Ann’s Story: Crossing Borders with Confidence
Ann Wasserman enjoys spending her summers in British Columbia, Canada. The trip from New York to Canada’s West Coast is a long one with the potential to induce stress in any traveler, let alone one with dual sensory loss. But Ann handles it with characteristic grace and pluck.
When traveling, she always has her dog guide with her. Recently, Ann added a new technique to her travel-strategy tool box: wearing a button to let airport employees and other passengers know about her combined vision and hearing loss. She had heard about the idea when she participated in the Confident Living Program for Seniors at HKNC headquarters.
“Psychologically I didn’t want to wear a button that says 'I’m deaf-blind,'” she says. But thinking about the noise and hassle of going through security prompted her to give it a shot. “I’ve been targeted to be searched before, so I figured I’d bear with the button to keep me out of jail,” she muses. Ann was pleasantly surprised by the positive response and increased support she received from the ticket agent and security staff.
This successful experiment is just one example of how she is always looking for new and better ways to overcome obstacles. Ann doesn’t take no for an answer, crediting some of her tenacity to her roots as a special education teacher. She graduated from Teachers College, Columbia University, and taught children with Down’s syndrome and autism in Middletown, New Jersey, for 15 years. When Ann found that her glaucoma was making her job increasingly difficult, she took early retirement and began to pursue other opportunities, including a five-year stint in customer service with Freedom Scientific.
Ann is a study in resilience. She always has had low vision, but she had normal hearing until age 67. “One day there was a pop, and I couldn’t hear,” she says. “It was devastating to me. I never thought I’d lose my hearing.” Within a year and a half, Ann was relying solely on a hearing aid in her left ear. Then she got a cold, which got better, but left her with no hearing in that ear at all. The audiologist told Ann that she was a candidate for a cochlear implant. She immediately sought out the best doctors in the field. After doing her research—and being profoundly deaf for three months--she had the life-changing procedure.
Ann first came to HKNC for an orientation and mobility evaluation. “I didn’t know if seeing eye dog programs would accept me with my hearing loss,” she says. “I needed to find out if the implant gave me enough hearing to still judge traffic.”
In HKNC’s Confident Living Program, Ann was part of a small class of five. Hearing the stories of the other students, she realized how similar their lives were to hers and found kindred spirits. “I still keep in touch with them, and we bounce ideas off each other,” she says. One woman in the group reminded her of someone. “She was 92, and she was like my great aunt reincarnated,” she says, noting how inspiring it was to see her coping with multiple disabilities. “If I'm lucky, I'll end up like her. She’s still so vital. So much psychic energy.”
Ann also stays in contact with HKNC audiologist Carol Hamer. “When I hear about new equipment, I check it out with her,” she says.
Perhaps the most significant thing she took away from her HKNC experience was a confirmation of how important it is to be proactive and to be your own advocate. Now she’s focusing on finding her next career by going to job fairs and seeking out leads. “As I always told my students, ‘You just have to find another way of doing things.’ And I’ve applied that approach to my own life.”