October 2023
Brynn Sexton using American Sign Language.

Brynn Sexton using American Sign Language.

In May, Brynn Sexton stood with family and friends on the steps of the Minnesota State Capitol, celebrating the passage of legislation that established funds for inclusive higher education in the state. Earlier this year, testifying in favor of the legislation, she included a video of herself using American Sign Language (ASL) to make her portion of the proceeding accessible to deaf viewers.

“I am testifying because I want people with all disabilities to be able to go to college,” she said. “I am speaking up for myself and others to advocate for our dreams. When I testify in person, I use American Sign Language (ASL) to share my story because I want to go to college and get an ASL certificate. I want to get a job and live with family or someone I know.”

The new legislation will help the Minnesota Inclusive Higher Education Consortium (MIHEC) to increase initiatives that provide opportunities for students with intellectual disability to earn meaningful credentials, compete for jobs in the community, and live more independent lives. The Institute is the host organization for MIHEC.

Sexton, who has Down syndrome, is not deaf. She started signing when she was a young child as a communication tool, and kept going, studying ASL throughout high school. Today she is a student at Transition Plus, which provides training, education, and independent living services to post-secondary students. She has also taken an ASL course at North Hennepin Community College and hopes to take more in the future.

As she celebrated the legislation becoming state law, she spotted Nic Zapko, ASL interpreter to Gov. Tim Walz. They had a brief conversation, and Zapko shared her social media details with Sexton.

“I have seen her in a lot of videos with the Governor, and I really love the way she signs,” Sexton said. Zapko is noted for her animated, charismatic style as she provides interpretation. “Seeing her in person was eye-opening and we connected even though she’s a deaf interpreter and I’m hearing and have Down syndrome. We both have disabilities and we both love American Sign Language.”