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American Annals of the Deaf

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My Life with Kangaroos: A Deaf Womanís Remarkable Story
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MG: Do you think that you could be a model example for others with similar disabilities? Or do you think it possible that you could even be a model for those who are not handicapped? I mean, precisely because you had to deal with these constant challenges that a non-handicapped person lacks?

DH: Yes, that could be, I suppose. Sometimes friends tell me the same. Once, after appearing briefly on Swiss TV, I received a number of emails from non-handicapped people, expressing their admiration by saying that, despite my double deficiency, I can summon so much energy to manage everything properly. But Iíd really like to be acknowledged as a modest person who has remained true to herself.

There are many who maintain that I am a good example to those disabled people who donít manage to deal with their situation effectively. Such acknowledgements honour me, but on the other hand, and at the bottom of my heart, they sadden me at the same time. The question here is how can a non-handicapped person really imagine such restrictions imposed upon him or her? Itís a two-edged thing: how one appears to the outside and how one feels inside. I also find it sad when I think of all those disabled people whose situation I can all too well appreciate.

When I meet a person with a serious handicap who has been constrained to forfeit much of his or her courage to go on living, I try as well as I can to encourage them and restore their joy in living. Of course, this is not always possible. People have very often asked me whether I can manage a train or tram alone or go shopping on my own or read and write without help, and I have always answered this question by saying that these things are possible by applying a few special tricks. Iíve learned these in the course of life, but I donít want under any circumstances to ignore what I learned from my trainer. This was when I was under training at the Swiss Central Association for the Blind (Schweizerischer Zentralverband fŁr das Blindenwesen). It was training in those practical matters necessary to living. There, for example, I learned how to use a white stick, and which I have been using on the street or in the apartment as orientation for some time now.

What is particularly irritating though, is that there are still a lot of non-handicapped people that feel obliged to have sympathy with us and have to show it, too. Thereís no doubt about the fact that the life of a disabled person is often very fatiguing and wearisome, and things go slower and more awkwardly than in the case of the non-handicapped. But, for all that, it is absolutely the wrong thing to demonstratively show sympathy. We donít want that. What we do want is appreciation and to be treated equally and naturally. I would like to underline the principal of equality here. Only then is there a situation of normality between the parties. And in other things, too, understanding between the non-handicapped and others needs rectifying. There is room for improvement in the case of tactile communication, for example, so that non-handicapped people can communicate with us. Perhaps it will remain a dream, but I will nevertheless use every means in my power in this direction to continue as an active example.

MG: My last question on this issue: Are there specific things that a deaf person can do that a non-handicapped person canít?

DH: Anyone without the faculties of vision and hearing is more careful in what he or she does. There are times when I wish that non-handicapped people would exercise a little more care and above all a little more thoughtfulness. Non-handicapped people are not particularly attentive as far as their fellows are concerned. The fact that my knowledge of geography when travelling is in most cases better than my guides is only because I prepare myself very carefully beforehand.

MG: Once in a personal conversation you inferred that you would like to die in Australia and be buried there.

How long have you harbored this wish? How and through what has it been fostered?

DH: I have had this wish for a long time. I still well remember when I visited my fatherís grave together with my mother at the Jewish Cemetery in Basel. On that occasion, she showed me two, already purchased lots next to each other, one for me and one for my brother. She was very surprised to hear me ask whether I had to be buried there, and to my relief she said that I would have to decide upon that issue myself. What surprised me most at the time was that my mother even mentioned Australia. She knew my passion for this continent all too well. At that time, the wish was growing within me to be buried as near as possible to my kangaroos.

At the beginning of 2007, I visited Pebbly Beach once more and found a suitable spot for my urn, a place without a commemorative stone or tablet where my remains are to be laid. In the first place, itís good to find an undisturbed place in the middle of natural surroundings, and in the second, the very idea of a defiled cemetery somewhere else fills me with horror. And finally, Basel is such a long way from Australia. Iím quite convinced that the souls of my deceased parents and that of my brother would not grieve over my departure, but rather be pleased that I could fulfill my dearly held wish. And Iím certain that we would see each other again at a gathering of souls, since geographical distance plays no role in these matters.

There is a dream of mine that I experienced many decades ago, and I would like to mention it in this connection.

Iím a woman astronaut and land on a planet that does not belong to our solar system. But it nevertheless has very similar features to that of our earth. As on our planet, there are oceans, lakes and rivers; the soil is fertile and there is rich vegetation. Humans and animals, too, populate this planet. I float down to this planet and land on a sandy strip of beach. A lot of people have gathered together, people of different skin color. Regardless, whether man, woman or child, they all wear khaki colored robes; they remind one strongly of the Roman toga.

Rather taken aback by this, I shyly make my way through the crowd, and very quickly realize to my delight that all these people are extraordinarily tolerant and peaceable. Although Iím a stranger in their midst, and added to this, dressed in the very odd accoutrements of a spacewoman, they are at one in their respect for me. Much impressed by their reception, I watch the coming and going of these people and feel deeply moved to see how the light-skinned people go out to meet the dark-skinned folk and greet them cordially with open arms. Nowhere on this planet was a trace of discontent or violent conflict to be found. It is one great cheerful, peaceful assembly of peoples. I decide never to return to earth again, where the yearning for freedom must always remain unfulfilled.


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