Marissa’s Story: It Takes a Team

Introduction

Marissa’s team at HKNC helped her find the light in the dark—and a path back to her career in school counseling.

Story

Woman sitting on bench with mobile device and cane.

How do you find the light in the dark? This is a question Marissa Gold faced both physically and emotionally over the course of 2013-2014. Marissa lost her vision suddenly overnight due to an unnamed virus initially attributed to the environmental impact of Hurricane Sandy. At the time, she received various treatments in an attempt to save her life; two of them had other effects – the loss of part of her hearing and a good amount of balance.

“Life handed me a triple slap—one that I could barely comprehend—when I was neatly placed in the category of deaf-blind, which is really more of a broad spectrum definition in two words, than a single grouping of people with dual sensory loss,” she says.

After accepting her “new reality,” Marissa focused on transitioning to living her life in a new format. “A friend had told me early on that someday I would return to the field of school counseling, and I cannot say that I believed this for a second,” she says. “But that changed after I came to HKNC. My concept of the possibilities began to widen and become infinite.”

Coming to HKNC was a bit of a culture shock for Marissa. “I went from never truly knowing any deaf-blind individuals, to now being one,” she says. “How people could pour milk into their cereal or match their clothes let alone hold down a job was an enigma to me.” Having no knowledge of how to type without being able to look at the keys or how to plug in an appliance “without catastrophe,” Marissa began slowly to broaden her understanding of what she could achieve. “The patience of the instructors, let alone their skill, was invaluable,” she says. “In time, I learned to be a better cook than I was sighted; to fly around a computer using commands that seemed like Latin; to think in new ways; and to identify with others on a new level.”

As time passed and she gained new skills at HKNC, Marissa became steadfastly determined to get back to work as a school counselor. “My sights were set, though the idea of going back was, in all honesty, terrifying,” she says. “With time and knowledge, however, I realized that just because my playing field was made out of very different terrain, in many ways, HKNC had given me the tools to help level it.”

When Marissa returned to her job, she found that she was able to manage her caseload of over 200 students, help them academically and socially, relate to her colleagues and even “have time to take a lunch most days.” She cites the importance of self-advocacy and forming a network of fellow advocates. “I don’t think I would have the accommodations I need, the skills I have mastered or the resources at my fingertips, without the foundation the HKNC staff and fellow students help me build,” she says.

Marissa attributes the independence and productivity of her life to her friends, her family and the professionals at HKNC. “The connections I made with residence staff who grew familiar with the smell of burning popcorn from my apartment; the relationships with my peers who showed me that you can, in fact, play deaf-blind charades; and the professionals who advocated for me and taught me how to become my own best advocate—they all helped shape me into the deaf-blind woman I am today.”

Marissa says that she found the light through the dark, but not by lighting a candle. “The support, friendship and caring of the HKNC team—the staff and the volunteers—helped brighten my new world.”