Q&A: Leading the Deafblind Program

Martha Majors has taught at Perkins for 45 years

By Karen Shih

At Perkins School for the Blind, Martha Majors is synonymous with the Deafblind Program. The tireless educator, now in her 45th year at Perkins, is the new educational director of the program. Between serving students and families at Perkins’ Watertown campus and sharing her expertise overseas during school breaks, she took a moment to catch her breath and talk to Perspectives.

What do you enjoy most about working at Perkins?

I love thinking about who these students are and how we can make a difference. Every single day I see a child’s face and I think, ‘What are they going to learn today?’ The other day we had a little girl who’s been here for a couple of years and all by herself she signed ‘more’ and we cheered. My staff in the Deafblind Program is so committed, creative and collaborative. Our goal is to help every child communicate so they can advocate for themselves.

How have you seen the Deafblind Program change over the years?

When I started as a teacher, most of our students had rubella from German measles or were born prematurely. As the years went on, we started to accept children with more unique syndromes, including many we later found out had CHARGE syndrome (a genetic disorder that causes congenital defects). We accepted our first student in a wheelchair in the 1980s. We didn’t have specialty services like physical, occupational or speech therapy. Now, as we’ve integrated these providers, as well as nurses, into the program, we’ve been able to work with students who have more medical challenges.

You’ve done a lot of work through Perkins International. Why is that important to you?

I get refueled when I travel internationally. I use it as a way to reestablish what I believe in by teaching somebody else. I just got back from Malawi. I’ve traveled to Ghana for 12 years, visited Eastern Europe and worked in Istanbul for eight to nine years. I do teacher training, curriculum development and work directly with the students. Because I keep going back, I can see if it’s making a difference. More recently I’ve worked with ministries of education on aligning their national curriculum with what students who are deafblind need.

What do you want people to know about the students in our Deafblind Program?

Students who are deafblind do not have access to hearing and vision the way we do. Some are totally blind and profoundly deaf. It is our mission to teach that child through the world of touch. We have students with some vision or variable vision and some hearing. We have to take advantage of that and help them learn to use it the best they can. Our students work very hard. It’s our job to say, ‘How do I know what you’re interested in?’ and teach through that interest.