Editor’s Note: March is Womens History Month which is a time to honor and celebrate the contributions that women have made to their communities and society at large. With that in mind, it is fitting for us to highlight Helen Keller, a phenomenal woman that not only had a dual disability, but was a world-wide public speaker, political activist and author. Through her travels, lectures and interactions with people, she symbolized tenacity and leadership. The Helen Keller National Center is a rehabilitation facility named in her honor. Located in New York, the Center provides training and support for those that are deaf blind. Former client, Rickie Corey shares his experience there and how he learned to be a more productive and independent person.
I am a graduate of the Helen Keller National Center (HKNC) in Port Washington, New York. It is a world renowned school for the deaf blind. They work with people who are hard of hearing or totally deaf with any amount of vision loss. I was a student from April 2011 through March 2012, and the Helen Keller National Center really changed my life for the better.
I attended other Centers for the blind, but in the late '90s I experienced minor hearing loss. I was told about the HKNC many times, so when I was running out of options, I decided to give it a chance and I'm glad that I did. They give lots of one-on-one training that helps deaf/blind individuals live a productive life, and most importantly, take charge of their life.
HKNC has deaf/blind students from all over the world. They have many options for classes and I was able to take a sign language course. At first, I didn't have the desire to take it because I figured it wouldn't help me when it came to getting a job. But once I got into it, I realized that was not true. The class helped me communicate with other students who had no hearing at all. I was even able to practice with people who had some hearing.
During my training, I had the privilege to go to some of HKNC's tech seminars which was a big help in guiding the deaf blind to communicate. CLC was a communications course that taught communications skills including social, braille, spelling and many other areas that help someone communicate.
In addition to taking classes in the building, we would go out in the community to see how our progress and to help us improve our communication skills. A good example of this was when I went in to the post office and I wanted the postal worker to write a note on a package I was sending. He wanted my instructor to do it because he claimed he wasn't allowed to. My instructor explained she was just helping me to go in there. The postal worker didn't realize what was going on at first, but I suspected that he caught on due to the change of his attitude. I learned to prepare ahead of time even though this was an emergency situation. Another area where I knew I needed to improve upon was spelling, so I wrote in a journal once a week. I also worked on my braille even though I read 96 words a minute. I realized this was helping my attention span and wanted to read even more.
Job readiness was a great experience because I did temporary reception work at the HKNC's switchboard transferring calls to the proper departments. I also worked at a physical therapy center scheduling appointments and taking messages. Using my musical talent, I was able to volunteer playing the piano at a group home. As a student, you get a chance to try different jobs to show your ability. They also had mock interviews to help you improve on your interview skills, just as the job club did at CVI. We got to have informational interviews with employers which helped us learn what employers are looking for.
HKNC has many activities such as art, exercise, and nutrition classes, community service projects, emergency group classes, SSP classes and many more. I learned to love art because I made a dog and a music collage out of clay. This was something I never thought of doing. Our community service class was a way of showing us how to give back. We raised money doing bake sales and helping in the community. I really liked the support service provider courses which taught the deaf blind how the SSP can volunteer for them.
Our case managers really helped us get what we needed for personal and school use. They met with us once a week to make sure everything was okay. The residence staff did lots of activities such as game night, parties and going shopping. We would go to restaurants and even go to the movies.
I write all of this to show how HKNC inspired me. As a board member of the Georgia Association of the Deaf Blind, I encourage and talk to future students to go to HKNC. I see much interest even in the Georgia community. I couldn't say enough thank you’s to the HKNC training and residence staff for what they have done and continue to do. When you come to HKNC, you will learn how to live a productive life and be good leaders for your families, communities, your nation and our world. Which, of course, all goes back to the example Helen Keller strived to set with her own life.