HKNC Staffer Draws on Her Experience


A HKNC program coordinator draws on her experience as a person who is deaf-blind to teach others independent living skills.


Maricar Marquez and her husband, Don Horvath PHOTO: Heather Walsh for The New York Times
Maricar Marquez and her husband, Don Horvath. PHOTO: Heather Walsh for The New York Times

Drawing on Experience to Teach Independent Living Skills

New York Times

As told to PATRICIA R. OLSEN, JANUARY 9, 2016

Maricar Marquez, 44, is an assistant program coordinator for independent living at the Helen Keller National Center in Sands Point, N.Y.

Q. What is your role at the Helen Keller National Center?

A. We work with clients with both hearing and vision loss. I help run the training program and also teach clients how to take care of their personal needs, prepare food and perform other day-to-day activities. I’ve worked here for 18 years. I started as an intern while pursuing a master’s degree at Gallaudet University in Washington.

You can identify with some of the challenges your clients face.

I was born deaf and have Usher syndrome, a condition that affects vision and hearing, so I’m almost blind myself. So yes, I can more easily relate to challenges our clients experience in their daily activities. I also have a more personal connection at work.

Your job led to a major change in your personal life.

I met my husband, Don Horvath, here. Years ago I organized a ski trip, and he went with us as a volunteer. Don doesn’t have vision or hearing loss and didn’t even know sign language at the time. He currently works in the Communications Learning Center at the center.

What are some ways you communicate?

I grew up deaf, so American Sign Language is my primary language. I was able to sign visually until my mid-20s, when progressive vision loss prevented that and I started receiving sign tactually instead. I place my hand over a signer’s hand and feel the signs. I also use touch signals myself. I communicate with the nonsigning public through text. In the office, I use a computer with a Braille display; a second, portable Braille display allows me to access my iPhone.

What do you do when you’re not teaching or supervising?

On breaks at work, I go outside with my beautiful black guide dog or work out in the gym here. Outside of work, I’ve run a marathon, ridden the TD Five Boro Bike Tour on a tandem bike and gone parasailing, sky diving and rock climbing. I’ve also co-authored a book on deaf-blind people in sports and recreation.

What is one of your challenges on the job?

A few of my clients have not worked with a deaf-blind instructor before, and sometimes it’s awkward at first. It takes time to build a relationship and learn to work together, but we work it out.

Vocations asks people about their jobs. Interview conducted and condensed by Patricia R. Olsen.