Perkins School for the Blind has a very special group of employees who work every day to educate and empower people who are blind, including those with multiple disabilities. In this “What I Do” blog post, Christine Dwyer discusses what it’s like to be an interpreter and social service provider for people who are deafblind. This story was compiled and edited by Stefanie Cloutier.
As a young girl I had a friend who was deaf, and I knew I wanted to work someday with people who are deaf. Then I saw Patty Duke as Helen Keller in “The Miracle Worker” and I knew I wanted to work at Perkins.
I have two job titles: sign language interpreter in the Communications Department and independent living specialist for Community Programs.
My interpreter job is Tuesday through Thursday with Jaimi Lard, Perkins’ spokesperson who is deafblind. I’m there to make her job accessible so she can be on the same page as everyone else. Jaimi can’t see, she can’t hear, so to communicate, we use tactile sign. She needs to feel my hands to understand the shapes; I sign to Jaimi with her hand under mine and she signs back.
Jaimi has all these great ideas and she needs a way to express them. She likes to say she can borrow my eyes, my ears and my voice. I give her access to her coworkers and at meetings. I go with her to get coffee. But I get that this position is more than just an interpreter, so I also describe environmental stuff. Instead of just getting her food, I’ll say “Here are the cakes they have. Which cake would you like?”
In my independent living specialist job, I work with four women, two on Mondays and two on Fridays. One is hard of hearing and blind and doesn’t sign, while the other three are deafblind and sign.
Sometimes all four will want to go out to lunch together and want me to go with them to interpret. I love it! I’ve known them so long, since they were students at Perkins, they can trust that they can talk in front of me and I won’t repeat it.
I take them to appointments or food shopping, balance checkbooks and pay bills. If they need to talk to a family member who doesn’t sign fluently, I’ll help with that. When the new Market Basket opened up, I took them there to check it out. You and I, we can jump in our car and say, “Let’s go check out the new store.” They need a provider to go with them. I’m more than just a provider, I’m embedded in their lives.
Working for Perkins, I feel rewarded. I just helped that person do something on their own that they couldn’t do.