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Deaf-Blind Reality: Living the Life|
I didn’t need any special equipment to help with household chores. But vacuuming the carpet and sweeping the kitchen floor were difficult and my least favorite chores. I used a broom to sweep under the kitchen counters and then vacuum up the dirt, but not before I checked the floor with my fingers for anything that might break the vacuum. Cleaning the carpet was a tedious job. Because I couldn’t see if there was something that would damage the vacuum, I always had to brush my hand over the carpet first.
I enjoyed cooking and didn’t really have any adaptive equipment in the days of my first apartment. I did have an electric wok and liked to stir-fry chicken and vegetables. Using an electric wok was easier to manage than a wok on the stove, and I could use my senses of touch and taste to help me know when the food was cooked.
I also had a crock pot, which was another easy way to cook my meals. In the morning before I left for work, I would put some chopped carrots and onion in the bottom of the crock pot and place a whole chicken over the veggies, add a bay leaf, cover and set it on low heat. This made a delicious, healthy dish that would last for a few dinners.
After living on my own for a few months, I married Bill, and we eventually moved to Silver Spring, Maryland, where we rented an apartment. We found an ideal location that enabled me to travel independently. I got a part-time job at Gallaudet University and also took a few courses in education. I was able to walk to a nearby Metro subway stop from our apartment and travel to Gallaudet. However, there wasn’t a nearby grocery store, and Bill, who is hearing and sighted, would drive us to the store, so we could do grocery shopping together. Bill didn’t mind cleaning the apartment’s hardwood floors, so we had a sort of mutual agreement that he would take care of the floors, and I would do our laundry. Likewise, whenever Bill cooked dinner, I would clean up, and when I cooked, he cleaned up. This agreement has continued throughout our marriage.
After living in an apartment, Bill and I rented a small two-bedroom house near enough to the campus of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR) for me to reach on foot. I had enrolled at UALR to study deaf education, and the location of our house met my needs.
However, living in a house was different from living in an apartment. For one thing, it wasn’t easy to find neighbors whenever I needed help. I had to either cross the street and find someone’s front door or walk to the house next door. But most people were friendly and went out of their way to help. For example, I liked to put my son, Joe, in his jogging stroller and go for a walk in the neighborhood. One day when I decided to turn into an alley behind our house, I somehow got disoriented and got lost. I walked on and on, trying to find a familiar landmark. I really felt lost and started looking for someone who might help me. I finally turned onto an asphalt street with a white line near the edge that looked familiar, and as I walked a little further, I passed a woman who was getting something out of the trunk of a parked car. I stopped and asked her if she could please show me my house, telling her the house number. When she took my elbow to guide me, I realized she was a neighbor that lived a few houses down the street from us, and I knew exactly where I was.
As a deaf-blind mom, homemaking became busier. I learned a lot from caring for my first son, Joe. I decided before he was born that I would breastfeed him. I figured that, as a deaf-blind mom, it would be easier to nurse my baby than to make bottles, and I had read that nursing the baby strengthens the bonding between mother and child. Plus, there were the nutritional and immunization benefits of breastfeeding. All in all, it was a very good decision. But it was more comfortable than having to get up, get a bottle, and sit with the baby. As he got older and began eating baby foods, it sometimes got frustrating for me. I couldn’t see his mouth and always missed my target, making a big mess. But mother and son learned together. After a while, my baby learned to grab the spoon with his mouth, so he could eat the food.
I had two more babies after Joe, Ben and then Tim. I cared for each baby very similarly to how I had cared for Joe. The main difference was that I got a cochlear implant (CI) before Ben was born, and, thus, I could hear Ben and Tim. When Ben or Tim cried or laughed, I heard it, unlike with Joe. I used a baby cry device to alert me when Joe was crying, though it wasn’t that reliable. Usually, Bill would tell me when Joe was crying, or I would keep Joe within arm’s reach, so I could check on him. Maybe that wasn’t such a good idea, because when he got older, he liked to sneak away. But with the CI, things were less stressful. I could leave Ben in his bassinet near our fish aquarium, which he enjoyed, while I worked in another room in the house. I could hear him if he cried.
When I go shopping on my own, I always go to the customer service counter and request shopping assistance. Even though my speech is good, I give whoever is working behind the desk a note that explains I’m deaf-blind and would like an assistant to help me find the things on my list. Then I show the person my shopping list and wait. Usually, the people working behind the customer service desk know what to do. They pick up a phone and talk into it; then a few minutes later, a store employee approaches me, takes the list, gets a shopping cart, and we’re off. In my experience, the assistant usually gave me items that were on my list, so I could put them into the cart myself. After collecting all the items on my list, I would ask the assistant to help me go through checkout and write the cost of my purchases in very big numbers with a black marker on white paper that I always had handy. After paying for my things, I would give the assistant a taxi company’s number and ask him or her to call and request a cab to pick me up. This all usually went smoothly, but it also always took a great deal of patience on my part. Having to communicate with people who don’t know sign can be a little slow, and then the wait for the cab can take an hour or longer.
But this routine didn’t always go according to plan. Once when Bill was out, I used my TTY to call and requested a cab to come and take me to the grocery store. The cab arrived and took me to the store. I got an assistant from customer service, and everything went very smoothly, until after I paid for my purchases and the assistant called the taxi company for me. The assistant spoke into the phone, and I assumed he was requesting the cab. Then he looked at me and took my notebook and black marker, printing in large letters, “Your address?”