The American Association of the Deaf-Blind (AADB) is a national organization that assists people who are deaf-blind, with equipment, education, and other needs. Their mission states, “To ensure that all deaf-blind persons achieve their maximum potential through increased independence, productivity, and integration into the community.”
Every 2 years or so, AADB conducts a national convention for people who are deaf-blind. On the average, 300 deaf and blind people would attend these conferences. Along with the participants, interpreters from all over the United States would volunteer their time for an entire week to interpret for conference attendees. This is when I first got involved in AADB. In 1996, I volunteered to interpret for a deaf-blind young man named Allan. He wasn’t completely blind, but was deaf. His vision was limited due to Ushers Syndrome, also known as “Tunnel Vision”.
I had never met Allan prior to being assigned as his SSP (special service provider) for the week. However, I talked to his mom on the phone to make sure he would be taken care of because not only was he deaf-blind, but was also a severe diabetic.
The day arrived for me to fly to Oklahoma for this national convention of the AADB. Finally, I met Allan, this young man I heard so much about from his mom. The week went by so fast. Allan told me about his life in Utah, his girlfriend, and how he would fly to see her in Kansas. Allan did not let his deaf-blindness stop him from doing anything he wanted. In fact, on the last day of the conference, Allan told me that he would be coming to Detroit. Now, keep in mind, I just met Allan at the beginning of the week. I am from Rochester, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. So, to make sure he understood correctly, I asked Allan, what state is Detroit in? He told me Michigan and gave me a look like, “duh”??
During this convention, Allan told me he would be in Rochester to get a Guide Dog at the world-renowned school (Leader Dogs For The Blind) located just a mile from my home. Now, in the United States and throughout the world, there is only one school that trains dogs for individuals who are both deaf and blind, and it was only 5 minutes from my house. When Allan arrived at Leader Dogs, I had the awesome opportunity to interpret for him for 3 weeks while he trained at the school. It was a thrilling day when both Allan and Sydney graduated, prior to the two of them making the trip to Allan’s home in Utah. Prior to receiving Sydney, Allan used his white cane to navigate the streets of his home town. A year later, I flew to Utah to visit with Allan. Two of us arrived at his home, but was told Allan and Sydney were on a 6-mile walk into town. We drove into town, hoping to catch a glimpse of him. We stopped at a gas station, only to be told that he walks past here every day, and he passed by a half hour ago. We were told he usually continues to a restaurant where they have a bowl of water for Sydney every day. We went there. Too late. We continued our search to the insurance company where he usually stopped in to see him mom. Again, we were too late. From there, we went to the local college where he was working in their cafeteria in food preparations. Finally, we caught up with this very busy friend, and Sydney.
Over the years, Allan and I became very good friends. I was awestruck by the conferences sponsored by AADB, and continued to interpret for Allan every two years for the next many years. Allan learned a great deal at these events. However, I learned a lot more from all of the people that shared their stories with me. I am forever grateful for AADB and their efforts to support deaf-blind people all over the United States. As you improve on your sign language skills, perhaps you will be involved in attending this conference too. I guarantee, you will come away from it with a lot more than what you had when you arrived.
For additional information about The American Association of the Deaf-Blind (AADB), visit their website www.AADB.org .