By Julie Prisco, Port Washington News | December 16, 2022

This is a link to the Port Washington News article.

Dec. 3 is International Day of Persons with Disabilities

On Tuesday, Nov. 29, Helen Keller Services (HKS) celebrated the DeafBlind community and the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Helen Keller Services is a national non-profit that works with individuals who are blind, have low vision, are deaf and blind or have combined hearing-vision loss to live, work and thrive.

Dec. 3 was declared the annual observance of the International Day of Disabled Persons in 1992 by United Nations General Assembly resolution 47/3. According to a press release from Helen Keller Services, the day “aims to promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in all spheres of society and development, and to increase awareness of the situation of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.”

According to the United Nations, disability inclusion is an essential condition to upholding human rights, sustainable development, and peace and security. It is also central to the promise of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to leave no one behind. The commitment to realizing the rights of persons with disabilities is not only a matter of justice; it is an investment in a common future.

Every day at the Helen Keller National Center in Port Washington, people from all over the country with varying degrees of DeafBlindness learn skills that help them live independent lives. Some of the skills practiced at HKS include cooking, navigating a home, computer and technical skills that can help them use the internet and email.

A man leaning over near an oven and wearing oven mits
Piece of cake: Sight-impaired student Tony Giordano of North Carolina gets his freshly baked brownies out of the oven with Maricar Marquez in a DeafBlind equipped kitchen — another (tasty) lesson complete at the Helen Keller National Center.

Job placement assistance is also available throughout the New York area and across the country because HKS is a national organization. HKS has been very successful in getting people jobs that they enjoy, thrive in, can make a paycheck and contribute to the world.

For several weeks the students live on campus in Port Washington and engage in studies and skill labs. At any given time, there can be anywhere from 20-30 students at the Helen Keller campus.

The students are supplied with technology such as hearing aids, braille keyboards and glasses with a special prescription to take home with them. Helen Keller Services teaches their students how to properly use DeafBlind assistance devices such as walking canes, hearing aids and braille keyboards.

On Nov 29, Helen Keller Services demonstrated some classes offered to the DeafBlind students to shine a light on what they do every day.

Maricar Marquez, supervisor of independent living, who is DeafBlind herself, taught student Tony Giordano, who is from North Carolina, how to bake bread in a DeafBlind-equipped kitchen. They made brownies together and learned to navigate a kitchen safely while using the oven.

Don Horvath, senior instructor of adaptive technology, will teach student Maria Esposito from New York how to operate Google Slides on a DeafBlind equipped computer in the tech lab. Esposito has a bit of sight and is able to use a keyboard and computer screen with enlarged letters.

In a statement from HKS, CEO of Helen Keller Servies, Sue Ruzenski said, “We have a long way to go to be more inclusive as a society. It’s really about raising awareness and our ability to act.”

“In an instant, we can change how we open our doors in the workforce, how we mentor our future leaders, how we make our hiring practices more inclusive to that people with disabilities have a voice,” said Ruzenski. “We can offer employers that support, education and training to work with an individual that is blind or DeafBlind to give them the tools that they need to succeed.”

According to a press release from HKS, Chris Woodfill, who is deaf and communicates via American Sign Language (ASL), was a student at Helen Keller National Center in 2008. He learned the same work-life skills that are being taught to today’s students in the classroom kitchens and technology labs at HKNC.

“DeafBlind people are the same as anyone else in this world,” said Woodfill, who is now associate executive director at Helen Keller Services. “They communicate differently, but they live and work the same as all of us.”

Two people sitting in Helen Keller National Center's technology room. The man looks at the girl who's using a laptop
Don Horvath teaches student Maria Esposito how to operate a DeafBlind equipped computer in the tech lab. (Contributed photos)

Helen Keller Services provides a really positive and inspiring environment for blind and DeafBlind people to get all forms of assistance.

“There was a lot of anxiety and fear. All of that related to my future is gone,” said Woodfill. “I can handle whatever comes my way and do whatever is in the future for me.”

“Helen Keller Services equips its students to go out into the world and be the confident and independent people they are capable of being,” said Jody Fisher, Vice President of Public Relations at Austin Williams.

To learn more about Helen Keller Services, visit www.helenkeller.org

This is a link to the Port Washington News article.

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