Season 02, Episode 16
Co-Hosts: Nadine Vogel & Norma Stanley
Guest: Dona Harris

Intro: [Music playing in background] Disabled Lives Matter… here we go!

Voiceover: Hello and welcome to this week’s episode of the disabled lives matter podcast. Let’s welcome co-hosts Nadine Vogel and Norma Stanley.

Nadine Vogel: Hello everyone, this is nadine vogel one of your host of disabled lives matter we are a podcast but actually we are more than a podcast we are a movement and, as always, I am joined by my fabulous co host norma stanley hey norma.

Norma: How are you.

Nadine Vogel: Good norma I know you and I have been waiting for this interview to talk with Dona Harris.

Nadine Vogel: Dona Harris has done a lot of things, but, most recently, she has founded a business and she’s the CEO and executive director.

Nadine Vogel: of an organization called.

Nadine Vogel: Great day Family Connections hi Donna, how are you.

Dona Harris: i’m great nadine, how are you.

Nadine Vogel: I am good i’m even better because we’re talking now today so, can you tell us a little bit about Great Day Family Connections.

Dona Harris: Well, I call it Great Day Family Connections, a family enrichment program and it took me a long time to even get to that.

Dona Harris: But basically it’s because as families, I think we’ve lost the ability to communicate and we’re taking we have taken the ability for parents to be those first teachers out of their hands and as well as stop them from.

Dona Harris: what’s the word i’m looking for for taking leadership, you know there’s so much history that that parents aren’t sharing with the children anymore.

Dona Harris: And values and morals and how to communicate, you know how to take care of their own personal finances and things like that that we’ve left up to the school systems and we left up to community at large.

Dona Harris: And I call it, this bring it back to the household you know that time and I will sit around my grandmother’s kitchen table with my mother and my cousins and we’d have these family discussions that you just don’t see or hear about anymore.

Nadine Vogel: Right right well you know it’s interesting that you say that because norma and I both are special needs moms.

Nadine Vogel: And you know we’ve had conversations that you know, especially when our girls were younger they’re adults now, but when they were younger.

Nadine Vogel: How we would you know, in the school systems or to the doctors say we are the experts on our children right ready listen to us, so I really excited to hear about the organization so.

Nadine Vogel: You know, tell me a little bit more tell listeners a little bit more about what was behind it, what obviously this didn’t just happen overnight you woke up one morning and said wow this is needed.

Nadine Vogel: Was that what was that genesis to get there .

Dona Harris: Oh it’s an interesting journey.

Dona Harris: So I always remember my family time and, two, three things in my family and my life that I keep.

Dona Harris: is one that my mother used to get on the floor and play Jacks with us, I have a sister.

Dona Harris: And my mother told us how to play Jacks so I always remember sitting on the floor to playing jacks and my father taught us how to ride a bike and how to play cards and so playing cards, we were supposed to be learning numbers because we played poker we played.


Dona Harris: Um you know you name it, there was a card game that we played it so we also played um and then I remember one time it was raining and every Memorial Day, we would go out to flushing meadow park i’m from New York so we’d go out to flushing meadow park.

Nadine Vogel: Me too and I used to go to flushing meadow park.

Dona Harris: All right and you’re how you would ride the surrey bikes right.

Nadine Vogel: Yep, yep.

Dona Harris: And so. And we would always get the.

Dona Harris: surrey and my parents and it was just such a great time and my cousins would come well one particular time, it was pouring.

Dona Harris: And, of course, you know as a kid you’re.

Dona Harris: disappointed. so my mother took a blanket and put it out on the living room floor and we had a picnic and she turned the shower on and put us in a bathing suit.

Dona Harris: And would run back and forth, you know, like we were in a sprinkler.

Dona Harris: And I just remember that and I just remember how much fun that was so over the years when I you know went to school and graduated and you know blah blah and.

Dona Harris: I remember, working with women who were substance abusers and I was working at grady memorial hospital here in Georgia and that’s when it was called grady memorial hospital.

Dona Harris: But I had to work with women who were pregnant substance abusers and I worked with them postpartum so after they had their baby.

Dona Harris: And I worked out of the neonatal unit because i’m a social worker so i’ve worked out of the neonatal unit, and I did parenting programs.

Dona Harris: And now, in New York, I used to work with foster care and adoption, so the irony right, so here.

Dona Harris: I was in foster care and adoption, when I was in New York and i’m training foster parents and everybody, and now I moved to Georgia.

Dona Harris: And i’m working with women who have substance abusers and those are usually the ones that you’re taking the babies from. right.

Dona Harris: But the goal was for them to get well enough that their babies can go home.

Nadine Vogel: right.

Dona Harris: And so that was a whole different mindset and then I realized I did a one of my trainings was on playing and I asked them I said, what are the things that you like to play when you were growing up, and they didn’t.

Norma: They didn’t have any memories.

Dona Harris: If you didn’t know how if you don’t know how to play how you’re going to teach your children how to play.

Dona Harris: Right, and so we set a date and the next time I went and we played and we taught them how to jump double Dutch we play Jacks I bought in bat and balls I bought in all of my favorite things that I like to do when I was a kid.

Dona Harris: and as an adult but I did all of those things that when I realized that you have adults who don’t know how to play.

Dona Harris: Then you have children who don’t know how to play and I think what happens is that so many people think oh you just go out and play, but there’s so many social skills involved in that.

Dona Harris: You know you learn turn taking you learn patience you learn teamwork, you know there’s so many things involved in that kids miss and so fast forward I ended up working at the school for the Deaf the Atlanta area school for the Deaf.

Dona Harris: Loved where I love parents I love working with parents, because if you can change the way a parent perceives.

Dona Harris: Their household that’s going to help that child, so I never really sat down and counsel with the kids because i’m like well about to put them back in the same environment what difference does it make.

Norma: Right.

Nadine Vogel: Right right.

Dona Harris: So I worked with the parents and realizing that over 90% of them don’t communicate with their children or don’t know how to communicate with their children or communicate with their children minimally.

Dona Harris: And because they haven’t learned sign language or you know, some of them have would they would do home signs.

Dona Harris: Which is fine if that’s your mode of communication, but how do you sit down and talk with your deaf child the same way, you talk with your hearing child and so now.

Nadine Vogel: Right.

Dona Harris:  you have to ask yourself. who’s teaching.

Dona Harris: Your def child, you know your values and your morals and I would have parents called me up and say you know someone’s on my family died, can you talk to them about death.

Nadine Vogel: Wow.

Dona Harris: Well my idea of death may be different from your idea death, you know or my idea of um when they should start dating may be different from your idea and so helping them have those conversations and I have a very dear friend.

Dona Harris: and her name is Kinga and she has organization called great day and we’ve been friends forever and she is a counselor.

Dona Harris: And we’re used to always talk about how i’m like you do this Counseling, but you really need to have a family component and we talked about it for years, and so she says to me well, you need to open it up and i’m like you know what I am I am I am you know you put it off put it off.

Dona Harris: So she went for my business license and she named my program and so that’s how it became great day family connections and.

Norma: You combined your your expertise and your passions.

Dona Harris: Right.

Norma: Nice.

Nadine Vogel: yeah that’s that’s great I mean the whole the whole concept of language, accessibility and communication, I mean you’re right, you know when you have someone else communicate on your behalf, how do you know what they’re conveying.

Dona Harris: Right.

Nadine Vogel: And how do you know that it’s it’s what your bel. like you said, your belief system your spirituality your everything.

Dona Harris: Right.

Nadine Vogel: I mean norma I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine someone doing that, with my child.

Norma: Right. exactly.

Norma: And you know just observing.

Norma: You know, sometimes when their children around other people you know, there may be things that you say that they’ve conveyed that wouldn’t necessarily be something that you would do it, you wouldn’t do it that way.

Norma: No, no, I think it’s important to for the kids understand where the hearing impaired or not.

Norma: How they can communicate with their parents and get what they need to get.

Dona Harris: Right.

Norma: Even if even if they’re non verbals.

Dona Harris: Right, and I think one of the problems that happened with parents is they don’t have that opportunity to grieve.

Nadine Vogel: Right right.

Dona Harris: um and that’s another thing that I address in my program is having that opportunity to grieve to know that no your child is different, but different, is not, different is not bad because we’re all different.

Dona Harris: Right.

Norma: yes.

Dona Harris: We all and and I tend to not use the word disability.

Dona Harris: That much because you know, as I say, we’re all disabled in something.

Dona Harris: You know.

Nadine Vogel: right, right.

Dona Harris: so whereas you may say, well you’re hearing and you can talk, but I can’t sign, I can but i’m just saying you know you know.

Dona Harris: and that’s a skill that’s a learned skill and so to look at what the child brings to the table and I don’t just focus on deaf children because they have siblings and I think is too often that we and i’m gonna use the words segregate.

Nadine Vogel: Our families.

Dona Harris: You know, deaf child goes here in child goes here, and you know.

Dona Harris: But no, this is about coming together and learning together and learning your history learning about literacy, whether it’s books or financial literacy learning.

Dona Harris: about your health and health history things that we don’t we no longer have conversations about so that’s what the program and this program is called legacy and that’s what is, you know that we do building our legacies and see where are legacies are going to go.

Nadine Vogel: Well you know what’s interesting Dona is my older daughter when she was a baby she was unable to communicate verbally.

Nadine Vogel: And she’s not deaf and doesn’t have hearing loss, but as a result of her disability had trouble with that.

Nadine Vogel: And so they taught her signs basic signs that she could do, and they taught us, the signs because we couldn’t communicate she was you could see how frustrated she was getting.

Dona Harris: right.

Nadine Vogel: But then what happened was she was learning the signs quicker than we were.

Dona Harris: yes, yes.

Nadine Vogel: Then we had frustration all over again, because now she was communicating but in a way we couldn’t completely always understand.

Nadine Vogel: So it’s an interesting balance that you know you talk about in terms of really working with the parents, I think that that’s that’s so important, and you actually have a program I believe called hands up.

Dona Harris: Yes, yes So yes, I do see sign language classes and I have various levels of sign language classes and, recently, someone had asked me about doing one, for children so i’m thinking about doing like a summer camp.

Nadine Vogel: wow.

Dona Harris: And I think it’s important, especially when you have siblings that the siblings learn how to how to communicate.

Nadine Vogel: yes, yes absolutely.

Dona Harris: Well, I don’t want siblings to become the interpreter for the child I don’t think that’s appropriate.

Dona Harris: But I do definitely want parents to learn how to communicate and I want people in the Community, because the more people that communicate.

Dona Harris: Even if you just learn basic it open so much door so many more doorways for that child, you know, to know that hey I have a sensibility and it’s okay.

Dona Harris: You know that people still want me to be engaged because there’s so many really great programs out there, that are not available to children who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Norma:  Yes.

Nadine Vogel: You know what’s interesting, intersting that you bring that up but norma I know you have some questions.

Nadine Vogel: We have to run quickly to commercial break as soon as we come back why don’t norma I’ll turn it back over to you and you just bring us back and start with some questions so Dona hang on to our listeners, we will be right back with Dona Harris stay tuned.

Voiceover:  And now it’s time for a commercial break.

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Voiceover:  And now back to our show.

Nadine Vogel: Hello everyone, this is nadine vogel and joined by my co host norma stanley and we are interviewing Dona Harris today and talking about her amazing organization, the great day family connections norma i’m going to turn it over to you.

Norma: Well, I just had a couple of questions because i’m and I think because of.

Norma: Dona at an event that we were together that she kind of enlightened me and there was a there was a couple of things that I wanted to share about that.

Norma: there’s a difference between American sign language and typical sign language, could you explain it and then the question is, you know, have you had an opportunity to interact with the Sign1News organization and it’s something that you might.

Norma: be interested in because they actually communicate the news via for deaf deaf and hard of hearing people and they have the interpreters as well as the signers and all of that and it’s connected to CNN and that’s something that you’ve ever looked into.

Dona Harris: Okay, so I may answer your first question. Okay.

Dona Harris: So so American sign language is different from what I teach okay so it’s basically an asl it has its own format and its own syntax.

Dona Harris: I teach what what.

Dona Harris: It has various names, but one of them is pigeon okay so basically or Conceptually Accurate Signed English is more typical and I do that because I feel it’s easier for families to learn.

Norma: um hmm.

Nadine Vogel: Right.

Dona Harris: than to learn asl. so you can’t talk and sign if you’re doing an asl and it’s very difficult to write you really it’s not a written language, it is a signed language.

Dona Harris: I teach C-A-S-E because.

Dona Harris: I can talk and sign at the same time, eventhough you shouldn’t but it gives it helps children to learn sentence structure.

Dona Harris: And I think that’s important that they learn how to write well.

Dona Harris: And how to put things in a format, but it’s called Conceptually. Accurate Signed English because.

Dona Harris: If I was going to sign my nose is running, it will be different, the way I was signed it in asl vs I was signing because such in in what they will call S-E-E. Signing Exact English because in Signing Exactt English to sign for run is like a person running and our nose runs more like a faucet.


Dona Harris: Right.  Well at least conceptually more than it does as a person running and so.

Dona Harris: that’s why I say I teach Conceptually Accuracy Signed English because I want families to feel more comfortable instead of saying okay now did I put this in the right order is this, you know just think about whether or not they can visualize what you’re saying.

Norma. Right.

Dona Harris: That’s a lot easier and so that’s what I teach.

Dona Harris: I do not proclaim that I teach asl because I don’t okay.

Dona Harris: To answer your other question.

Dona Harris: I know of Sign1News, and when I was working at the school, I had the you know the opportunity to meet them when they were just beginning.

Dona Harris: I have not had an opportunity to speak with them, or have any type of interchange with them, but I definitely promote it and I definitely encourage it, you know because I think it’s wonderful that there is that service that’s out there, you know and for anybody who’s interested in i’m sorry.

Nadine Vogel: No. Go ahead.

Dona Harris: No, I was just gonna say, and I think it’s great because it not only did they give you information on what’s going on in the deaf Community whatever, but for the Deaf Community to be able to know what’s going on in the Community in their own language.

Dona Harris: You know.

Nadine Vogel: And I, and I want to take that a step.

Nadine Vogel: Further, though, going back to what you said earlier Dona it’s not even it’s even bigger than that it’s then those siblings.

Nadine Vogel: and family members.

Nadine Vogel: Right, who now can watch the news and engage participate with their siblings who are deaf or hard of hearing or have hearing loss.

Nadine Vogel: and actually do so in a very inclusive way, I also think that by doing that and doing what you’re doing it, it does educate it educates the general public about inclusive.

Nadine Vogel: And, and we need more of that we need so much more of that in so many ways.

Nadine Vogel: Because what i’ve learned and norma, I think you and I have talked about this is that you know when the child is excluded when they’re in school and they’re excluded from activities and other things, the parents tend to be excluded as well.

Dona Harris: that’s true.

Norma: yes. and we don’t like that.

Nadine Vogel: No, no, no, no, not at all and so.

Nadine Vogel: What you’re doing is is bringing people together in a way that goes beyond language right it goes it goes beyond it’s really more about inclusive engagement and community, and I think that’s really what you’re trying to get out if I if i’m hearing correctly.

Dona Harris: No you’re absolutely right and and you know you you touched on, because you said you’re excluding the Community, but you exclude it in your own family.

Dona Harris: You know.

Nadine Vogel: Yes yes.

Dona Harris: You have a child who has a different ability, the family excludes you because they’re like.

Dona Harris: Okay, what do I do and I don’t know if I could take them with me or they may not take the other sibling or if the child is deaf, then you have one parent usually who learns how to sign, and so much the other parent.

Dona Harris: But what is that teaching that child, you know how do they evaluate how they feel valued, you know.

Nadine Vogel: right or not.

Dona Harris: Right and I have seen so many young children as they grow up because the school started at age three and it can stay until age 22 and i’ve had conversations once they hit teenagers, tells you how long I’ve worked there,  teenagers and they didn’t want to be engaged with the family anymore.

Norma: Wow.

Dona Harris: And then the family was upset but what pattern, did you set and not to say that you’re not loving, not to say that you’re not providing for them, or anything like that, but there is a picture in the deaf community that they’ll use a lot and it’s called Deaf Pet.

Dona Harris: So it’s like a picture of a child sitting on the floor looking at these adults.

Dona Harris: Having these conversations back and forth, you know, and I was saying, and not be trying to be disrespectful in any way, but if I call my cat my cat will come. and if I tell my cat to stop doing something they’ll stop doing something, but can I sit down, have a meaningful conversation.

Norma: Right.

Dona Harris: You know and that’s what you want, you want to be able to have meaningful conversations with your children, no matter what their ability is you know you want to be able to do that.

Dona Harris: And deafness is the one disability that you technically have to learn another language.

Dona Harris: Now of course science has bought about cochlear implants and things like that, then you know give abilities and then you have some.

Dona Harris: parents who teach the children to be oral which is cool I don’t say you have to use to have to do, that the only thing I have, I say you have to have a relationship with your child.

Dona Harris: You know you have to form that bond that they feel that they’re valued and loved and treasured that they’re just as important as anybody else in the household.

Nadine Vogel: Right and Dona i’m just gonna go back here, and you said about meaningful conversation with your cat if you figured that one out we can have a whole other interview.


Nadine Vogel: I just wanted to put that out there okay.

Dona Harris: But you think about it. I mean I don’t know how old is your daughter is.

Dona Harris: But I think I look back at my life with my parents, we had meaningful conversations until I became an adult.

Dona Harris: But until I moved out I didn’t realize.

Dona Harris: That all the things that my parents did for me wasn’t the norm right, you know it wasn’t the norm, and so, then I can remember calling my mother up when I was working at grady and saying oh I just need to let you know how much I really value all the things you and dad did for us.

Nadine Vogel: Right.

Dona Harris: You know, because when you hear the stories of other people.

Norma: Oh for sure.

Dona Harris: You know, and the things that they goes through, you know, I would have used drugs to you know.

Nadine Vogel: Right.


Dona Harris: But you don’t get that appreciation until after you’ve removed yourself and gone through some other you know life experience.

Nadine Vogel: Right right. no absolutely and you know and another thing you said too I want to come back to about you know, sign language truly being another language.

Nadine Vogel: It frustrates the dickens out of me and norma you and I have talked about this you know grades you know K-12 when it when they’re offering Spanish and Italian and German as a another language or even in many universities, why aren’t they offering sign language.

Dona Harris: Well now, they are.

Dona Harris: Now they are so now.

Nadine Vogel: Is it standard.

Dona Harris: Yes, yes, yes, now.

Dona Harris: Now.

Dona Harris: I won’t say that all the schools offer it i’m not going to say that.

Dona Harris: But it is viewed as a second as a foreign language.

Nadine Vogel:  Good.

Norma: Wow.

Dona Harris: Georgia state offers it I think Valdosta offers it and it may be, you know some other schools but yeah, it is viewed as a second language, yes.

Nadine Vogel: Well, it is about time.

Norma.  It is.

Nadine Vogel: It is really about time well, this has been wonderful i’m.

Nadine Vogel: You know it’s it’s interesting to me when I hear what you know the things that your organization does, let me ask you this, how do families know about you how did they come to learn about you, how can we have the help other families know about you talk just a little bit about that.

Dona Harris: Okay, so it’s like I said, this has been a journey.


Nadine Vogel: It always is.

Dona Harris: So yeah so my organization, I have finally found my place, so to speak.

Dona Harris: Okay, and so the legacy program will start in June.

Dona Harris: And we’re going to start off.

Dona Harris: Basically, with talks just lunchtime talks that I called home talk and it’s called Engage N Eat, and so we will start that on in June, and I think I have it for Thursday afternoon in June, because, like, I am a care provider, and so I had.

Dona Harris: A work around scheduling and things like that, so that i’m not impacting you know my father in any kind of way.

Dona Harris: right and then.

Dona Harris: The legacy program i’m hoping that will start that in the fall and that will be a 10 week program with activities.

Dona Harris: Based program so basically i’ve been doing word of mouth i’ve had you know i’ve worked with a lot of people and so i’ve done word of mouth and friends and things like that, as my program builds and then I have an event that i’ve done this would be my fourth year doing it’s called Silent Town.

Dona Harris: And I used to have it in March and I moved it to November, because November is national communication month.

Dona Harris: And people would think and I send it up just like have you a Community so even when we did it on zoom for the first year due to Covid. we set it up as a Community, and so you have stores, we have restaurants, we had a post office everything you can find in a community, the key to it is you can’t talk.

Dona Harris: So it didn’t matter if you knew sign language, because you couldn’t sign because supposedly no one else should know sign language so basically is to figure out how do you communicate to somebody else, how do you get to know. Other people.

Nadine Vogel: Nice.

Dona Harris: How do you find out know what their services are and people had a blast the biggest thing was getting vendors because i’m like well how am I going to talk, I can talk well you know.

Nadine Vogel: yeah.

Dona Harris: You know you’re going to write. you’ll put it in the chat when we had to go to zoom but that’s that’s my biggest event is Silent Town.

Nadine Vogel: So Dona just tell us, is there a website, or some way to get in touch with you.

Dona Harris: My website is or you can feel free to email me at

Dona Harris: um like I said we’re we’re changing some things we changing some of our logos were changing some of the activities we had on the website So I had to condense what I was doing too much.

Dona Harris: um what does a a mater of everything no how’s that go.

Nadine Vogel: Oh yeah.

Dona Harris: master of none.

Nadine Vogel: yeah exactly yeah.

Dona Harris: I can remember how exactly it goes, but yeah. 

Dona Harris: You can be all over the place, but not doing any one thing well.

Dona Harris: And I decided it is important for me to do less and do it.

Dona Harris: Well, so that what we’re going to do.

Nadine Vogel: Well, it sounds like you’re doing a lot a lot and doing it all well, so thank you so much for. all you do.

Dona Harris.  Thanks so much for this opportunity.

Nadine Vogel: And your organization, unfortunately, we are out of time, so I just wanted to have our listeners know that again this was Dona Harris and Great Day Family Connections, we look forward to talking with you again soon and norma once again another. great show.  another great show.

Norma: Yes, it was.

Nadine Vogel:  So for our listeners, we will see you on another episode of disabled lives matter see you soon.

Dona Harris:  Thank you.

Norma: Be blessed everybody.

Nadine Vogel: bye bye everybody.

Closing comment:  [Music playing in background.] Thank you for listening to this week’s episode of disabled lives matter. We look forward to seeing you next Thursday.  Have a great week!

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Originally published as S2-Ep16_Dona_Harris at Disabled Lives Matter

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