. . . Four Days of Communication at HK

I am beginning this blog while sitting in the Best Western in Woodbury, NY, not far from Sands Point, NY the home of The Helen Keller National Center, where I just spent the last four nights  and days.   It the most rewarding conference of any kind that I have ever attended in my thirty-six years in the field human service,  my twenty-seven years in that of visual impairment or my twelve years as an O&M instructor – having attended a pile of conferences throughout.   I am not however casting disparagement on the others I attended,  because I always learned new things and usually came away greatly enriched.  But even after four days  of demanding work from dawn ’till dusk and beyond, with only five-minute breaks between sessions, working lunches and sessions after dinner,  rather than being exhausted I was so energized I practically floated to my car when I left.  At the seminar we covered mountains of valuable material and while I will summarize the gist of what was offered, no way could I ever do the material justice, but really that is not the purpose of this blog.   As I was leaving the conference, many of my colleagues requested that I send them copies of the photos I took and I think displaying them here is probably the best way I can make them easily available  without emailing monster emails to everyone.  Below before the pictures start is in a tiny nutshell summary of some of the sessions and activities from the conference, but first I would like to mention and thank all of the participants and instructors for the help, support and camaraderie that they generously offered throughout the experience.  I would, from the bottom of my heart like to thank:

Landra B. 
(Ontario, CA),   Magali G. (Ashland MA),
Wayne M. (Denver CO),  Monique M. (Denver CO), Chantae S. (Sands Point, NY),
Amber W. (Kalamazoo MI), Katie C. (Indianapolis, IN), Patrick G. (Burlington VT){my roommate at HK}), Merri L.(Riverside CA), Tricia M. (Sands Point, NY),
Debra S. (Talladega, AL), Sherrie W.(Hempstead, NY), Feng Y.(Salt Lake City, UT),
Heddy Z. (Riverside CA).

Anindya “Bapin” Bhattacharyya
, BA – Technology and Training Specialist Helen Keller National Center (San Francisco, CA)
Eugene Bourquin, DHA, COMS, CI & CT, CLVT – Senior instructor Orientation and Mobility Department at Helen Keller National Center(Manhattan, NY)
Eleanor Carlson, MA, COMS, GDMI Helen Keller National Center – Regional representative (Denver CO),
Deborah Fiderer, BA Supervisor Community Services Helen Keller National Center, Monica Godfrey-Lehrer, MA COMS – Supervisor Technology Department Helen Keller National Center
Carol Hammer, MA, CCC-A, F-AAA – Audiologist Helen Keller National Center
Deborah Harlin, MS, TVI Supervisor Technology Department Helen Keller National Center Joseph McNulty, MA Executive Director Helen Keller National Center
Dona Sauerburger, MA COMS Certified Orientation & Mobility Specialist (Gambris, MA)
And last, but far from least
Sr. Bernadette J. Wynne, MA Coordinator National Training Team Helen Keller National Center.

I would also like to offer special thanks to my roommate Patrick, for being the best of all possible roommates imaginable.  I would also like to thank my fellow team members –Landra, Monique, Christie and especially Jill our student — who all helped me greatly to get through the very challenging task of beginning to learn and implement techniques to teach deaf-blind mobility skills  in downtown port Washington.  Oh and thanks to the interpreters and their great feedback as well.

Also, I would like to thank the kitchen staff for providing us with three square meals daily that were really quite good, along with their good nature and the sense of humor that they exhibited while dispensing it to us.


Our first session offered us a history of deaf-blindness and most of us were surprised to learn that Helen Keller was not the first person of deaf-blindness who was formally trained.  We found out that Ms Victorine Morriseau (1789 – 1832 had that distinction and that the second one was Ms. Laura Bridgman born in 1829 and who attended the Perkins School for the Blind in 1837.   We then found out that the third person with deaf-blindness known be educated was Julia Brace (1807 – 1884) and that Helen Keller (1880 – 1968) was the fourth.  Also in this session we also learned about the history of deaf-blind education, who is included in that population and the breakdown of the physical conditions that lead to deaf-blindness.  We learned about the major causes of Deaf-blindness and we learned how Rubella was the leading cause in history for the condition, and that today Usher’s Syndrome is the leading cause.   We also learned the characteristics of  Charge Syndrome and how this genetic effect brings about deaf-blindness.

In our next session we learned about the characteristics of deaf-blind culture and how it differs from those of  both non-disabled and other disabled populations and after that we jumped right into the much larger topic of communication with persons who are deaf blind along with a general discussion of various signed languages; what is and is not a language; the role of the interpreter; the responsibilities of the interpreter and much more that I could possibly do justice to in this blog.

Next, (and I am not sure whether this occurred late Monday or Early Tuesday) we learned about the various technology available to people who are deaf-blind to aid in communciation.   Without going into detail, I will list the items discussed.   We learned about: The Brailliant B40 Braille display; Screen and text enlargement programs such as  Window Eyes and ZoomText; Features in the iPad that can be used by users who are deaf-blind; The DBC (Deaf-Blind Commuicator; The iPhone 4s, and more, including other adapted devices like the sonic bat-like  Mini-guide and the iBill a talking/vibrating money ID machine.  When we had finished our session with technology,  Our FL (Fearless Leader) Gene announced to us offhandedly that right after this session, we would be heading to Port Washington, where we would all be hopping on a train to Manhattan to participate in a “Street Crossing Race”, an activity that none of us had the faintest idea as to the nature of.  We soon found out.

After the group convened at the train station in Port Washington and Gene instructed in how to get our tickets, we obtained them and boarded the train and headed for Penn Station in the Big Apple.   Along the way Gene entertained us with bits of his endless fascinating knowledge of the area, pointing out restaurants and other landmarks along the way.  Also along the way he gave us the basic idea of what we had in store for us in the “Street Crossing Race.”  We found out that when we got to the starting point — 7th Ave. and 34th St. — the two teams — our group was divided in half —  would congregate on the opposite corners of 34th Street and 7th Ave.  At the starting signal, one member from each team was to don a blindfold and using her or his cane, walk to the next corner (35th), stand there and display a sign like the one below . . .

. . . by holding it over the non-cane side shoulder until a passing pedestrian gives the tapping signal and after that person guides the participant to the other side, also the helper has moved on and cannot observe,  the blindfold is taken off and passed on to the next victim.

Although I did not express it, I will admit that when I looked up the 7th St. sidewalks on both side of 34th to see people flowing five abreast in a solid mass toward us, I was experiencing more than a small degree of skepticism about the efficacy of this endeavor.  However as we tapped our way through them, those masses parted for us as if they were the red sea and in my observation none of us waited as long a  minute at our respective corners before a good Samaritan helped us across.    After this thoroughly uplifting experience Gene took us on a tour of some of the sites, which ended at famous John’s Pizzeria, where we all sat down and shared a delicious meal of a variety of slices.  We arrived back at HK, quite tired, but still energized by this wonderful activity, even after a fifteen hour day.

In our next session, we were instructed and began the discussion on the need for economy of language when communicating spoken language with the deaf-blind through an interpreter.  We learned how to shave down the dialogue we use when speaking with an interpreter — simplifying and condensing our English to its most simple and direct form, so that it more closely mimics the language of people who are deaf — ASL.

Even though I know I did not cover one tenth of what was offered to us at this seminar, I hope that gives anyone that is interested a little idea what went on there.  If you work in the field of visual impairment or deafness or both, and you even think you might work with a deaf-blind person in the future, I strongly suggest that you either get your administrator to come up with the funds or you scrape them together yourself to attend the next conference at HK.  If you do, you will not regret it.

Anyway, here are a few pictures I took at Helen Keller and the surrounding area:

This first pic is of the conference room where we were tortured – er… instructed.

The next is a sculpture located in the yard of the main building entitled “Seaform I”, and which was sculpted by Alfred Van Leon.

Here is a shot of the front entrance . . .

. . . and here is HK’s sign on the front gate:

With occasional comments interspersed, what follows are the rest of the pictures I took during the experience that I have to share with you.

Hard at work in the conference room:

The next group of pictures is from our amazing trip to Manhattan:

On the train . . .

. . . and in “The City” — Unfortunately, I was so involved in the Street Crossing race, both when I was under the fold and when I was observing my fellow participants, that I left my camera in my backpack for the whole thing.  If any of the rest of you who took photos of that activity would like to send me a few, I will include them here.

And one final parting shot of a familiar Manhattan icon — the taking of which almost left me behind:

And to wrap things up, here are a few more pictures I took from the nature preserve right next door to Helen Keller.

After leaving the conference I needed to make a brief stop in Port Washington to get my patched-together-with-a-paperclip glasses fixed and after that was done, I buzzed back to take a drive through The Sands Point Nature Preserve located next to Helen Keller to take some pictures and the results are included below, along with a few familiar faces that I captured when I arrived at the beech.

That’s all folks!

PS: You may notice that I have written quite a few blogs on various subjects.  I just want to warn those of you who might be somewhat of the conservative bent to probably shy away from those blogs in the “News Rants” and “World Blogs” categories as they tend toward the polemic as regards the political right.  However, feel free to go there and I welcome any comment you make positive or negative — “I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”  François-Marie Arouet.  You can get a brief overview at all of them by just reading my blog blog, which is a narrative index giving a brief description of and linking to all of my blogs — well, most of them.

PPS:  I invite anyone to point out Typos, misspellings or omissions you would like included.  In fact, if there is a portion of the event any of you would like to expound further on, feel free to say as much as you like in the comment section and I will insert it in an appropriate portion of the blog.  BTW I have already found about a bajillion little errors that may have been corrected since you last looked.

  1. Gene says:

    Thanks Ross. I had a great week with you guys. Friday, Dona and I spent all day collecting more data for our research project. Love the blog!

    • Hedy says:

      Hi Ross! What a wonderful “nutshell” summary of our experience at HKNC. I agree with all that you wrote about your feelings about this seminar. Words hardly do it justice. TRULY! Your photos are beautiful and I do have a wonderful photo of Merri Leonard…in step no less…while under the blindfold on the most crowded walkway imaginable…during our competitive experience on 7th Street in New York City. Our group was an extraoridinary group of folks during those seminar days 5/14 through 5/17/2012. Thanks for sharing yourselves. AND a very special thanks to Gene, Dona, Bernie, Doris, Ellie, Susanne, Monica and the support staff in the residence hall. BRAVO!

  2. patrick says:

    great posting Ross! thanks so much for the narrative remembrance and visual too… smiles..

  3. Bubbles says:

    Awesomeness! I used to interpret in the DB world and was led to your post by your ever fabulous roommate. Great article and professional grade photos. Woo hoo!

  4. sherrie wheatley says:

    Hi Ross!
    Loved this! Your pictures are great. Wish in a way we had more time together. It was an excellent seminar and wonderful experience. Thank You, Sherrie

  5. patrick says:

    A young girl walking in a forest morning sees a cocoon on a branch dangling by the thinnest of threads. Life within pulses the silk wrapping. A butterfly with wings constrained throws little heaves against the thin wrap struggling to be free.

    She watches the bound butterfly push and pause for a small breath undulating the would be coffin both nest of birth and life trap. With a small scratch of her nail she cleaves a wrinkle and steps back.

    The butterfly takes to the mark and squeezes through tearing its paper mache’ vault. Standing near, the girl sees the new wings unfurl and dry in the soft and muted sun. The butterfly wafts the forest air once and twice stretching against gravity and takes a deep breath too large for any thimbly vat.

    The butterfly lilts from the stem in the emptiness of a pause between two beats up and down and suspends a moment delicately poised for any direction before feeling the tugs and nudges to Oaxaca.

    And as the small tongue of a flame flits away she realizes the strength of her wings comes from the struggle and sometimes the pain of remaining is more than the pain in letting go.

    thank you to Sr. Bernadette J. Wynne, MA for this story.

  6. Merri Leonard says:

    Ross, This was such a memorable week, and one I cannot stop talking of with friends and co-workers. You and each one of the participants made it all the more special. I enjoyed meeting every person there. These pictures are amazing. You have a great eye for the camera and a big heart. Thank you for posting them for our enjoyment.

    • worldtake says:

      Thanks for the great comment Merri. I too have been talking it up and I agree that there was something very special about our whole group and the whole experience will be a very warm memory for life.

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