King is a hero to me. He has helped many people to believe Deaf Can Do Anything! To be the recipient of an award in his name feels awesome! When my family decided to learn sign, a woman who is deaf came to our home and taught us. One day, she took me aside and said read this – and with a fierce look of determination, as if her will would now become mine, she signed “deaf can do anything and so can you”. She held a newspaper article in her hand and I could see it was very precious to her. I read about the students at Gallaudet, who felt the time was right for a Deaf President, and they were not afraid to stand up for that belief. And of course, King became that first Deaf President. I remember thinking “I want to take a stand for things I believe in. I want to feel good about becoming deaf”.
When I told my husband Patrick about this award, he said “I want to be there and the children will want to be there too.” I started to say “It’s too far” (we live in Florida) and “everyone is so busy with work to take time off”. He said “This is a family award.” What could I say! He was right. We, the late-deafened ones, sometimes forget family is also dealing with late-deafness and our triumphs and successes are also theirs. My family has often told me how proud they are of me. I want to let them know tonight how proud I am of them as well and share a few memories.
My husband and I just celebrated our 35thanniversary this summer! We met in college. We married two weeks after we graduated and seven years later deafness came knocking on our door. One of the many reasons I love ALDA is the “whatever works” philosophy. Each family, searches for what will work. For my family, sign eventually became the answer. I remember the night my husband started talking and I said “hold, I will run and get my aids.” My aids were in the drawer. For good reason too! They stopped being effective for me. He said, “that’s ok you don’t need them I will sign to you.” He understood too that the aids were just not enough and we would need a new way to communicate. The sign we were learning from books, would now become real life for us. I knew at that moment I would be ok and that we would be ok as a couple. We had problem solved how we would communicate.
I remember the time I was vacuuming and my son Dan and three of his college friends entered the house. The friends looked at me and their eyes were opened wide. Why, because I was pushing a vacuum and it was off. Let’s just call it deaf vacuuming! I then pushed the vacuum to what I thought was off, so I could greet them. But instead, now I pushed it to on and was trying to talk to them. The friends, their eyes are now as wide as possible! Dan, walks over, hugs and kisses me hello, and I felt his hand reach down and turn off the vacuum. It was then that I realized what I had done and when I took that deep sigh, he just hugged me even more and then introduced me to his friends. No teasing, no look of embarrassment, just a look of love and acceptance, like this is my Mom!
When my daughter Meghan was in high school, the local chapter of ALDA asked the teenagers to write about their experience having a late deafened parent. So Meg sat down, typed up an article, and then said “finished” and sent the email off. I asked her if I could read it and she said “sure”. I learned for the first time what happened years ago on a family ski trip. We were skiing Christmas day and a young worker at the ski resort said “Merry Christmas” to me but I did not know. The person then called me a “witch” only it started with a “B”! He probably thought this cute girl behind me would agree. Well that cute girl was Meghan. Meg told him, that’s my mom and she is not a “witch”. “She is deaf. She had no idea you said Merry Christmas to her”. When I read that article, I wondered how many others she helped to educate about deafness.
My daughter-in-law Sara is not here tonight and is with our grandchildren. My son-in-law Matt is here. Both of them took sign language before they married Dan and Meg and both do so well with including me in on conversation. What was so amazing, is that when they said their wedding vows, they both signed them. They could have just left it for the interpreter to do, but they chose to sign and include me in on that very special moment in their lives.
And now I want to introduce my family to my ALDA family. I feel I share this award with my ALDA family too. I don’t know each person in this room but in many ways I feel like I do. We share the same experiences and many of the same feelings about becoming deaf.
When I was President, I worked hard to increase membership and help the organization to grow, but at the same time I kept thinking, be careful you may get what you pray for. I say that because there is something so very special about our organization. We are small, but very effective. I am in a room full of advocates and leaders. You have taught me, you have role modeled for me, you have inspired me! The advocacy work you do in your community makes the advocacy work in mine so much easier. Together, we are making a difference. We are making this world, a captioned one. And why, because we can! The technology is there to do so and the work is ours to make it happen.
I want to share a memory that motivates me to do as much as I can each day. At the time of this memory, I had two jaw surgeries, a lot of pain, and was becoming deaf. I would wake up every morning, help the children get ready for school, drive them to school, come home, and clean up. Then I would go back to bed. I didn’t feel there was anything else to do. And I would sleep until it was time to wake up and pick them up from school. At that time, I really had no life beyond being a wife and mother. I am sure my children would say I was a wonderful mother and I am sure my husband would say I was a wonderful wife. But where was I? I was becoming invisible. I had no idea how to live my life deaf. So I slept.
Finally, like King, I had that decisive “I am deaf” moment. I was not looking in a mirror like King. Instead I was looking up at the heavens. I had just left a very frustrating appointment with my doctor and I knew deafness would not go away. So with a lot of attitude, while looking up at the heavens, I said “OK have it your way. I will be deaf, but you better help me”.
From that moment on, everything fell into place. All of the things I needed to do I started to do. I started learning sign, went back to school to become a counselor, went to the deaf service center and volunteered to start services for late-deafened people, and started ALDA-Suncoast of Florida. Then I went to my first ALDAcon. Things just kept getting better and better!
Years ago, when that stranger deafness came knocking on my door, I thought he came empty-handed. I did not realize that he came with many gifts. He brought many wonderful people into my life. He brought me you!
Thank you to the ALDA Board of Directors, and a special thanks to Jane for nominating me, for the support you gave me during my President’s year, and for your friendship. Thank you to my husband, my children and my family, for your love and acceptance. Thank you to my ALDA family and thank you to King for inspiring me to believe Deaf Can Do Anything!