Gabriela Corbera

Development is a complicated field. It can often require one to travel abroad, work in local and international organizations, or advocate for human rights.

Kerry Thompson has had her fair of challenges. However, she has been able to ultimately thrive and excel in her career in development and disability rights. Why has Thompson been so successful? And what can we learn about her story?

Thompson’s story begins in Louisiana, outside a small town in New Orleans. Thompson grew up with Usher syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that causes deaf blindness. Growing up for Thompson was overcame many obstacles. Her ability to surpass difficult moments in her career is what today has allowed her to develop a very successful and thriving career.  She is an advocate, a fellow, serving as the Information and Program Coordinator of the Disability Rights Fund (from our 1/31/2015 blog post) as well as a fellow for the Marshall Memorial Fellowship.

Thompson is a graduate of both Louisiana State University and Harvard University. Majoring in English and Psychology for her undergrad, and Human Development for her graduate degree in Cambridge, Thompson was provided with great accommodations at both universities. However, this is not always the case. Her university accommodations included sign language interpreters, note takers, and CART (captioning in real time). These accommodations allowed her to move forward with her career and also brought her overseas.

Kerry’s experiences abroad
In 2000, through LSU, Thompson decided to study abroad. She studied in London, England in Goldsmith College. In 2005, Kerry also traveled to France, along with10 other deaf Americans. According to Thompson, “it’s good to know foreign languages,” and particularly sign language. She shared with us, she has knowledge in American Sign Language, Signed Exact English, French Sign Language and as well as some British, Colombian, and Ugandan Sign Language. When recalling her most defining experience abroad, she recalls her spring-break trips to Mexico where she worked at orphanages.

“That was my first experience with another country, and especially a developing country. All of the experiences I have mentioned have definitely been integral to helping me in my work at DRF,” she says. These experiences have given her respect for different culture and backgrounds, and “respect for different abilities in all part of society.”

Marshal Memorial Fellowship 2014
Most recently, Thompson has traveled to Serbia, Spain, Germany, and Belgium. Selected for the 2014 Marshall Memorial Fellowship. She is the first fellow to be deafblind since inception to be chosen. The fellowship has allowed her to be part of “transatlantic dialogue between the US and Europe.” Her role has been in connecting disability to local issues.

Aside from policy, Thompson has engaged in social enterprise, developing a program called Silent Rhythms as well as an application called Text 4 Deaf. These programs were made for deafblind communities to better engage in understanding music and feeling and bridging communication gaps. Text 4 Deaf was a communication tool to bridge the communications gap. “It was an opportunity for hearing people to send a text message from a computer to a deaf individual’s cell phone.”

As we can see, Kerry Thompson is really a “jill of all trades.” Her journey in international development is unique. From Louisiana to Boston, Thompson has a thrilling career ahead of her working daily at the Disability Rights Fund. Social entrepreneur, disability rights advocate, and Marshall Memorial Fellow. Kerry’s story is unique, inspiring, and truly goes to show that there are no barriers to development.