Today, I want to talk about my experience with The American Association of the Deaf-Blind (AADB), a national organization that assist those individuals who are both deaf and blind.
Many years ago, I was asked to volunteer to interpret at a deaf-blind convention in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In particular, I was asked to be a special service provider for just one of the delegates who would be attending the convention. Instantly, I said, “Yes, I will do it. When is it?” The person who asked said, “Oh, it’s this Saturday, the day after school lets out for the summer.” After agreeing to interpret for an entire week, I was informed of the delegate’s name (Allan). I would be responsible for him all week, 100% of the time.
Now, previous to this convention, I attended Gallaudet University, in Washington, D.C., for specialized instructions regarding how to interpret for those who are deaf and blind. With the knowledge and skill provided by the excellent instructors at Gallaudet, I was excited to be going to my first AADB convention.
Upon arriving in Tulsa, to begin my one- week interpreting assignment, I was greeted by hundreds of people. There must have been over 600 deaf and blind individuals ranging in all ages, with over 1,000 volunteer-interpreters. Can you imagine the initial shock this scene presented to me? I had no idea I was participating in such a huge gathering of people, nor did I realize how much this week would impact me for the rest of my life. Shortly afterwards, I was finally introduced to my assignment: Allan. You see, I never met Allan prior to arriving in Tulsa. However, I did have a conversation on the phone with his mother a week before the convention.
She had told me that Allan was not only deaf/blind, but that he was also a severe diabetic. However, that did not stop Allan from attending all of the workshops he could, and taking in all of this new information. The entire week, he and I got along great. He attended many workshops about technology, and how to use it to help him get through life. I have to tell you, the week flew by. I could not believe that it was already time to come home. I’m not sure who was blessed more by this week spent together; Allan, or me? It was an incredible experience, and I have returned to volunteer as an interpreter many times since that day.
On the day I was about to leave for home, after saying our “Good-byes”, Allan informed me that he was coming to “Detroit”. I said, “Okay. What state is that in?” He quickly said, “Michigan”. I said, “Why are you going there? Just happens to be that I lived north of Detroit approximately 25 miles. He looked towards my face, with a very excited smile, and said, “To get a Leader Dog”. I was pleasantly surprised to hear this, because I lived just one mile from the school, Leader Dogs for the Blind, in Rochester, Michigan. I asked Allan more questions about when he was coming. He said, “Next week.” Within a week of the convention ending, Allan was at Leader Dogs, ready to train with Sidney, a dog who received specialized training to work with those who are both deaf and blind. It was my privilege and honor to volunteer nearly a month (during evenings and weekends) for him while he trained with his new Leader Dog. Without a doubt, it was one of the most Honorable events of my life.
Being involved in the Deaf community has provided me with life-changing experiences. The events that have impacted my life the most, including my decision to attend colleges and to teach both high school and at the collegiate level, is directly tied to my decision to immerse myself in American Sign Language. I have met thousands of incredibly wonderful human beings, who just happen to be deaf, that I would otherwise never have gotten to know. What a positive influence they have had on my life. They have not only touched my heart, but have impacted me in a way that just seems to keep on giving me joy.
Isn’t it interesting that just after I completed that specialized course at Gallaudet University, my newly acquired skills would be used when I was assigned to work with Allan, one of the first deaf and blind individuals I met? He was an extraordinary individual, and anyone who knew him would tell you just how accurate that statement is. He was truly a one-of-a-kind who seem to pass this way but once in our life time. Unfortunately, we lost Allan a few years ago, at the young age of 26. However, his life, and his legacy will live on forever within the hearts of everyone who was fortunate enough to know him.