Believe it or not, upon discovering I am blind, many respond by asking, “Do you know sign language?”.
The truth of the matter is, I know quite a bit. Confused? I would be too if I wasn’t talking about myself. You see, in high school I did some volunteer work in Columbia, Missouri with the mentally handicapped. Several of them were deaf and I desired to communicate with them. I even bought a book and taught myself, that is, for a few years before learning of my hereditary, progressive eye disease called Retinitis Pigmentosa.
My husband found this bit of trivia most fascinating so I taught him the alphabet and a few words in sign language. It came in handy when a deaf couple stopped by the church we pastor years ago. Notes were mostly passed, but I would sign to them. Naturally, they signed back facing me. Awkward and comical moments pursued. Everyone was patient as Steve attempted to translate using descriptive words, and having me feel his fingers and hands. Since I home schooled my daughter, I taught her sign as well.
Another opportunity arose last November. Because my husband and I founded a ministry that helps the poor and homeless, many businesses and churches call us when they’re not sure who else to get ahold of. The police department called us with an 18- year-old runaway. Deaf since birth and writing notes to communicate, we knew this would be different than normal. He would easily be taken advantage of in a homeless shelter so we invited him to stay in our home until we could find the appropriate resources and paperwork.
All seemed normal as long as my daughter or husband was there to write notes. For fun, I would sign to him and he would sign back…them interpreting, of course.
I often fought the urge to holler his name. “He can’t hear me,” I’d remember. Wow, my brain was forced to think opposite than normal. Then, I’d confidently begin signing towards a noise when hearing one.
“Mom,” my daughter politely interrupted. “He’s not looking. He’s on his computer.”
Yes, it felt a bit like a circus. Sometimes my daughter would be upstairs and my husband gone. I would sign if I knew the words, or write on a pad of paper, hoping I wasn’t writing over someone else’s note. That is, if he indeed was looking my direction. When this deaf young man wanted my attention, he’d grab my hand to feel his. If that failed, he tried to fingerspell in my palm. However, I wasn’t as gifted as Helen Keller.
Discovering appropriate resources took longer than expected One day, my daughter and husband were both absent. I was praying he’d keep himself occupied until someone returned. After all, he lived on his computer, playing games or chatting on Facebook. But, the inevitable happened. He wanted permission to use the internet so approached me. Frustrated, he pecked his fingers on the top of my forearm. Needing to tell him a lengthy explanation, I got an idea. Off to my computer we went. Pulling up a word document, I typed a message for him to read. I then handed him my keyboard to respond and my sweet screen reader read his response out loud to me. Problem solved.
QUESTION: What lengths are you willing to go to when an obstacle forces you to want to give up? I’d love for my screen reader to read your answers in the comments below.
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