I've been thinking back over my life, and how I have become the person I am today. What things have influenced my life the most? What were the choices I've made which improved my life and overall well-being? And I came up with three things that I think have made me who I am today and which have changed the way I see myself, and the way others see, and interact with me, and how I look at the world. I can't put them in order of importance because to me, it is my independence and my life rests on these three things equally. So in no particular order...
1. Partnering with an assistance dog.
When my only disability was blindness, having a guide dog was nice, and it made traveling easier and much more pleasant, but it wasn't a necessity. Now that I'm deaf and blind, and have a balance and vestibular disorder, my dog is literally my independence. She guides me around obstacles, retrieves items I drop, leads me out of buildings when the fire alarm is activated, gets my medications when I literally can't move from vertigo. She stands between me and moving vehicles. She helps me up when I fall, and lets me know when to wake up in the morning. She is my eyes, ears, hands and vestibular system. It would be extremely difficult to be without her.
2. Learning Braille.
It may surprise you to learn how few blind people learn or use braille. I didn't until I was an older adult and started having trouble with my hearing. Today I use braille for everything. To interact with my computer, and my cell phone. I can read books, keep informed about the news, look up phone numbers, make relay calls, use a GPS, read and respond to emails, and label the poisons herbs in my herb cupboard. I am able to interact with the written word in a hands-on way. Because of the marvels of modern technology, I am able to do use a computer and a phone because I can read braille. Computers and smart phones open up so many doors to people, and level the information playing-field.
3. Learning American Sign Language.
When A blind person loses their hearing, it is so catastrophic. For so long I was isolated. I lived in uncertainty and outright fear. It wasn't even the social aspects which had me so upset, but how could I go to doctors, manage my own shopping, or go to meetings at work if I couldn't hear or see? I qualify for a cochlear implant, but for many reasons it is not an option I'll take. I didn't want to be "fixed." I wanted to be independent. And yes, I wanted to have a social life. I will be forever grateful to the strong Deaf and Deafblind role-models in my life. I am thankful for their patience, for taking me to Deaf and Deafblind events, for helping me, for encouraging me. I am thankful for a fantastic teacher who manages to challenge me while making me laugh. I am thankful to all of the SSPs I've ever had, both in New Orleans and at Deafblind conferences and camps around the country. I am thankful for the gift of language which allows me to make independent medical decisions, to have informed choice when I shop, and which allows me to participate in company meetings and training sessions on an equal footing with my hearing coworkers.
I can honestly say, without those three things I'd be a totally different person than I am today. And with all of that navel gazing out of the way, I think I'll go read a book with my dog!