By DIANE MILLER FEARS
June 14, 2013
LAFAYETTE — Morgan City native Dan Arabie of Lafayette presided over the fifth annual Helen Keller Deaf-Blind Awareness luncheon held June 7at the Affiliated Blind of Louisiana building in Lafayette. Arabie, who has Usher syndrome, is Helen Keller Deaf-Blind Awareness founder and serves as committee chairman.
Arabie was aided at the luncheon by support service provider Judy Miller of Austin, Texas, and a Morgan City native. Support service providers are specially trained professionals who enable people who have combined vision and hearing losses to access their environments and make informed decisions. SSPs provide visual and environmental information, sighted guide services and communication accessibility.
The luncheon featured numerous speakers that provided information on services for the deaf-blind community. Arabie used American Sign Language to state that the purpose of the luncheon is to offer information to help improve the quality of life for the deaf-blind.
Featured speaker Dave Myers founded the Louisiana Commission for the Deaf in 1980. He told the history of why he, himself a deaf person, founded the commission.
Myers signed, “I always studied my surroundings.” That study lead him to notice that many people that had hearing loss also had visual impairments.
“At that time, no one had heard of Usher’s syndrome,” he signed. “Many people had it but didn’t know what it was.”
Usher syndrome is the most common condition that affects both hearing and vision, according to the National Institutes of Health. The major symptoms of Usher syndrome are hearing loss and an eye disorder called retinitis pigmentosa. Retinitis pigmentosa causes night-blindness and a loss of peripheral vision (side vision) through the progressive degeneration of the retina.
Myers eventually met someone with the Helen Keller National Center that taught him about Usher.
“Learning for the first time about Usher’s helped people to understand,” he signed. “I’m really proud that I was able to assist.”
That need for assistance led him to seek help from the state Legislature to establish the commission. He wrote a grant for money for the commission to hire someone to take a census of the number of Louisiana residents with Usher syndrome.
Louisiana has a high number of deaf-blind residents, according to Arabie. The latest census has the number of deaf-blind persons in the United States at about 700,000.
In keeping with the purpose of the meeting, speakers included Naomi DeDual, Commission for the Deaf director; Lynn Blanchard, Affiliated Blind of Louisiana executive director; Catherine Miller, National Federation of the Blind of Louisiana; Paulette Guthrie, Amelia Manor Nursing Home representative; Maria Annis, Deaf-Blind Support Group; Scott Crawford, National Deaf-Blind Equipment Program representative; Lou Cannon, Louisiana Association of the Deaf president; Philomena Wolf, Louisiana Acadiana Deaf-Blind Citizens president; and Cleve Cormier, Lafayette Athletic Association of the Deaf president.
Jackie Broussard, Helen Keller Deaf-Blind Awareness committee member, presented the proclamation signed by Gov. Bobby Jindal declaring June 23 to 29 as Helen Keeler National Awareness Week. It calls for efforts to have full inclusion for American’s with multi-sensory disability.
Both DeDual and Blanchard spoke on the extra funds recently received from the government to help with funding for more SSPs. There are 57 clients in the state being aided by 38 SSPs. Funds will help increase the number of clients that can be offered services and the number of SSPs, The recent passage of House Bill 75 will provide funds for the Telecommunications for the Deaf Fund through a 2-cent tax on cell phone bills.
Arabie also addressed the crowd about deaf-blind education. He signed, “A cane is very important instrument in my hand.”
He also said that the deaf-blind don’t want pity. “We can do everything,” he signed. “I will tell you when I need help.”
He also offered advice for fellow users of SSPs — many entertainment venues will provide a two for one price so that the interpreter can attend for free. Proof of disability may need to be provided when seeking the deal.
Attendees of the luncheon also included St. Mary Parish natives Nancy Perry of Lafayette and Arnold Arabie of Amelia.