Angie C. Orlando - Deaf-Blind and Determined

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Friday, July 20, 2018

I'm not your deaf proof

I love students, and there are many around. Kent State University
has excellent 4-year programs in American Sign Language and
Educational Interpreting. The University of Akron offers ASL as a
foreign language. When I host Silent Social at Summit Mall
gatherings, most students who attend are from KSU and Akron. We
also see students from Cleveland State University, Stark
University, Tri-C and more. Plus some Deaf services centers,
libraries and high schools have ASL classes, and those students
will show up.

It's the same with my other organization, Northeast Ohio
DeafBlind Association. Students often make up the majority of
volunteers. We couldn't host events without them.

Other people attend these events. They may be interpreters,
teachers, people who are Deaf and those who are DeafBlind. We get
a good assortment of people. But this message is for the students
and the educators who make the rules.

Deaf people are not proof. They should not be objectified or used
in any way. When people who are Deaf need to sign papers and have
their picture taken as proof for a school project, that's exactly
what happens.

I'm partially sympathetic. I was a student once and had to have
people sign as proof of communication or attendance. I know how
nervous students are, and how good it feels to get the task over

I'm also frustrated. I set up the socials for the Deaf community.
The objective is for people to have fun while communicating in
their language, sign language. We can't do that when we must sign
those papers and let strangers take our pictures. We can't relax
and be normal, because the flocking students remind us that we
are abnormal.

Here's my story:

On a Friday, in mid-April, 2017, I was at Summit mall for the
twice-a-month Deaf social. There was a heavy turnout of students
from the University of Akron. I assumed their due date was
approaching. I signed around ten papers that night.

The next evening was the Deaf Prom, which is hosted by the
University of Akron ASL Club as a way to give back to the Deaf
community. It was my first time attending. I had a wonderful
night and was thrilled to be voted prom queen.

When the event was over, my friend took things out to her car,
while I waited inside. A whole group of people lined up to talk
to me. I was overwhelmed. I felt like a celebrity The magic faded
as student after student asked for my picture and signature. Some
actually talked to me. Other's got straight to the point and
thrust a pen in my hand.

It seemed like "giving back to the community" had a catch to it.
I was being used as proof. I was being used and didn't like it
one bit.

I swore I would no longer sign those papers. At the next Silent
Social at Summit Mall, a really sweet student talked to me for a
long time. She worked hard to use her ASL skills. It was a
pleasure to talk to her. When she asked for my picture and
signature, I willingly gave it to her... and everyone else for
over a year.

I returned to the Deaf Prom this year and was again voted prom
queen. I told my friend that I would sign no papers that night.
She made sure no one asked. I felt like a normal person. It was a
great feeling.

I continued to sign student forms. Sometimes I was happy to do
it. Sometimes I was reluctant. We all know that some students get
what they need as quick as possible and leave the event. I signed
and smiled for cameras.

Recently, on July 8th, NEODBA hosted a picnic and pool party in
Mayfield Village. It was a huge success with around 35 people in
attendance. As usual, we had a lot of students. I think it's a
great experience for them. When one asked for my signature, I
signed the paper. When another asked for my picture, I let her
take it. Things got out of hand. I was standing barefoot on the
cement pavilion, leaning against a table for support, face
contorted with pain and my shorts half down when another student
wanted my services. I broke. I will no longer sign papers. I will
no longer let students take my picture. I will not be anyone's

When this happened, I was not in the mood to chat. I wanted to go
swimming. More students kept showing up. I finally got my shoes
and braces off. I already wore my swim suit. I needed to take off
my shorts. To do that, I had to stand up. I had fallen a few
weeks prior and sprained my foot in two places. It hurt like hell
to stand. It felt ridiculous to be caught with my shorts half

I wonder about all those pictures that got turned in for points.
Did the teacher laugh? Did she think, "Angie again??" Did
students post the pictures on social media? Did they say, "Look,
I met a real, live Deaf person?"

I have heard from local individuals who are Deaf who refuse to
attend the mall social because they fell hunted and used by
students. I'm torn. Students are important. They need to practice
their ASL skills. They need experience. I want them to attend.
The real focus, however, is on the Deaf and DeafBlind community.
These events are their time... our time. Can we come together in
peach, share and chat without the need to sign papers and have
our pictures taken?

There has to be another way for students to prove that they have
attended events. Keep in mind that Kent State no longer requires
signatures and pictures. Other colleges need to do the same. I
say again, I love students. I hope you will attend and enjoy
these events. But don't ask me to sign and smile. I'm done being
your Deaf proof.

Angie C. Orlando
July 2018

Permission is granted to share.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

On your birthday, 2007

May 22, 2007

Dear Joseph,

Happy Birthday! Today you are six years old. Six! Such a big
number for such a big boy.

This has been a busy, exciting, eventful and traumatic year for
you, Joseph. There have been a lot of changes in your life. This
is the year I left your father, and we moved to Ohio to live with
Grandma Lois and Grandpa Pete. I did what I believed was best for
you. I know becoming a child of divorce is horrible and scary,
but I believe in my heart I had to do it to save us. I can only
hope that some day you will understand this and forgive me for
any pain I caused you.

You are absolutely thriving in your new life in Ohio. You
attended Kindergarten at Longcoy Elementary School, my old
school. Miss Pletzer is an awesome teacher, and you've had a
wonderful school year. This has been the magical year that you
learned to read, and what a reader you have become! We call you a
reading machine. I was amazed as you learned more skills and
figured out how to put letters together to make words, and words
together to make sentences. It is now the end of the school year,
and you are reading and writing at mid-first grade level. Way to
go, Joseph!

You have made advancements in your social development. You love
being with your friends more than anything in the world. It must
be wonderful to have Robbie and Alex to place with each day. I
just wish you boys wouldn't get in quite so much trouble. (smile)

This is the year you learned to ride your bike without training
wheels. You probably think that was your most important
accomplishment ever. Oh how you love to ride your bike!

You have been busy with activities this year. You enjoyed story
hour, swimming lessons, soccer, ice skating, and tee-ball. You
love to go to the playground, especially the Huge Playground in
Stow. You have a special bond with Grandpa Pete, and you two
often go to Burger King Of course, you like going to movies and
special events with your friends. Finn is a great friend for play

I have been so proud to watch you grow and gain confidence in
yourself. You are no longer a shy, little loner. You are happy
and love to try new things and meet new people. You even try to
eat new foods and have discovered you like peas and chips with
salsa. And we continue to have a never ending argument about
crust. I can understand that many children do not eat sandwich or
toast crust. But I swear Joseph... apples and English Muffins do
not have crust!

You and I have a pretty good relationship. You think I'm funny,
and tell me I'm silly. I love to make you laugh. Being your mommy
is wonderful. You are no longer my little
baby, yet, you will always be my special boy.

Have fun being six!


Tuesday, March 13, 2018

disabled voices online

View online:

Braille means a lot to me. I love it very dearly and it makes
much of what I do considerably easier. But for this week's
Disabled Voices Online participant, it is her main method of
communication and
 without it she very literally wouldn't be able to run her blog.
Angela is an American Deafblind blogger who shares her
experiences of the world through her blog Deaf Blind and
Determined. You can find her blog at:
What inspired you to start your blog?

 I had a powerful story to tell, in terms of leaving my abusive
husband and winning sole custody of my young son. I wrote a long
article that was chopped to bits and published in a DeafBlind
related newsletter. Later, the entire article was included in a
Deaf e-zine. I was surprised by the strong, positive reaction. My
husband had made me feel stupid, as if I could do nothing right.
But people were moved by my writing and wanted to know more about
my life, not just the big, sensational court story, but about
everyday things. Many people were encouraging me. One day I
decided to just go ahead and start blogging.

How did you find the accessibility of the initial set up of the

 I couldn't do it. I picked BlogSpot because another Deafblind
writer used it. She was Deaf with low vision and used enlarged
print. I'm fully deaf and blind and read using braille. Setup was
not accessible to my technology. I had a friend do it for me.

How do you find the accessibility of regularly running the blog?

I still have issues with accessing the website and managing the
blog. Some parts aren't accessible. Others are partially
accessible. I can't do what I want on my own. I always have to
ask my friend for help, and I feel guilty. I want to be in charge
of my own page.

What I like about Blogspot, however, is that I can write my blogs
offline and then upload via email. If it wasn't for the post
through email feature, I would be unable to have this blog.

How do you promote the blog?

It's in my signature file for email. When I post a new blog, I
put up a notice on both my private and public Facebook pages.

What assistive technology do you use to help you run your blog?

I use an old device called a BrailleNote Apex. It is a note taker
made by Humanware. I am most comfortable writing and revising on
that device, plus setting up the layout. The downside is that the
web program is very limited. This is why my friend helps as

What do you feel your blog has achieved?

My blog has reached out to other people who are DeafBlind and
shows them that they are not alone. Others have the same problems
and the same issues. People with other types of disabilities and
even non-disabled people have told me they relate to my stories.

At the same time, my blog demonstrates that, yes, I have severe
disabilities, but I'm still a typical person with the same kinds
of fears, dreams, love and experiences. My way might be
different, but it's not wrong.

What problems have you faced with the blog and how have you
overcome them?

The first problem, after set up, was that I was afraid my
ex-husband would find my blog and use things against me in court.
I was afraid of him knowing anything about my life. For the first
few years, my blog was anonymous and I used fake names. Later, I
realized there was nothing wrong with what I was posting, that I
had nothing to be afraid of, so I finally added my name to the
page. I still use fake names for my ex-husband and some other

Another problem was that I couldn't read full comments and needed
my friend to approve them for me. She also has to remove spam.

For a while, I also blogged for Kent Patch. There were a few
flamers there who insisted I didn't exist or that my story
couldn't be real. I mostly let my friends and family write
comments to set them straight. The controversy seemed to get more
people reading my blog and only a few were nasty. Patch closed
down around five years ago. I have not experienced that kind of
conflict on BlogSpot.

Which of your posts is your favourite and why?

My favourites are the different versions of "Meaning of
Disability" and the more recent "Deaf, Blind and Determined:
Meaning of Disability." These are "scripts" I write to prepare
for an annual presentation for medical students at the Cleveland
Clinic Foundation. The new one was for a presentation for
students at the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine.

I answer the questions in writing and then practice reading out
loud. As I do that, I find ways to improve my answers. I work on
the writing and reading aloud together. The end result is a
well-written, inclusive story of many aspects of my life. Each
year that I do this, I improve what I wrote and make changes as
needed. The blogs represent much growth in both writing and my
life as a whole.

What advice would you give to other Deafblind people who want to
start a blog?

 Write from the heart and tell your experiences as they happen,
as if you are telling a story. Add dialogue, humour and
characteristics that make it about you. People want to be engaged
and learn, but they don't want to read a bland lecture. Make it
lively and fun, but also emotional and real.

How do you think the internet helps Deafblind people?

The internet brings us together and gives us a voice that wasn't
available long ago. Through the web, I've made many friends who
are DeafBlind, first through email lists and now on Facebook. We
have a way to get involved with the world because of the
internet. In a lot of ways, disabilities don't matter, unless
it's an accessibility issue.

The internet provides a way to access information, whether you
are looking for job information or shopping or seeking support or
looking for something to read. I lived an entire year of my life,
in 2002, fully DeafBlind and unable to feel my hands. People
communicated by printing letters on my face. I knew absolutely no
idea what was going on in the world. My husband used strange
words like SARS, blog and MOAB, and I didn't have a clue what he
was talking about.

My hands finally healed and I learned braille, but there aren't
many braille resources out there today. It's mostly audio for
hearing blind people. Once I got on the internet with my first
BrailleNote product, I felt my life return to me. I could read
books, write emails to friends and read newspapers. I wrote an
essay about this that won first prize in an international braille
writing contest.

How do you think the internet could be improved for Deafblind

There's always room for improvement. For example, people who are
Deaf with low vision can read print or enlarged print. Colour
contrast is an important issue. On many websites, they can't
control the size of text or the colours.

My issue is braille accessibility. Just because a company
announces that their site is "Jaws accessible," does not mean
it's braille accessible. Most people who are blind listen to
voice. Voice is more accessible than braille. BlackBoard is a
popular software system used by universities for online classes.
It's supposed to be accessible to people who are blind. I went
through grad school and never could access it.

Also, braille technology is super expensive. Maybe I can't afford
the top technology, so I'm using out-of-date tech which makes
much of the internet inaccessible. It's fantastic what technology
can do today, but with the price of braille equipment, I can't
keep up. More and more doors are being shut to me.

 There are so few DeafBlind individuals. It's not cost-efficient
for a company to think of us when developing their website or
product. They still claim they are accessible and maybe they are
for hearing blind. It's totally different for braille readers.

Do you do anything else online? If so, where else can we find you

 I'm most active on Facebook. I run several groups and pages on
Facebook that I invite people to join or like.

 ** Angie C. Orlando: DeafBlind and Determined (public page)

** Northeast Ohio DeafBlind Association (public page for the

 ** Deaf-Blind Parents (closed group for individuals who are DB
and have children. Parents of DB children are also welcome)

 ** PHARC Support (closed group)

** Kent RHS Band Geeks (Now and Forever) (closed group relating
to anyone involved in band, orchestra, flags, etc. at Theodore
Roosevelt High School)

 ** Deaf Night Out: Northeast Ohio (public group related to deaf
social night at Summit Mall)

Thanks to Angela for taking part. You can visit her blog here:

Angie C. Orlando

March 2018

Permission is granted to share.