Disability rights activist and entrepreneur Dylan Rafaty has made it his lifelong mission to make the world more accommodating to deaf and/or hard-of-hearing individuals. In this pursuit, he has started his own business, served as the Vice Chair of the Texas Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities and served as a commissioner for Plano’s Building Standards Commission.
A man of many hats, Rafaty has taken on many roles in his advocacy, and as he explains in this profile, Plano has been a frequent stomping grounds for his work.
What events in life brought you down the path of disability rights advocacy?
I'm a proud Special Education graduate of Plano ISD, Class of 2009 (Plano West). I'm a person with spinal back, neck fusions along with being deaf and hard of hearing with a left hearing aid. It all started with self-publishing my book Occupy Special Education - Children Should Be Seen and Heard in spring 2012. This book led me to become self-aware to speak up on the educational barriers that many students like myself face while in public education. In November 2012, I founded my own business, DylanListed, which focused on increasing education, empowerment and employment for the cross-disability community including our disabled veterans.
This boosted my advocacy efforts on multiple fronts through expanding my networks starting within the startup communities in Dallas and Austin. Early on, I wanted to know who the players were and how I can play a contributing role in making 'disability' part of the discussion. This led me to meet some incredible community leaders, multimillionaire entrepreneurs, investors and top dog individuals who have significant influence across sectors and industries. Then came the official appointment to the Texas Governor's Committee on People with Disabilities in late September 2015, which sparked my advocacy journey to new heights with an impact on the state and national levels. In 2021, I renamed an existing community organization that I founded in 2017 to the North Texas Disability Chamber, which is the fifth cross-disability chamber in the US and fourth in Texas. We are focused on community education and cross-disability community building with the abled and disabled communities.
What are some organizations you have worked with, and what work have they done?
World Taekwondo, Para-Taekwondo Education Committee, 2016-2017
Vice Chair, Texas Governor's Committee on People with Disabilities, 2015-Present
Prison Entrepreneurship Program, 2017-Present
Sandlot Children's Charity, 2020-Present
Angel City Sports, 2019-Present
- Director, Board of Directors, U.S. International Council on Disabilities
- Commissioner, Building Standards Commission, City of Plano
- Member, School Health Advisory Committee, Plano ISD
- Member, Career & Technical Education Committee, Plano ISD
- Board Member, Creating A Safer Tomorrow
- VP of Programs, Plano ISD Council of PTAs
- Advisory Board Member, Care & Mercy Foundation
- Founder, President & Chairman, North Texas Disability Chamber
- Chairman, Social Inclusion Committee, International Association Ice Cream Distributors and Vendors
- Dallas Ambassador, Abilities Expo
What societal accommodations, if any, are overdue for those who are deaf and/or hard of hearing?
For many individuals, we value the importance of strong internet connectivity, great sound quality and having access to information in multiple formats that otherwise would not be readily available to us. Individuals who are deaf and/or hard of hearing have various communication and work-style preferences that many may or may not be aware about. Whether hosting a meeting in-person, on telephone/video conference or in a hybrid setting, we must consider all of the accessibility needs at the very beginning of the planning process so that everyone can inclusively participate.
1 - Adding captions / transcriptions / subtitles to recorded and/or live video content to viewers and listeners. This may require bringing in a person who can transcribe a meeting or that provides Communication Access Real-time Translation (CART) services.
2 - Consider hiring and/or bringing in American sign language (ASL) interpreters for some or all events and gatherings, including meetings. You may or may not have a participant who requires ASL as part of their lines of communication. This should be a standard practice for any local, state and federal agency and/or contractor who provides a service to the public.
3 - Provide your contact information or a place where individuals may wish to contact you directly in regards to accessibility.
4 - Another great opportunity is to add an 'Accessibility Statement' or 'Accessibility' tab on the footer tab of your website in case they wish to learn more on how to better navigate your website for digital and web accessibility. A great way to learn more about this is by learning about the W3 Consortium's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1 AA).
What are some of your proudest achievements?
- Mentoring 50+ individuals with disabilities including disabled veterans.
- Self-publishing Occupy Special Education - Children Should Be Seen and Heard in 2012
- Delivering a keynote address to 600+ people at the 25th TAPPestry Conference in San Antonio in 2015
- Serving as the First Honorary Dallas Mavs ManiAAC in 2017
- Bridging and collaborating the city of Plano to work with the Texas Governor's Committee on People with Disabilities to host the Annual Lex Frieden Employment Awards in 2018
- Running for Plano ISD Board of Trustees for the first time in 2019
- Being inducted into the Susan M. Daniels National Disability Mentoring Hall of Fame in 2020
- Being recognized as the Oticon Advocacy Award Winner and Dallas Business Journal's Leaders in Diversity, Champion for People with Disabilities Honoree in 2021
Are you a native Texan? (Where from?)
I was born in Dallas and raised in Richardson. I moved to Far North Dallas as I attended Plano schools starting the 3rd grade at Rose Haggard Elementary. Since 2015, I have lived independently in Plano and love every minute of it. I’m a proud Texan and Planoite!
What are some of your favorite local restaurants?
- Shiraz Mediterranean (Persian, Far North Dallas)
- Urban Crust (Pizza, Downtown Plano)
- Union Bear (Brewery, Granite Plaza Plano)
- Vickery Park (Bar/Pub, Downtown Plano)
- Dee Lincoln’s (Steakhouse, The Star in Frisco)
- Mesero (Mexican, Legacy West Plano)
- Uchiba (Asian/Bar, Dallas)
- Urban Seafood Co (Downtown Plano)
What are your go-to comfort movies and/or TV shows?
Comedy/Reality TV/ Primetime
- Chrisley Knows Best
- Ellen DeGeneres Show
- 60 Minutes
- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
- Chicago Fire / PD
- The Aviator
- School of Rock
- Marley & Me
- The Patriot
- White Chicks
- Rush Hour 1-3
Tell our readers about your family.
I'm proud to be part of a multicultural family. My mother, a realtor and lawyer, is from what was formerly Yugoslavia and now Serbia. My dad, a highly successful business owner, is from Iran and my step-mother, a lawyer, is from Guatemala. I have one older brother, Ryan, a highly educated doctor and researcher who now resides in London, England. I also have two young step-sisters currently attending Plano ISD schools. At a young age, my family cherished the importance for my brother and I to travel and learn about diverse cultures, including experiencing different foods, visiting historical sites and understanding languages.
What do you want your legacy to be?
It has been my life calling to advocate, represent and serve the cross-disability community well. There are three hopes:
-That we, the community, increase our quality of life where growth happens including gaining access to services and meaningful opportunities for all.
-Aiming and achieving inclusive representation from our executive boards of nonprofits to our business and corporate communities including elected representatives at every level of government.
-Lastly, mentoring and increasing the number of the next generation of advocates, allies and activists for the cross-disability community.