s work, Martin said. Later in life, Rodda lost much of his own hearing, she said.
Rodda trained in England as a psychologist, became a fellow with the British Psychological Society and moved to Canada around 1980. As a professor at the University of Alberta, he launched an intensive program to educate teachers, administrators and rehabilitation practitioners about how to teach deaf and hard-of-hearing children. He later taught at MacEwan University.
Rodda founded the Western Canadian Centre for Studies in Deafness in 1984. He helped found the Canada Ukraine Alliance for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in 2001, a non-profit organization that helped make massive changes to deaf education in Ukraine.
The father of five children enjoyed flowers and nature and loved to sing, taking piano lessons when he retired, Martin said. He often worked for free for people who couldn’t afford his services, Martin said.
Rodda, the author of several books and dozens of articles, was a tireless worker and a talented organizer who encouraged other people to contribute to projects, Martin said.
“One of the things he did very well was to involve other people. He didn’t go out there and try to do things all by himself,” she said. “He had contacts everywhere.”
Rodda encouraged hard-of-hearing and deaf people to work together on common goals such as equality and accessibility, said Linda Cundy, secretary with the Alberta Association of the Deaf. He made sure deaf people represented themselves in various groups such as the Premier’s Council on Persons with Disabilities.
“He technically gave us the voice that has not been heard ... for centuries,” Cundy, who is deaf, wrote in an email to the Journal. “He knew how hard it is for deaf people to share their insights and perspectives without the benefit of ASL (American Sign Language) interpreters. He single-handedly emphasized the importance of ASL interpreters and real-time captioning in the board meetings so that deaf and hard-of-hearing people could fully participate as equal board members.”
During the 1980s, Rodda brought in people who were deaf or hard of hearing to work with him on advisory boards and at the University of Alberta. He also encouraged them to study at the U of A, where he mentored many successful deaf graduates, said Cundy, who served alongside Rodda on many boards.
A $1,250 scholarship in Rodda’s name is awarded each year to deaf U of A students.
“His humility and the significance of his behind-the-scene efforts will be sorely missed,” Cundy said. “Long back in his early days, his belief in deaf people’s ability to lead their own lives is without equal, since most professionals in the field of education of the deaf thought otherwise.”
Rodda’s legacy extends across Canada and internationally, Roger Carver, the executive director of Saskatchewan Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services in Saskatoon, said at Rodda’s funeral.
“Mike, bless his heart, tried so hard to communicate with me in sign, but he was so tongue-tied — no, make that finger-tied — that it was hard to make heads or tails of what he was trying to say,” Carver, who is deaf, said in a copy of the speech sent to the Journal. “Mike was humble to the point of self-deprecation and often good-naturedly accepted ribbing and jibes about his signing skills.