Jefferson Awards: Diana Pryntz helps refugees in Rochester who are deaf

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — News10NBC is honoring people in the community who have gone above and beyond to help others. One of these Jefferson Awards winners is Diana Pryntz, an advocate for deaf refugees who was born deaf herself.

Her sister Susan Pryntz nominated her. “She’s a natural born leader and everything she undertakes, she puts her heart into,” Susan Pryntz said.

Pryntz was born deaf in Chicago, later studying at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf in Rochester. As a deaf person, Pryntz said she felt opportunities were limited, which is why she became an advocate for deaf refugees, helping found the Deaf Refugee Advocacy Organization (DRA).

“Deaf people in general, one of the major frustrations is language,” Pryntz said. “Communication access is a better way to say it and that’s something that we experience in our everyday lives. We show up at a business and try to communicate with someone. We try and have human services needs met, medical needs met, access to medical care. That’s what we experience every day ourselves. That’s the first thing. The challenge with that is that most institutions – businesses and government institutions, medical institutions – they’re not really proactive when it comes to developing language access and a language plan.”

DRA helps people who were born in another country resettle in Rochester, like immigrants and asylum seekers. With nearly 300 different forms of sign language, teaching refugees American Sign Language is one of the biggest things they focus on.

“Prior to DRA being established, that whole community did not have full access to multiple resources within the Rochester community,” Pryntz said. “So we setup DRA to be able to help provide education, to help provide wraparound services and support to the individuals that are here. We provide sorts, for example, helping them become a citizen and some basic economic needs. We make sure that they feel comfortable navigating the systems that are here in our country and trying to figure out how to get through.”

She says her goal is to keep deaf refugee needs at the forefront.

“Really it is a blessing that Rochester has the largest number of deaf individuals per capita in the United States. And the reason it’s a benefit to us is because that large group and population of individuals are willing to help and volunteer with us,” she said.

Learn more about the 2023 ESL Jefferson Award winners during a special program airing at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 3 on News10NBC.