Deaf-Blind Committee

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Dual Vision and Hearing Loss :: March 2017

By Mary Hale, Chair

Honoring Our Members: Bessie

I am lucky enough to be involved with a very special and unique organization that is for those with both vision and hearing loss. It is called Sight And Sound Impaired of St Louis [SASISTL] which we call SASI [pronounced “sassy”] for short. I wish that this type of organization was available throughout the state of Missouri, but sadly not. This group meets monthly and offers opportunities for those with the dual loss to be with others who also understands some of their challenges. Throughout the year we have selected members interviewed and presented as the Member of the Month. This is extremely popular and offers great insights to our members as individuals. Many are also MCB members and I would like to share their stories with you from time to time. With special thanks to Torri Ryder, who does the interviews, writes the stories and then presents them during our meetings. I would first like to present to you an MCB member, Bessie Reece.

Dr. Bessie Lee Jackson Reece

Dr. Bessie Reece was born in Jackson, Mississippi Sept 30, 1938. She was an only child and had a lot of fun growing up. No one in the family could understand why she was blind because this was the first case on both sides of the family. They decided it was because her mama was disobedient to God by having a baby out of wedlock. It bothered them so much and they worried about the gossip that they decided little Bessie would be like all the other children. She stayed in the country in a big house with cousins, aunties and the whole family while mama lived in the city. At 5 she went to kindergarten in the public school. She amazed the teachers by raising her hand first and reading the entire page of her pre-grammar books: you know, “Sally sees, Jane sees, John walks”. The first week and a half she was the star. Finally another teacher noticed that she was not reading, but only memorizing the entire page.  Bessie could see shadows but she could not read. She had been following the other children until finally the teachers told her mother her baby couldn't go to school there because she may get hurt by other kids. It broke her mother’s heart. Well her auntie worked for an eye doctor and his wife and learned about a charity hospital for black people. They took Bessie to him and he operated on her eyes where she could see people but can't identify them without their voices.

She entered Tiny Wood School for the Blind which was a private boarding school mostly for sighted kids but there was a log cabin for the blind. Most kids would take a train from Jackson to Tiny Woods and was home on weekends but her family had no money. Her auntie and uncle moved to St. Louis for work and invited her to visit to go to school. Bessie didn't want to leave but her mama said she would come and visit her. When she was 10 or 11 she came home for Christmas vacation and told the family she wanted to stay in St. Louis. Well, mama got out the phone book and found the Missouri School for the Blind on 3815 Magnolia where she stayed until graduation.  On June 29th, 1957. Bessie married her 8th grade sweetheart from MSB. This June will be 60 years. Hubby, Thomas Lee Reece worked at Fox Photo from 7am – 3:30pm then Washington University and Barnes Hospital Radiology Department from 4-12 p.m. He had to earn enough to afford for the family for 37 years. Bessie made sure to have lunch or dinner ready for Thomas if he came home in between jobs.

They had three children. Their oldest daughter, Elizabeth Carolyn (who graduated Harris Stowe teachers college) comes to SASI with her. Marilyn is the middle child and only sighted one. Thomas Jr is the youngest and totally blind now. At 2 he fell down stairs, at 3 he had surgery to remove a blood clot leaving him with one eye that was extremely near sighted. At 11 year old while playing ball, a kid didn't want to give the bat up and hit him in the best eye. The kids are doing well and she thanks God for them.

Bessie stated, “I feel really blessed when I think of all the things we did, all [the kids] graduated, some [even went to] college. When you try you can really do something.”

Once all the kids were grown, Bessie wanted to go to school. She entered Bible Western Baptist Seminary and earned her associates degree. Her first job was in day care. She also worked for Lighthouse for the Blind, PJ Hollering Laundry on Clark and 21st, and Peoples Hospital on Locust where she sterilized instruments with autoclave machines that work so well, not like today’s plastic killing people now.

RSB trained her in the vending / stand program. She had vending machines for four years at the Mark Building keeping the machines clean, and the tables. Her stand started at the 7th floor at the Federal Courts building on 1114 Market but moved to first floor where she was in business for 22 years. She sold snacks, soda, and sandwiches her mama and church lady cooked for her. She set her prices to make money. Her daughter added costume jewelry to the stand and people would ask if they could see those earrings right there. She would think right where? She would reach and the customer would direct her to the pair they were interested in. Her daughter got the jewelry from a Chicago wholesalers and works in Barnes hospital currently. Bessie helps her with a monthly newspaper selling ads. She worked two years after her surgery helping her daughter to make calls, contacts, opened mail, scanner and computer to see what was sent. Bessie's back was operated on 5 years ago and she still is barely able to walk, using a wheelchair, bed or recliner.  Her favorite jobs were the vending and cafeteria and day care. Any time she was around people as she is a people person.  During her working life she earned another degree at LaLe College and Graduate School on Ashby. Finally in 2000 she earned her Doctor's degree in Divinity from LaLe.  Dr. Bessie started to lose her hearing 11 or 12 years ago and the most frustrating part is having to ask folks to repeat what they said, horrible. I know they are tired of me saying that and asking for them to speak louder, I have hearing loss. But you have to tell them, she says. The most frustrating part of her vision loss is you can't see addresses or nothing like that. Can't see distance or a person coming down the street.  Her most helpful tool/trick in dealing with your Deaf-Blindness?  Hearing aids and cane. Dr. Bessie enjoys being a mentor for people, sharing with them things that can help them. Also, calling people on the phone if they can't see well and tell them about the different programs available. And she loves to read the bible on her player with people.  When asked if you could be or do ANYTHING, what would it be? She stated, “Right now just let me walk. For real baby. Having to have someone wheel me to the bathroom or watch me use the walker to the bathroom or catch me if I fall is frustrating.”

  What's the oddest or most unique thing about herself - “I'm different in that I am able to see what I could have been like if I had not had the help from my family. They taught me to be respectful and to listen to people. That helped me the most. I have no problem with being with people. I like people. Folks can have all the cats, dogs, horses and cows they want. Just give me people.”

The craziest thing she has ever wanted to do was drive a car so she can go where and when she wants to go. “As it is”, she says, “you gotta wait for someone to take you where you're going or wait for call a ride which can be two days, but it's still blessed to have it. Grand Ave to Brentwood would be $20 but only $4 with them.”  What would you teach other Deaf Blind people about life? She said, “Don't be discouraged, you can do what you set your mind and hands to doing. It’s been proven to me. I never dreamed I would go to Bible College. Also, she would teach them how to care for their personal things, their affairs, make sure they keep clean, plain old good hygiene is important. If you smell, people don't want to sit next to you.

Manners are important. Know how to ask for your needs in a calm, nice voice.” What would you teach other sighted and hearing people about life?  It's really what you make out of it yourself. You can be cheerful or not. You really do that yourself. You have to learn how to first accept your limitations and what you can and can't do. After that is under control, you will be able to do a lot of things. Even people who have the same problem as you, see you functioning a certain way. Then they can try and practice it too. 

What words of wisdom do you want to give to the next generation?  You can do all things thru Christ who strengthens you. And He will strengthen you if you ask Him. He is faithful, baby.  What would you like others to know about you?  I just want everyone to know that I am a people person, I like talking with people, sharing whatever I have; physical or words of wisdom. Tell a child when he gets big enough to talk, teach them to say their prayers so it is instilled in them. 

Anything else you would like to share?

Coming to SASI has been great for me. To just see how God works with all of us and how He really takes the time to let you be yourself. Anyone with a hearing and vision loss? Come to SASI.

What Happened to Good Manners? :: December 2016

By Mary Hale, Chair

When we were all young, we were taught to say please, thank you and your welcome.  Also, to be polite and respectable. To respect others and not talk when someone else is talking. We learned this from our parents, family and even our teachers at school.

So why is it that when MCB has a convention, that many people forget all about these common sense, proper ways of behaving?  I have heard many complaints about all the disruptions of those who seem to think it is ok to talk and have side conversations while a meeting is going on and someone is speaking at a microphone.  It is especially embarrassing when people disrespect our guest speakers.  What does that say about MCB?  There is a time and a place for socializing and during a meeting while someone is talking on a microphone is not one of them!

There have been suggestions that in all future MCB conventions, that a Sargent of Arms be established.  This would be a good idea if it is done properly.  For instance, there should be at least three. One for each side of the room and one at the door at all times.  Many have said this problem exists in the back of the room and yes it does, but it also exists throughout the room, even near the front. The other issue would be that the individuals who are empowered to be the Sargent of Arms, needs to have the confidence to follow through to enforce the offenders to leave the room and stay out unless they are willing to conduct themselves properly.  To the many offenders of this, you know who you are!

I am looking forward to the next MCB convention being conducted properly without the continuous offenders ruining it for others again. This is not just a problem for those with a hearing loss but everyone!

Dual Vision and Hearing Loss :: September 2016

By Mary Hale, Chair

What an Exciting Year!  I am so grateful to so many people all across the state of Missouri. So many actually came out and made a difference! The blind community, the deaf community, the low vision community, the hard of hearing community, the deaf-blind community, the sighted and hearing community, all came together to support the SSP Bill in Missouri's Legislature in both the House of Representatives and Senate. With so many writing, emailing, calling and testifying! Thank you. Because of your support, HB 1696 [SSP Bill] was passed and signed into law by the Governor.

For those who may still be unclear as to what and who an SSP is, read on. SSP stands for Support Service Provider and this is a national term used for those who assist Deaf-Blind individuals. Blindness is difficult enough, but if you cannot hear what is going on around you also, it has a huge impact. Many do not feel safe or confident enough to be able to go out in the community to do simple every day errands alone. If you cannot see or hear that a paratransit bus like Call-A-Ride is coming for you, what do you do? If you cannot see or hear where the checkout and cashier is and to find out your total or to hear what is being said to you, what do you do? It is not just a matter of getting to somewhere and getting the guidance to get around, but to integrate with the community with communication as well.

Back in the 60’s there was a movement to help establish certified training and get interpreters for the deaf made available as a paid profession. Then the deaf individuals would not be solely dependent on their family and friends. Now, 50 years later, the same is happening to help make Deaf-Blind individuals a part of the community and not be solely depended on their family and friends. This is why the SSP Bill was established all across the nation and now here in Missouri.  Thank you.

Understanding Not Just Hearing

If you are planning to attend the MCB Convention in October, please read on. Many people have a difficult time understanding what is being said. Many can hear much of the noises going on which can be overwhelming at times. But to understand the spoken words is most important. Many people are in denial that they have a hearing loss. There is nothing wrong with admitting you cannot hear well any more. For someone with blindness, being able to hear can be crucial for your safety and sanity. Isolation and depression affects many with both blindness and deafness.

 Please remember to ask for an Assistive Listening Device [ALD] before the convention when you send in your registration or by calling the MCB office. ALD’s make a huge difference in knowing what the speakers are saying and understanding what is going on around you. There are a limited number of ALD’s available, so it’ll be on a first request, first received basis. Headphones are available, but feel free to bring your own or your "ComPilots" to use with the receivers.

I look forward to seeing and hearing you at the convention!

You Want To Understand Not Just Hear :: June 2016

By Mary Hale, Dual Vision and Hearing Loss Chair

We can all use some tips to help us in our daily lives. Here are some that can also greatly help those who have a hearing loss along with their vision loss.

There is a big difference between hearing the spoken words and understanding the spoken words. Remember, it is up to YOU, to request the respect you deserve. (written by the Helen Keller National Center: Confident Living Program).

Take Control of your Communication with others—Set boundaries. Remember, I am only in control of how I relate to another person. I can only change me, not someone else. Be aware of who gets to you (means you can decide when to relate, how to relate and if you are to relate). Are you pushing the pause button on life? Dealing with difficult people-its more about them, than it is about you! Don’t take responsibility for another’s feelings.

Plan-Ahead Tips for Better Communication—Educate others regarding

How to get your attention—Which ear is best.  Know where the speaker is, so you are facing him/her. Let me know when you leave the room. Do not leave me in an open space. Put me in touch with a table, chair, or object.

If the volume of your voice is too low or too loud (draw line up or down arm to lower/raise voice). Tell me if there is feedback on my hearing aid. Reconfirm important points. Speak clearly and in a normal tone of voice. Do not shout. Don't speak too fast or too slow. Hold your head still—I may be following your lips. Get your attention before speaking. Say your name first, and then you will know he/she is talking to you. Look directly at your face and get on the same eye level if possible. Stand or sit with the light above or toward them, not behind them. Keep their hands away from their mouth. Don’t eat or chew gum.

Eliminate background noise from radio and television. Ask them to try using different phrases with the same meaning if you have trouble understanding what is being said. Stay in the same room while talking with you. Build breaks into a lengthy conversation.

Self-advocacy—Know situations you handle well. Know difficult hearing situations.

Coping skills: What do you do when…

Know your preferred accommodations. Be able to state why you prefer one accommodation over another. Be aware of application accessibility laws.

Restaurants—Call ahead and ask for booth with high back, or sit with your back to a wall. Sound bounces back to you.

If you have an assistive listening device that has a directional microphone, you may want to sit with your back toward the crowd noise and point your microphone to the wall or back of the booth. The sound will bounce back to you and you may be able to understand speech better. If there is no booth, ask for a table in the quietest part of the restaurant. Ask to be seated away from the kitchen and front door. Ask if wait staff can assist you in reading menu or cutting meat (before leaving the kitchen).

Community Events – Plan Ahead. Ask if an assistive listening device is available. If not, ask if you can bring your own and if the speaker will wear it. Ask if the speaker will be using a general room microphone. Ask to be seated near the speaker. Ask the speaker to repeat questions from the audience when applicable. Do not bluff! If you do not understand, admit it! Ask if an SSP will be provided. If not, can you bring your own, and can that person have free admission? Try to remain patient and positive, but ask for what you need!

Update on HB 1696, SSP Bill :: March 2016

By Mary Hale, Dual Vision and Hearing Loss Chair

Thank you to everyone who contacted their local Representatives or attended the public hearing on Tuesday, January 26 to show support for the SSP Bill. I am so proud that Deaf-Blind individuals and friends of the Deaf-Blind Community packed the room and several had the chance to offer testimony explaining the importance of SSPs. Scott Dollar, Jasmine Lewis and Barbara Tweedy were among those who spoke at the hearing.

Please join us. Missouri needs SSPs and say I support HB1696.

Want to follow us and show your support? Just log on to the Missouri Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing website at http://www.mcdhh.mo.gov. More info to come.

Thank you

Dual Vision and Hearing Loss Committee :: June 2015

By Mary Hale, Chair

Sharing with RSB: Recently I had the wonderful opportunity to go to Jefferson City and speak at a Rehabilitation Services for the Blind (RSB) meeting. This was a gathering of statewide RSB teachers, and other personnel. While they may be familiar with blindness issues, when it comes to those who also have a hearing loss, it seems that there was a lack of knowledge.

With the addition of hearing loss to many with blindness on the rise, this is an extremely important issue. We all know that with blindness there is more reliance on your hearing. My Support Service Provider (SSP) and I were able to share tips on how they could REALLY help those with this dual sensory loss. Many are just simple things that many people just do not think about, such as getting their attention first BEFORE starting to speak. Face them so that your voice will go towards them, do not look down at your paper work while talking. Being aware of all the “other” noises and activities in the area such as TV, radio, people talking or walking around, office machines, etc. as all of these things can be very distracting. It is very important that only one person speaks at a time in meetings or groups. Hearing aids are great but they increase the volume of everything in the room, not just the person speaking. It takes a lot of concentration to focus just on the voice of someone speaking to you. FM systems are great but they do not solve all the problems as they are just short term temporary solutions. Many people assume that if you just turn the volume up that will work. It “may” help but more important it is the clarity of the voice that is more important. Speaking just a little bit slower can be helpful and the willingness to repeat some words. Hearing aids never will give a person 100% hearing. Even with hearing aids some may only be able to understand 7 or 8 words out of a 10 word sentence. Thus leaving the person to figure out what all was said. For this reason, many people with hearing loss are thought to be dumb or have lack of intelligence. Keep in mind a lot of sounds are heard, but it is the understanding of the spoken words that is most important. The feedback that was received after this presentation was wonderful. Many expressed a sincere appreciation of just being made more aware. Hopefully this will lead to better communication between the RSB clients and the RSB staff in the future. Remember it is always better to speak up and let others know when they can be of better help to you. ADVOCATE.

Dual Vision and Hearing Loss :: December 2014

By Mary Hale, Chair

Did you know…

Did you know that you may qualify for help in obtaining a hearing aid? If you are receiving the Missouri Blind Pension along with it’s Medicaid program, you may qualify through Medicaid to get hearing aids funded. Because of blindness, and the need to rely so much on hearing, for safety and other reasons, your ability to hear is so important. If you contact an audiologist who accepts Medicaid, they may be able to help you. In St Louis, one such place is the Center for Hearing and Speech (314)968-4710. So please don’t suffer in silence, when help is actually available. Your well-being depends on it.

Meeting Helen Keller :: September 2013

By Mary Hale, Deaf-Blind Committee Chair

Many times in our lives we are inspired by others around us. We especially look up to those who have successfully dealt with some of life’s challenges. Some are famous, most are not. But to get the opportunity to meet someone that the whole world admires is a once in a life time experience. One of our very own MCB members has had such an opportunity. Her name is Ida Scotti.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Ida recently and learned that she actually met Helen Keller in 1943. This happened when Ida was at the Lighthouse for the Blind in New York. She was performing there in a “Little Women” production as “Jo”. It just so happened that Helen Keller was there also. Ida was asked if she would like to meet Helen Keller, of course she said yes. As Ida tells it, she shook Helen’s hand and said she was very pleased to meet her and that she greatly admired her. Helen then put the fingers of one hand on her cheek and with other hand had her fingers on her lips. She remembers Helen saying in her own voice, to her “very young”. Needless to say that was an experience that Ida will never forget. She still displays her picture of Helen Keller in her home today.

Ida has been an active member of MCB in the Ozark Association of the Blind affiliate since 1974. She plans to attend the MCB state conference again this year in October. The fact that she’ll be celebrating her 93rd birthday in August 2013 does not slow her down. We also had a chance to discuss how much having a hearing loss in addition to blindness affects a person. When someone relies a great deal on “hearing,” what is around them is so important. As we both agreed, for us personally, that deafness and our communication with others is more critical to us than our blindness. Not being able to understand the words spoken is definitely worse than the loss of our vision. Even with her blindness and hearing loss, she still enjoys her love of nature by listening to all their sounds, even though she cannot hear them as well now.

MCB Conference and Assistive Listening Devices :: June 2013

By Mary Hale, Deaf-Blind Committee Chair

Everyone who attends the MCB Convention and Conference wants to enjoy themselves by meeting old and new friends and learning what is happening with MCB. A big part of the convention and conference includes being able to hear what is being said at the meetings. The good news is that MCB has a few wireless Assistive Listening Devices [ALD] that are extremely helpful for anyone who is hard of hearing. These devices allow a person to actually understand the words that are being said and not just hearing “something”. I applaud MCB for having this available for the last two years. The bad thing is that we simply do not have enough for those who need to use them. For those who have used them, they know how wonderful they are. If you haven’t tried one, you’ll be amazed at how well they work and help you.

The next MCB Convention and Conference will be held in the St Louis area from October 11-13, 2013. In order to have an idea of just how many are needed, we NEED to hear from you. If you plan to attend the conference in October this year and using an ALD would help you, then PLEASE contact me by phone or email. If you do not do this, most likely there will not be enough for you and others who need one. This is an important way for you to advocate for yourself and to be heard [pun intended]. My contact information is listed in the insert of the Chronicle. Thank you.

Sight and Sound Impaired MCB Members :: March 2013

By Mary Hale, Deaf-Blind Chair

We have all heard comments about how blind people are able to hear better. But we know different, it is simply that blindness causes us to rely on our hearing and other senses more. We are more aware through these other senses. Now imagine dealing with blindness and also what if a hearing loss prevents you from being able to understand who or what is around you.

This is a very real situation for many MCB members. This dual sensory loss can significantly impact a person’s everyday life. The hearing loss can make things seem overwhelming sometimes, when you cannot see or hear well. It doesn’t matter if only a mild or moderate hearing loss or a severe to total deafness.

However, there are things that can help. Many times it is just a case of being aware of their needs and common courtesy. Getting their attention first before talking really helps as well as looking and facing them; one person talking at a time rather than several; and also speaking at a little slower pace. These are just some examples. The use of a microphone can mean the difference of whether a person is just hearing something or actually understanding what is being said. There are listening devices as well as hearing aids that can help.

The bottom line is that the hearing impairment does not mean they are dumb or stupid. After all, are blind people any less intelligent because of their vision loss?

My name is Mary Hale and I am the Chairman of the MCB committee for people with both a vision and a hearing loss. I am looking for MCB members who have a hearing loss as well as the blindness. It can be someone who wears one or two hearing aids, has a cochlear implant or is deaf. We need to share our thoughts with each other as to how best MCB can be of help.

Please share this information with other MCB members. If you or someone you know has this dual loss, PLEASE contact me at meh331@sbcglobal.net or by phone at 314-544-3252. Thank you.