Helen Keller National Center on "Live it Up" with Donna Drake
Tune in on Saturday, October 15th at 6:30 a.m. on Channel 10 to see a 10 minute interview with HKNC employee Kathy Mezack and HKNC's former student, Simon Gaudiuso on the “Live it Up” show hosted by Donna Drake. Kathy and Simon are being interviewed along with Tara Ryan, SDM director, ADM at Adecco where Simon has been employed for almost 7 years!
Helen Keller National Center on Live It up with Donna Drake CBS-TV
Donna Drake: Up next on Live It Up are representatives from vocational services of the Helen Keller National Center. With us now are Kathy, Tara and Simon. Welcome to the show. So tell me a little bit about your position there.
Kathy Mezack: Well, The Helen Keller National Center, located in Sands Point, Long Island, is the only comprehensive training program with an emphasis on vocational training for deaf-blind individuals in this country. We work with a very diverse group of individuals who have varying degrees of vision and hearing loss and are using varying types of communication. Some students may be using sign language, braille, tactile sign language, and certainly technology has opened up the world for the deaf-blind.
Donna: And you represent an employer, Tara. You work with Addeco.
Tara Ryan: I work with the Addeco. Very important for Addeco for diversity and inclusion. So years ago, a former contact of the Helen Keller National Association, we had several people come in and do internships with us. Simon was one of those individuals. He was a computer programmer. And after his internship was up, as soon as we had an open position, we hired him. So he has been a permanent employee of ours for six years.
Donna: Wonderful! And Simon you did tell me that you’re starting a new seventh year there. Right? Congratulations!
Simon Gaudiuso: Thank You.
Donna: What was the experience like? You know, having a visual impairment, having some hearing problems. How did working with Helen Keller services expand your world?
Simon: Honestly, I was not aware of adaptive technology even though, you know they really introduced me at the time to enlarge the screen and also invert the background color. I can see better with higher contrast. Some people used white on black but at the time, black on white worked for me. They were very, very helpful.
Donna: Excellent! So once you had these new tools and these new skills it allowed you to be gainfully employed. And that’s for any job. You are doing computer programming. What do you like best for what you do there Simon?
Simon: I like my coworkers and my managers. I mean I like to goof around. You know they don’t look at me like a deaf-blind person. They look at me like I’m just Simon. You know I’m very silly. So, you know I’m just me. You know I program, I develop applications. I’m just like anybody else. I use Visual Studio’s and adaptive technology now that I am completely blind. I use JAWS screen reader, you know J, A, W, S. but, you know, I’m just like anybody else. Now, you know, I mean I use adaptive technology like a person who needs reading glasses is adaptive technology.
Donna: It absolutely Is. You know I just turned 61 recently. And my eyesight Simon is getting more difficult for me. You know even someone that does have the gift of sight or 20-20 vision for the longest time. Around 60 I needed glasses and now I don’t even know what I need. Because It is hard to correct the vision that I have right now at this age because it is changing. So I can appreciate what you’re saying because you’re no different than everybody else. But here working at Addeco you have the tools that you need to do an amazing job. And you are brilliant. You have the opportunity to program. It is probably fun.
Simon: I do have a lot of fun. You know it’s definitely fun there.
Tara: And actually having Simon gives us a big advantage too. Because he will actually look at our website and with his software be able to tell us which pieces of that website are not user-friendly for someone who is impaired.
Donna: Excellent! You actually become their eyes and ears for them. You’re right, how do you know if print is too small for other people to read unless you have someone who says this is too small to read. And from your perspective, how does vocational services work? You know, how do people come to you? What type of training are you providing?
Kathy: Well, as I have mentioned, we are a national program so we are serving individuals from all over the country. Simon came to us from Pennsylvania. We provide a person centered vocational program in that individuals can explore the vocational interests by going into companies that we have a relationship with. They open their doors to us and allow us to have a hands on experience. When Simon came to us, he had a very specific area of programming that he was interested in. He would not consider anything else. There were other companies that we met with, but it was not a match for him. It was not his area of interest or expertise. We found Addeco. We had been working with Addeco previous to Simon coming to us. And the first day we were there, we scheduled an informational interview which in my mind was going to be a casual fact-finding mission where he could get some information. It turned out that the entire team met with him and fired questions at him from all angles and after that meeting they offered him the internship and said very clearly, Simon if you do not have the skills and you do, we would not have been able to offer you the internship. And eventually it turned into full-time employment all these years later.
Donna: Congratulations. It seems like a wonderful community to be involved in. You are doing so many things. Tara is there anything that you would like to share with us? You look like you are moved right now and it’s great and it is totally okay.
Tara: Everybody in the office has a very special relationship with Simon because if you’re not going to be friendly and joking around with Simon he will stand next to your desk and poke you until you do.
Donna: You are building community spirit. Is that what you’re telling me Simon? You are really building community spirit.
Tara: It is not just with our department, but there are people from the other departments that he is friendly with, that he goes to lunch with and hangs out with. So, really anywhere in the building, everybody who he is and knows he is coming.
Donna: Loud and proud, right Simon? So Simon from your perspective is this something that you feel that other people who have an impairment should check out? Would you send other people there for vocational training?
Simon: Oh, absolutely, if you are deaf-blind, I mean you can get a lot out of this. I mean adaptive technology, how to use the iPhone, using voice over. You can learn how to use screen readers like JAWS. For low vision people too you can learn how to do tax. They have independent living. You can learn how to prepare meals. And also if you want to you can learn off-campus. You can learn braille, sign language, obviously vocational with Kathy and her team. And they have a wonderful social worker there. When I was going there, we were down. They have an audiologist, low vision person there. You know, the full package.
Donna: Thank you Simon that was lovely. Is there anything else you want to share with us Kathy?
Kathy: Well I can only say that Addeco has been so accommodating in working with Simon. For example, he did come back to the Center a few times to brush up on some technology and they have always been very accommodating giving him the time to do this. They also purchased whatever adaptive equipment that he would need. It has just been a really great relationship working with Addeco. We are happy with the way things worked out for Simon He moved to New York, bought a condo. He is living a full and complete life and really enjoying life as it should be.
Donna: Well thank you very much. You know celebrating your success and hopefully we empowered other people to do the same. It has really been a pleasure to have all of you here. Kathy what is the website that people could reach out to?
Kathy: It is Helen Keller.org
Donna: Oh that’s simple, Helen Keller.org. Thank you so much. Stay tuned for more on Live It Up. We hope that you enjoyed this special.