2018 Keynote Speakers

Innovation. Inspiration. Impact.

Dr. Dana Suskind is a pediatric physician, Professor of Surgery and Pediatrics, and the founder and director of the Thirty Million Words® Initiative. Dr. Suskind’s lectures stress the importance of early language exposure for developing children and draw on her own experiences with patients and neuroscience research.

Dr. Dana Suskind is a Professor of Surgery at the University of Chicago, Director of the Pediatric Cochlear Implant Program, and Founder and Director of the Thirty Million Words® Initiative, a program dedicated to harnessing the power of language to build a child’s brain and impact his or her future. Dr. Suskind is also the author of Thirty Million Words: Building a Child’s Brain, published in September 2015.

A well-known study by Betty Hart and Todd Risley in 1995 found some children heard thirty million fewer words by their fourth birthdays than others. The children who heard more words were better prepared when they entered school. These same children had bigger vocabularies, stronger reading skills, and higher test scores when they entered the next grade. Dr. Suskind learned of this thirty million word gap while she was working as a cochlear implant surgeon at the University of Chicago Medical Center. Intrigued and alarmed by the study, she began the Thirty Million Words® Initiative in response to this thirty million word gap and is actively working to close this ever-widening achievement gap.

In her book and keynote presentations, Dr. Suskind details the critical importance of early language exposure on a developing child’s brain and encourages parents to take an active role in this development. Drawing on her own experiences with patients and the compelling research on the neuroscience of brain plasticity, Dr. Suskind explains that the most important, and astoundingly simple, thing that one can do for a child’s future success in life is to talk to him or her.

Dr. Suskind and the Thirty Million Words® Initiative have been profiled by numerous media outlets, including the New York Times, NPR, The Economist, and Slate.com and they have received support from The Department of Education and The Hemera Foundation. She also received the University of Chicago Medical Faculty Award for “Distinguished Leader in Program Innovation”. Dr. Suskind lives in Chicago with her family.

Born with profound congenital sensory neural deafness, John attended both mainstream and state school for the deaf systems in the State of Washington. John is also former beneficiary of the public Vocational Rehabilitation system, attended Gallaudet University, and is a graduate of Seattle University in Public Administration and Human Resource Development.

John started his career as a Job Developer at a local community employment agency before embarking on a 31 year career of public service with the State of Washington. During that time he served as a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, Regional Business Relations Specialist, Statewide Affirmative Action Officer, Senior Statewide Human Resource Consultan, Statewide Reasonable Accommodation/ADA Program Manager, VR Unit Supervisor, and Statewide VR Program Administrator for Business Relations.

John comes uniquely positioned to offer his personal and professional insights into the dynamics of school-to-work transition, services offered by public vocational rehabilitation programs, community integration of people with disabilities, and the challenges and opportunities of developing business/employer relations that result in the successful employment of people with disabilities in the nations labor force.