recent posts


Congratulations to this year’s Minnesota Hands & Voices (MNH&V) High Five Award recipients, from the metro area; Diana Chabot and Kitri Larson Kyllo, and from greater Minnesota, Pete Billodeau. The MNH&V High Five Award recipients were nominated by families or care providers of children who are deaf or hard of hearing (dhh).

The MNH&V community would like to thank all of the award nominees and winners for their dedicated service. The MNH&V High Five Award was created as a way for parents to publicly recognize individuals who have gone above and beyond on behalf of children who are dhh. Past recipients represent a diverse group of parents, teachers, students, interpreters, providers, advocates, volunteers, and role models.

Nominations for next year’s 2019 MNH&V High Five Award will be accepted from May 1st to July 1st, 2019. To nominate someone simply write a 200 word or less explanation of 1) what the nominee has done above and beyond what is typical for their role and 2) how this individual has made an impact on a child and/or the community. At least one specific example is very helpful. Email your nomination to and include in the subject line “High Five Award”. Please submit only one nomination per family per year. MNH&V High Five Award submissions information can be found at


Diana Chabot

Pearl Devenow nominated Diana Chabot for the MNH&V High Five Award in appreciation of Diana’s passion in working with and supporting individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing (dhh). Some years ago Diana participated in an interpreter training program in order to become more involved with individuals who are dhh and the Deaf community.

About six years ago, after noticing Pearl’s son, Gabe, who is profoundly deaf with additional disabilities, Diana introduced herself and over the years has continued to build a relationship with Gabe.

“Since their initial meeting, Diana has been a part of my son’s life. Their acquaintance has led to a deep and abiding friendship that has made a significant difference my son’s life,” said Pearl.

Diana voluntarily interprets at events for Gabe, meets with him weekly for recreational activities, and helps him meet other individuals who are dhh or who know American Sign Language (ASL). Diana is involved and active in Gabe’s life, as well as a number of other individuals who are dhh in the area. Not only is this amazing on its own, but Diana herself is a young woman with a disability that can cause anxiety in new situations. Despite this challenge, Diana puts herself out there time and time again for the sake of others.

“I would award Diana a High Ten Award if one exists, because one hand is not nearly enough credit for all that she does,” added Pearl.


Kitri Larson Kyllo

Stephen Stadelman, father of a teenage son who is deaf, nominated Kitri Larson Kyllo for the MNH&V High Five Award to show his gratitude for all she has meant to his family. Kitri retired a year ago after forty-plus years in education for students who are dhh.

“During her career in education she has had a huge positive impact in our lives,” said Stephen, “As well as the lives of countless other students and families.”

As Assistant Director of ISD 917 Deaf/Hard of Hearing Program, Kitri was the driving force in developing a unique program using both ASL and English through Cued Speech for students who are dhh. Kitri’s leadership was evident in the exceptional way the ISD 917 staff, consisting of over 70 people, carried out and embrace the program’s mission of achieving English literacy and embracing ASL.

Year after year in the program, even if IEP team members changed, the Stadelman family could rely on ISD 917 staff to be exceptional and professional. Kitri’s attention to details and consistent delivery of services provided them with an educational team who were well informed, uniformly trained, and creative in their approach to provide their son with an education that was best for him.

“We credit Kitri’s leadership and her commitment to this program model and to her staff for our son’s ability to succeed academically and for his love of both English and ASL,” added Stephen.

While Kitri had her eye on leading the ISD 917 program, she still made personal connections with families. Kitri actually knows the  families in the program. Within the first week after the family contacted ISD 917,  Kitri had set up in-home services, enrolled the family in Cued Speech classes, and told them about an amazing organization called MNH&V and other networking opportunities. From the beginning she worked closely with the family to meet their son’s communication needs both at school and at home.

“My wife often says the community at ISD 917 has been like a warm blanket of support and we credit Kitri for leading by example,” added Stephen.

Over the years Kitri has tirelessly written articles, presented at conferences, offered workshops, and spent time one-on-one with educators and families to share her knowledge, and experience. She has volunteered her time and served on boards for many organizations that support families and students who are dhh.

“There is a long list of Kitri’s contributions and accomplishments that I am likely forgetting to include,” Stephen said, “But it is Kitri’s individual attention to our son and to every student she has had over the years that is truly exceptional. We will be forever grateful to Kitri for always having our son’s best interest at heart.”


Pete Billodeau

Katie Schur nominated Pete Billodeau from Detroit Lakes for the MNH&V High Five Award for all he does for the community and for individuals who are dhh, even the youngest amongst them, and their families.

“He will probably hate the fact that I’m nominating him,” remarked Katie, “But he deserves some recognition.”

Katie Schur first met Pete a little over two years ago in February of 2017, when her daughter, Jillian, was born and first identified as dhh.

“Pete took to ‘Jilly’ immediately,” said Katie. When the family was unsuccessful in finding ASL classes in their area, Pete, who is a certified ASL Interpreter and co-owns Certified Interpreting and Consulting (CIC) in Fergus Falls, MN, set up a community education class and has continued to give up his time every Monday night to teach ASL to anyone who is interested.

At the church where Katie’s family attends services, Pete will often step in to assist members who are deaf and fluent in ASL communicate with non-ASL members. Pete and his wife Lori also have organized a monthly family friendly Deaf community event at the church. The event is a great opportunity for individuals who are dhh and families with a child who is dhh to get together and interact over a shared meal.

“I have contacted Pete several times over the past two years with questions and concerns about Jillian, and he never hesitates to offer advice and a listening ear,” said Katie. “Pete’s friendship and obvious love for my daughter has been a very important support for me in a time I truly needed it!”

Babies are born with a unique set of characteristics, yet blissfully oblivious to any characteristics that may stand out. They are resilient and adaptable as they experience their environment. Babies who are identified as deaf or hard of hearing (dhh) readily accept what they can hear or cannot hear as their normal experience. Their needs are simply to feel comfortable, be fed, and to be loved. They don’t know what they don’t know.

“My son was born ‘perfect’,” a MNH&V mother quipped about her son who is deaf. “It was our big idea to add sound to his world.”

For many parents it is usually unexpected to learn their child is dhh. Statistically over 90% of children who are dhh have parents with typical hearing. After their initial reaction to the news that their child is dhh parents begin to put together what it means to raise a child who is dhh. It means a higher level of responsibility for parents to make a myriad of decisions on their child’s behalf. How will their child best access language? No matter what form or shape language is administered to your child who is dhh the key is access, access, access.

“Infants’ brains are wired for language that is accessible to them through either visual (signs) or auditory (spoken) modalities,” writes Marilyn Sass-Lehrer, Gallaudet University, in the Oxford University Press Journal. “The achievement of language milestones in either sign language or spoken language is crucial to the overall development of the child.”

Research shows the optimal language learning years are from birth to age 5 years. Communication is made up of two important parts, receptive and expressive. In the first few years children often understand the language they have access to or “received” long before they begin to use language expressively. For children with typical hearing 90% of what they know is overheard, 10% is taught. Overhearing spoken language can be greatly diminished or nonexistent for children who are dhh. Families, along with the Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP) team and dhh educators, are essential partners in providing access to language. For children who are dhh communication can take longer to establish and it is heavily reliant on how much access to language they have experienced. The challenges for the family and the team are to develop a workable plan and, as it is said, “don’t give up before the miracle happens”.

“Input, input, input, my job is to ‘feed’ my littlest students as much language as possible in a language-rich environment; its not until years later sometime in grade school, when the magic happens,” said an early childhood DHH educator referring to a child’s expressive language skills. “I don’t always get to see it happen, but I know it will.”

Do not underestimate what your infant or child who is dhh can see or hear or feel. Language access of any kind can never start too soon or be too much. The question of how much sound access does an infant who is dhh really have cannot easily be answered and it varies from child to child. Understanding your child’s audiogram is important, but nothing can truly simulate for parents the sounds of speech that are available to your child even with amplification. Plus, many other factors can affect language access, from distractions and interest level to overall health and environmental noise. There are a lot of unknowns, but one thing is for sure: your child who is dhh is ready to access language.

Start today! Try the ideas professionals on your IFSP team have suggested and do everything you can to make language accessible at home and wherever your child is. Dance, play, read, explore, work, celebrate, and learn together what will bridge your child’s language learning.