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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Deaf-Blind Reality: Living the Life
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As for management of my personal business and duties, I relied on an SSP to help me with reading and responding to mail and doing errands (e.g., grocery shopping). For washing bedding and other large items, the SSP assisted me in going to the laundromat and operating the larger, commercial machines to avoid the many steps up and down the stairs of the apartment building with its standard machines and competing tenants.

Earlier, I had residual vision and wore hearing aids, and upon the diagnosis of Usher’s syndrome, I received O&M training to learn to use a white cane. Up to that point, it had been so habitual for me to walk around without the cane, bumping into people and objects, that I continued this means of traveling alone, until I stumbled off a curb in a shaded area and sprained my ankle. After that, I preferred to use the cane, though it annoyed me when its tip lodged in cracks, causing its handle to hit me in the stomach. When I was feeling fatigued or under the weather, the cane hitting things resulted in overstimulation and heightened anxiety.

When I began to have fearful close calls with vehicles coming from the left and right, I applied for a dog guide. Either with or without a cane or dog guide, I thought nothing of traveling anywhere, be it the doctor’s clinic, the grocery store, or work. Five days a week, my dog guide and I walked a mile to work and home again, in all four seasons. Occasionally, in adverse weather conditions or distances longer than a mile within the community, we took the small city bus. If I needed to venture out of town to attend continuing education workshops, I paid drivers from a local church.

Within all facilities, I relied on my residual senses to locate things independently. Strangers usually provided me with verbal directions if need be. I would beam with pride if they asked me questions about my dog guide.

As I began to lose the rest of both my residual vision and hearing, traveling became a bigger challenge. It was increasingly difficult to localize traffic at busy, lighted intersections. Turning more to my tactual and olfactory senses resulted in me getting lost, even on familiar routes. I could no longer find my way in buildings or hear people giving me directions in them, causing me to feel insecure, frustrated, and discouraged.

Bilateral CIs obtained in 2000 and 2005 then enabled me to better hear vehicles on quieter streets. Audible and vibrating signals were installed to assist me with busy traffic flows, though distracted and impatient drivers are becoming a concern.

An SSP drove me to businesses, guided me within them, and located desired items and services for me. She also assisted me with participating in some community activities, such as martial arts and the Thanksgiving banquet for deaf-blind people. A hired driver helped me with medical appointments.

I hope, in the future, that accessible cell phones and GPS will be more affordable and manageable to permit me to travel more independently within my community and revive my confidence.

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