In the suitcase along with the pages of notes that went into the creation of Words in My Hands, was all I had learned about deafness, mostly through my work as an interpreter. I began my training at the age of twenty-two, when I naively thought that interpreting simply meant listening to the speaker and putting signs onto their words. It wasn’t long until I became aware that interpreting was much more complicated than that. Growing into my profession, I became immersed in what not being able to hear means. Into the depths I evolved into a teacher, an advocate, a counselor, and a friend. Over the years while bridging the gap between the hearing and the deaf, I’ve met hundreds of deaf people with diverse intellectual skills and abilities. Each possesses a unique style along the thread of communication modes used by those who live in the silent world. And each one has taught me something about broken ears.
My decision to write Words in My Hands was inspired by what I learned from them, but most especially from Bert Riedel. Despite the gradual loss of his hearing and his sight in his youth, Bert became a musician and a dentist. As the years turned and eventually brought him into total silence and darkness, he continued to persevere and find ways to move forward in his life. At age eighty-six, he became my sign language student. Hired by Bert’s son and daughter-in-law, who he lived with, my job was to teach the three of them signs so they could communicate more easily.
Their innocent undertaking, hit me profoundly. Until this time, I had seen too much of the opposite. Too many unfortunate situations, consequences of families’ failed attempts at learning to how to communicate effectively with their deaf child, or sibling. Too many exchanges had been lost, and opportunities missed. Misunderstandings abound.
But this family was different. Even at Bert’s advanced age, the thought that something might be impossible or too late to try never occurred to them. So we began our journey, and Bert and I continued to work together for five years. With forty-two years between us, Bert had a lot to teach me as well. And what ensued was life changing for us both.
So profound was the effect on me that I believed there was a message that the world needed to hear. “Never say can’t, and never give up. For, it’s never too late to do something.” This message is what compelled me, a person who had never thought of herself as a writer, to write this book.
While the story illustrates psychosocial factors that complicate the disabilities of deafness and deaf-blindness, it carries an inspirational message as well. This book is a resource for educators, rehabilitation counselors, and other professionals who work or interact with the deaf, blind, elderly, or disabled. It is for families who deal with a member’s hearing loss, vision loss, or other disability. This book shows how miracles can happen where there are dedicated professionals and caregivers.
Words in My Hands has received:
An award from The National League of American Pen Women
Praise from acclaimed author, Joanne Greenberg, from Patricia Clark, researcher of
ASL at Rochester Institute of Technology, and B.J. LeJeune, Director of
Deaf-Blind Programs at Mississippi State University.
National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers, Inside Gcm,
Winter 2007 /Spring 2008
British Journal of Occupational Therapy, December 2007
California Association of Resource Specialists and Special Educators
Oklahoma Speech-Language Hearing Association
Alvin Roberts, Bureau of Blind Services Quality Assurance Administrator,
Dr. McCay Vernon, Chairman of the National Deaf Academy Advisory
Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education (fall of 2006)
The National League of American Pen Women
Article: "Reconnected by Sign," American Journal of Medical Genetics Part A, Genetic Drift, published July 2007
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