Transcript - DeafBlind Employment

My name is Winnie Tunison. My husband was Deaf, he passed away nine years ago. Now, I miss him. He was an amazing support when I was going through difficult times because of my vision. My parents are hearing. My mother was eager to learn to sign; she knew I would become blind eventually, but I didn’t know.

I went to the New Jersey School for the Deaf. The nurse checked my eyes and informed my mother that I needed to see a professional doctor for retinitis pigmentosa. I couldn’t stand that doctor, so I went to see a different one. This new doctor looked at my eyes and told me not to blink. The exam made my eyes feel like they were burning! Other DeafBlind people told me they went through a similar experience. That was a terrible time.

The doctor told my mother that I would become blind when I was twelve years old, but he was wrong. The doctor told her about Usher Syndrome, when you are born deaf and become blind. I am type 1. Deaf and blind. Type 2 is hard of hearing and blind. Type 3 is you are hearing and sighted, but become deaf.

I have a sister, her name is Cheryl. She is now blind, DeafBlind. Our mother didn’t know she had vision problems until she was 30 years old. She has Usher Syndrome, too. She can drive, but I can’t drive because I have advanced poor vision. When she was working at a phone company, she got into a car accident and decided to stop driving after that, which changed her life.

My husband and I were married for 46 years before he died from Alzheimer’s. I have two daughters, they are both hearing and they are now both certified interpreters. Both live in Rhode Island. I am so proud of both of them. My relatives live all over, and they don’t communicate with me by signing. My mother asked her siblings to please learn some signs or fingerspelling so they could communicate with their niece, but they said no. My mother ended up having to interpret for us all the time, which was sad.

I went to a Deaf school and graduated in 1966, then got married, and then my vision loss began. I didn’t know it until my second daughter was two years old. Someone told me I would become blind. I didn’t want to show the hurt I felt from that. My husband came home from work and told me I would become blind. He said, “Alright,” and he supported me. He told me to think of our daughters, who were so little still. I was okay from then on until I became blind when I was about 40. I did go to the Philadelphia Association for the Blind to learn braille, and before that, a hearing teacher came to my home but they were not a skilled signer—very slow. I took time off work and tried to understand the rules of braille, but there are a lot of different rules which confused me so I gave up.

One Deaf woman set up the first class for DeafBlind people. I was the first person who went there. I loved it. The teacher was hearing with an interpreter. I learned braille quickly there because I’m a book worm, I love reading so it was really important to me

to learn braille. I did that for a little while, and then I made a request for a library for the blind, which helped me to read right away. If reading was no longer available to me, I would have forgotten all kinds of things and been unable to learn.

Then, I went to Gallaudet University through the Helen Keller National Center. They tested me, said I was smart, and encouraged me to go to college. I said no, I was scared of the interpreting situation and the braille situation, especially for tests; what would I do? I visited anyway, and decided I would go for it. I went there for five and a half years and then graduated at the top of my class! It was a challenge but my husband was very supportive the whole time.

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