This past April, I went to a conference for people who are deafblind – people like me.
The event drew more than 400 attendees from 23 different countries, all there to learn about how we can create a more accessible world. And I learned a lot! But the inaugural Deafblind International Network of the Americas Conference, which Perkins School for the Blind co-hosted in Hyannis, Massachusetts, did more than educate me.
It gave me a chance to help other people understand what it’s like to be deafblind.
Before everyone arrived at the conference, for instance, I had the opportunity to speak with the hotel staff. Using tactile sign language and an interpreter, which is how I communicate, I shared tips for interacting with people who are deafblind.
Up to the task, the hotel staff wore blindfolds and earplugs to simulate the experience of not being able to see or hear. And, of course, I taught them how important it is to not move anything around in hotel rooms occupied by people who are blind.
I also met a sweet woman named Cal. She worked every morning in the lobby where she served coffee. Upon meeting her, I had someone help me explain to Cal how to talk with me. We quickly developed a rapport and as the conference went on, we began to use written notes to communicate.
I was able to order on my own and I just loved how independent I felt there, not feeling like I was troubling people for assistance all the time.
I was also thrilled that the conference provided a way for me to connect with old friends and new.
I got to celebrate with my good friend and former Perkins colleague Pam Ryan, who won the Anne Sullivan Award for her more than 40 years of work supporting people who are deafblind.
I first met Pam when I was just five years old. She taught me so many things – daily living skills, academics in the classroom and how to use an interpreter – and she remains a friend to this day. I am so proud of her and proud to know her.
It was during the banquet and dance, though, when I met the most new people. Needless to say, I’m glad I attended the Pro-Tactile session during the day. There, I learned how to include myself in the group dance, which was so much fun.
Ultimately, I had a really great time. I learned so much in the different seminars throughout the four days. But one of the biggest things I took away from the conference was that we can learn so much by simply talking and listening to one another.
Watch Jaimi show off her moves, dancing the "Cupid Shuffle" with assistance from two tactile interpreters.