Demystifying deafblindness

Public school nurses hear from Perkins spokesperson Jaimi Lard about the realities of living without vision or hearing

Two women use tactile sign to communicate in a classroom

Nurses from Grafton Public Schools had a chance to practice tactile, or “hand-over-hand,” signing with Jaimi Lard, who is deafblind.

November 10, 2017

For most students, the nurse’s office at Grafton High School is a comforting and familiar place. There’s a wall lined with soft cots, sun streaming through the windows and smiling staff.

But what would the space feel like to a student who is deafblind? 

Nine nurses from Grafton Public Schools explored this question during an October presentation by Perkins School for the Blind Diversity and Inclusion Speaker Jaimi Lard. Lard, who has been deafblind since birth, communicated to the group through her longtime interpreter, Christine Dwyer.

“More and more students with visual impairment and deafblindness are coming to public schools,” Dwyer said. “We’re here to help demystify the whole experience, so you know a little more what to expect.”

To begin, the pair passed out vision simulation goggles that allow the wearer to experience different kinds of visual impairment. With the goggles in place, some nurses found they had tunnel vision, while others could only see out of one eye.

“We think of blindness and we think, ‘Oh, blindness means I can’t see anything,’” said Dwyer. “It doesn’t mean that, blindness just means I don’t see like everybody else.”

Lard is completely deaf but has some usable vision that allows her to read large print using a magnifier. Her advice to the audience: don’t assume someone can or can’t see something.

“Stop, ask, and listen,” she said. “Find out exactly what they need – sometimes all you need to do is tell the person what they’re looking at.”

Most deafblind individuals communicate using sign language, so Lard and Dwyer demonstrated popular signs like “Hello” and “Nice to meet you” in addition to medical terms like “Band-Aid” and “headache.” Later, each nurse had a chance to practice tactile, or “hand-over-hand,” signing with Lard, who can’t see traditional signs.  

“Happy Halloween,” one nurse signed, in honor of the holiday. Lard laughed and nodded her head.

Since becoming a Perkins spokesperson in 2000, Lard has shared her story with high school students, community organizations and employees at Logan Airport. In every presentation, her goal is to educate her audience on what it’s like to be deafblind and help them feel more comfortable around people with disabilities.

In Grafton, she described her years as a student at Perkins and as an employee at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where she delivered samples for the transport department for 13 years. She shared videos of her adult life, including one shot at home in her apartment and another taken on a grocery shopping trip with Dwyer.

Cecelia Thurber, a nurse coordinator for Grafton Public Schools who spearheaded Lard’s visit, said she appreciated getting a window into the day-to-day life of someone who is deaf and blind.

“I thought it was an excellent presentation and very informative for the nurses,” she said. “I loved seeing the independence and what life is like after school.”

What You Can Do

Book Jaimi for your organization's next event. You'll learn what it's like to live with deafblindness and how to make your community more inclusive.