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Meet Mj Shahen - ASL Poet Laureate of Allegheny County

Mj Shahen signing in ASL.

Mj Shahen was selected by City of Asylum as the ASL Poet Laureate of Allegheny County through the "All Pittsburghers are Poets" program, supported by a RADical ImPAct Grant. 

Mj shared one of her pieces with the RAD Board at our February 2021 meeting. Learn more about her and her work below.

City of Asylum believes All Pittsburghers are Poets. Through this program, funded by a RADical ImPAct Grant, they have established a Poet Laureate program in Allegheny County as well as a Poem of the Week program, which solicits poems by residents of Allegheny County of all ages and levels of experience and publishes a weekly winner at Sampsonia Way Magazine.

Mj Shahen serves as the ASL Poet Laureate of Allegheny County. With a distinguished career in counseling and education of Deaf and Deafblind students with multiple intellectual disabilities, Mj currently works as an ASL coordinator and instructor at Community College of Allegheny County.

In her own words...

"Deaf people are not disabled or impaired; we are a linguistic minority. Giving access to a visual language like ASL helps children develop communication skills that will last a lifetime. ASL poetry is a visual literary form that has evolved from the art of sign language storytelling. It is the same as English oral poetry. It is signed performance poetry using the conventions of repetition, rhythm and meter to construct linguistic patterns that add emphasis, meaning and structure to word forms. ASL Poets Clayton Valli, Ella Mae Lentz, Ian Sanborn have inspired me to perform ASL poetry." - Mj Shahen

She shared her poem "Deaf Child of Hearing Parents" at the RAD board meeting on February 16, 2021. See a special recording of it below: 


Mj worked for years as a counselor and trainer for deafblind and deaf individuals with multiple intellectual disabilities. In this work, she utilized various technologies and visual cues for instruction and visual/tactual communication. Through the Peace Corps Program, Mj lived in Kenya and worked as a Special Education teacher for deaf children with disabilities. Mj has a Bachelor of Science from Gallaudet University in Recreation/Leisure Counseling and a Master of Science from Hofstra University in Education with a specialty in Rehabilitation Counseling. Mj was previously a Communication Assessor for Helen Keller National Center for the Deafblind and Temple University. She has worked as an ASL Instructor at the University of Pittsburgh. Mj is presently a Communication Support Specialist/Trainer for C.E.M. Communication Services, LLC and is an ASL Coordinator and Adjunct Instructor at the Community College of Allegheny County.