The following are the biographies of the members of DBCA. They represent the widely varying degree of combined vision and hearing loss that makes the community extremely diverse. They also clearly demonstrate that individuals who are deafblind live productive and rewarding lives, and that deafblindness itself isn’t the barrier to inclusion and self-satisfaction. Simply put, these members, like all deafblind people, need the understanding of broader society, not ignorance and pity, and the opportunities that everyone else enjoys.
A 2011 graduate of Sam Houston State University with a BA in Technical Theater, Chris Sence joined DBCA in 2010. As an intervener and camp volunteer, Sence’s primary focus has been educational and social support for children with disabilities, including whose who are deafblind like himself (he has CHARGE Syndrome, and it is not an obstacle to whatever he wishes to achieve.) He has participated in a number of regional and national conferences, including DeafBlind Symposium.
During his free time, Sence enjoys sports, particularly baseball. He also likes playing online spades. Sence has other interests as well, so these are his main hobbies. As for his dreams or goals, he is considering a second BA in Rehabilitation and Deaf Services from Stephen F. Austin State University.
Born and raised in the small coastal community of Los Osos, which is on the Central Coast in California, Corrina Veesart joined DBCA in 2010. She communicates using hand-over-hand tactile American Sign Language (ASL), and has been deafblind from an undiagnosed congenital condition. Veesart has been a dedicated member of the American Association of the Deafblind (AADB) since the age of 11, and she has attended the association’s conventions since then.
Veesart graduated from Cuesta Community College with honors and an A.A. degree in General Studies. Currently, she is looking into volunteer opportunities to gain work experience. For example, she recently traveled to Nicaragua in Central America to volunteer her time doing outreach by giving speeches to deaf schools. She stated that she has a passion for physical activities, so she’s interested in applying that passion to helping people. Veesart added that she continues to take classes while she seeks a job. She may pursue another A.A. degree in Health, Fitness & Nutrition, Recreation Administration, or Human Studies. Veesart hopes that path will lead to a four year college degree. For now, Veesart is not sure where her path is going to lead her, but she knows that she wants to ensure that deafblind people all over the world have the right support available to them so that they can be productive participants in a wide range of activities. “My quest is to fight for our equal inclusion in our communities, which will lead to physical and emotional wellness,” Veesart added. She wants to instill in deafblind people everywhere hope and strength to keep on dreaming dreams and to work to make them true.
Crystal Morales was among the first group of young adults who are deafblind – including Divya Goel, George Stern, Kelvin Crosby, and Virginia Maze – who attended a 2009 seminar on leadership that eventually led to the creation of DBCA in 2012. She graduated with a B.A. in Vocational Rehabilitation Counseling from East Central University of Oklahoma in the Fall of 2008. She now lives back in her hometown of Austin with her twin sister, who is also deafblind and is planning to graduate with the same degree as Crystal. Morales and her sister, Danielle, were born three months premature “with many medical issues,” as she put it, adding that some of these medical issues are “continuing to be a problem today, but we don’t let them stop us.”
Music is one of her main interests, and a passion of hers and her sister. As self-taught musicians of over 2 decades, the twins performed throughout Texas and Oklahoma, playing a wide variety of instruments such as the piano, cello, hammered dulcimer, violin, and several other acoustic instruments as well as what she describes as “rare vintage synthesizers” from the 1980’s. “Many people think a hard of hearing or a deaf person cannot play music at all when most can to some degree by specifically playing in their audio frequency ranges or through vibration or the use of specialized equipment,” Morales stated. “All of our gear has been modified with Braille labels, raised markings and Brailled sound lists and menu layouts,” she added. Morales has created a number of music videos showcasing her musical talent as well as to help educate the general public on music and deafblindness, especially how individuals with wide ranging disabilities live fulfilling and interesting lives.
Divya Goel was born in Scarborough, a district within the city of Toronto in the Canadian province of Ontario. The daughter of Indian immigrants, Goel became deafblind at the age of 4, which doctors believe is the result of high fever she suffered while vacationing in India with her family. She was initially diagnosed with Usher syndrome, but the absence of a genetic history of the disease in her extended family led doctors to call her “legally blind.” She wears a cochlear implant, and she’s profoundly deaf. She moved to the United States when she was 12 years old, and currently lives in Orlando, FL.
Goel was a student at Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind (FSDB) from 1999 to 2005. She joined several different clubs at FSDB, such as the Miss FSDB Pageant where she won a “Best Talent” contest in 2003 and 2004, respectively, and was crowned Miss FSD Queen in 2005. “One special event I was fortunate to participate in was Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville on February 5, 2005,” she said. “Members of the Choir and ASL group sang and signed a song during half-time” with singer Alicia Keys as a tribute to Ray Charles. After graduating with a Special Diploma, she transferred to a public high school in Orlando, Boone High, in 2006, where she completed all 24 credit units in just 2 and half year and earned a regular diploma in 2008. Since Spring 2009, Goel has been a student at Valencia College in Orlando.
Her interests include, but are not limited to, reading works of fiction and romance novels, with the Harry Potter series being among her favorites; watching movies featuring Indian and non-Indian dancing; traveling; and working with youths with special needs. Demonstrating a passion for working with youths, she has been a mentor for teens who are deafblind for the Southeast Regional Transition Symposium for 4 years, as well as the 2-week summer program at the Helen Keller National Center for 3 years. Goel was also co-chair for the Teen Symposium for the American Association of DeafBlind in 2011. Finally, she presented on the topics of self-determination and transition for the Virgin Islands Department of Education and for the National Transition Conference in 2012, as well as various other conferences throughout the U.S. and internationally, such as her 2009 visits to schools for the deaf in Uganda as part of her ongoing commitment to supporting and educating children with disabilities.
An active member since 2011, Eduardo Madera grew up in an arid, small town of Bishop in California that commands a breathtaking view of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. In December 2005, due to financial struggles, his parents realized it was best to relocate to a rural area 25 miles west of Atlanta, Georgia in hopes of improving their future. Madera attended a small school for the Deaf in Atlanta and adopted the subtle differences in Georgia’s American Sign Language. By the time he entered high school, he noticed a drastic change in his visual field. He had difficulty understanding his teacher and peers signing to him. Consequentially, he felt overwhelmed.
At the age of 14, Madera was diagnosed with Usher Syndrome. The discovery of his condition changed him forever; he resolved to go to a mainstream high school, which was a very challenging transition for him socially. This opportunity forced Madera to grow emotionally and intellectually. It also helped him thrive academically and has significantly enhanced his relationship with others because of better communication and understanding of his visual situations and needs. As a young advocate, he steadfastly believes he can influence the outcome of various policies affecting people with disabilities that need to be resolved.
Madera is currently majoring in Information Technology. Originally he planned to major in Business Administration so that he could own a business, but he realized it didn’t quite reflect what he really wanted. Madera has been very active in sports, such as Track & Field with athletic teams at Gallaudet University. When he has free time, Madera produces vlogs highlighting important issues within the deafblind community and serving to educate the general public.
George Stern was born in St. Catherines, Jamaica, on 15 November 1990. At age 2 he was diagnosed with Bilateral Retinoblastoma, a virulent cancer with a high fatality rate among those – typically children ages 0 to 5 – whom it affects. There weren’t the facilities in Jamaica to effectively treat this cancer; indeed, valuable time was lost to an initial misdiagnosis, which necessitated the Stern family’s immigration to the United States, where George’s cancerous eyes were removed at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami, Florida. Stern’s hearing loss – which recent reports have tentatively linked to some defect of Chromosome 14 – set in around age 4, with the most drastic decline occurring in the pivotal high school years. His current level of hearing loss is severe to profound, which he augments with hearing aids.
Stern attended public schools in South Florida – Mirror Lakes Elementary, Castle Hill Elementary, William Dandy middle, and Boyd H. Anderson High – addressed mainly as a blind student. He learned and excelled using braille, developed travel skills with the cane, and generally acquitted himself well with the tools of blindness. It wasn’t until his senior year of high school, when Stern had plenty of academic achievement to his credit but was still relatively sheltered, that his hearing impairment began to receive more serious and concerted attention.
Crucial to his recognition and acceptance of himself as a deafblind person was the 2009 invitation to participate on a new frontier in the Deafblind Young Adults in Action leadership program. There, Stern had the opportunity to use skills of reasoning, research, analysis, argument and presentation honed in years of rigorous academics – International Baccalaureate, Advanced Placement, and, as he puts it, “various species of Magnet” and broad reading. Convincing senators to spend money, illuminating some troublesome concepts for and with fellow advocates, arguing the various sides of thorny entitlement issues, Stern saw in practice the things spoken about in U.S. history or Theory of Knowledge classes. Stern credits DBYAA with “starting me on the path to my current major in Journalism, with providing me access to solutions that address both (of) my sensory impairments, with introducing me to a vibrant, inspiring, rich community, and ultimately with helping me accept and deal constructively with my hearing impairment.” He continues, “It is with a sense of gratitude and reimbursement, then, that I joined other former DBYAA participants in birthing this current organization, Deafblind Citizens in Action.”
Now in his second semester at Texas Tech University, Stern is majoring in Broadcast Journalism, with some consideration of taking up Advertising too, both for the greater creative license and higher pay. He is also minoring in Exercise and Sport Science, just so he has a reason to take fun sciences like anatomy and physiology, and avoid what he terms “dullards” like biology and atmospheric science. (Physics is OK, if you like numbers, he would tell you; Stern likes words more.)
George spends his free time reading, cooking, browsing recipes and music on the web, practicing Judo and Brazilian Jiujitsu with the Texas Tech Judo club, playing guitar, jump roping, writing, running, and eating. He also likes to listen to National Public Radio. Demonstrating his knack for words and tendency to be pensive, Stern offers these thoughts: “Labor for learning before you get old, for learning is better than silver and gold; silver and gold will vanish away, but a good education will never decay.” And, “When depressed, it’s not what we do that’s worrisome, it’s what we don’t do; it is easier to correct a mistaken action than to retrieve an opportunity missed through inaction. So live.”
Jamie Taylo has been an enthusiastic member since 2011. She likes wearing many hats, just as everyone else likes a particular activity or object or has a special quality indicative of his/her uniqueness. In her current position as the Technology and Transportation Specialist at the Commission of Deaf, DeafBlind and Hard of Hearing Minnesotans, you may find her diving deep into statewide accessible technology policy or co-teaching workshops on how accessibility interplays with Complete Street initiatives among many other things. Taylor holds a Master’s degree in Deaf Education from the University of Minnesota.
Justin Gaines I was born in Concord, California, on April 4, 1990. His family moved to many states because his father was working for the U.S. Navy. When Gaines was 8 years of age, his family moved to Hungary. There, he lived for 2 years, attending a school for the deaf and learned Hungarian Sign Language. Then, his family moved back to California, where he went to California School for the Deaf (CSD). in Fremont. After finisheding his program at CSD in 2008, Gaines moved to Colorado, enrolling at the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind (CSDB) and eventually graduating with a high school diploma in 2009. After graduating, he stayed at CSDB for another program called Bridges to Life (BTL) to acquire independent living skills, before moving back to California.
Gaines attended the Helen Keller National Center, participating in a training program for youths and adults who are deafblind. “My goal is to go to NTID or RIT to study Computer Science and Computer Systems,” he stated.
A resident of San Diego, California, Kelvin Crosby was one of the participants in the first DBYAA seminar in 2009. Crosby has Usher syndrome type II and has been legally blind since age 19. He currently attends San Diego State University, majoring in Communication.
Crosby has been very active in his local community, advocating for the rights of persons with vision and hearing loss. One of the ways he does this is by assisting college professors acquire the skills to use optic character recognition software to make online course materials accessible to students who utilize Braille notetakers and screen readers. He also sought to collaborate with local colleges in providing appropriate instructional technology to faculty and staff members working with students with disabilities.
Crosby stated that surfing was one of his main interests. However, as his visual functioning decreased, he switched to Jiu Jitsu, an activity he says George Stern introduced him to. In addition, Crosby produces pottery and sells his handiwork. As for his goals, Crosby hopes to one day establish two businesses, one an affordable apartment rental company so that people with disabilities could live debt-free lives, and the other devoted to helping businesses create accessible websites.
Mussie Gebre has been an active member since 2010. He was born in Eritrea and came to the U.S. at the age of 12 with no prior education and almost no knowledge of English. Believed by American ophthalogists to have optic atrophy with residual, Gebre began his journey through the Oakland, California public school system. In spite of the inability to effectively communicate with hearing teachers, Gebre, who has been hard of hearing but doesn’t understand speech, learned Braille primarily by comparing Braille symbols with the English alphabet rendered in cut plastic and wooden letters used by teachers of the visually impaired. His newly acquired basic Grade 1 Braille skills enabled him to begin to learn object names and places by exploring objects in the classroom and beyond, whereby his teacher would spell out their names in Braille or demonstrated through body language. But it was Braille books he began to devour Braille books during his second year of high school that his English proficiency began to take root, allowing him to thrive academically and professionally in the years following high school graduation.
Currently, he lives in the East Bay of Northern California. He quietly emerged as an advocate when he began to fight his high school at the age of 15 after learning about the purpose and importance of a tactile interpreter. A tireless student with a passion for the academics and a belief that quality education comes through a long-term commitment to learning beyond the traditional approach to education, Gebre is majoring in Anthropology and Psychology. In addition to his studies, he has been an assistive technology (AT) consultant and trainer since 2002, and he believes that technology is an essential tool of empowerment, enabling individuals with disabilities to lead engaged and happy lives. Besides working as a contractor for the National DeafBlind Equipment Distribution Program (NDBEDP), Gebre enjoys volunteering his time helping both blind and deafblind consumers.
Joining DBCA in 2011, Shannon Boelter was born in Eagan, Minnesota. She has CHARGE Syndrome and is completely deaf with reduced vision.
Boelter recently completed her second year at St. Paul College and is currently attending Gallaudet University, where she hopes to major in Child Development. Boelter has written and self-published a book for teens and hopes to become an author and teacher for young children in the Deaf community. “My primary concern is that deafblind individuals have the support services that are necessary to become self-sufficient citizens,” Boelter said, adding, “I benefited from Intervener services, which helped me function independently in the community. Thisincludes technology so that deaf and deafblind people have full access to information.”
Tony Garro, who hails from Chino, California, joined the organization in 2011. He was born three months premature and the second twin boy. At the time of birth, he weighed 1lb and 14oz. Prematurity caused his deafblindness and other disabilities. Garro also has mild cerebral palsy and is learning disabled.
Underscoring that deafblindness itself isn’t a barrier to whatever one aspires to achieve, Garro works for a super market chain called Vons Market, which covers southern California and Nevada, as a courtesy clerk for five years. “Being deafblind I have encountered many situations during my employment,” Garro stated. “I had to take responsibility to be my own advocate. Being deafblind I’ve needed specific accommodations in my work place. That’s hard for others to understand when they’ve never dealt with a disability.”
Garro attended California School for the Blind and graduated from Lugo High School in Chino. He also attended the Davidson Program at the Jr. Blind of America, which helped him a great deal, especially with independence and mobility. Through all the special needs and services he has received Garro is able to use pubic transportation to and from work and to whatever appointment he needs to get to. “There’s no way I could be as independent as I am without the skills and training I’ve received,” says Garro. As for his hobbies, he enjoys dancing, sports &ndash particularly basketball &ndash as well as playing recorded music like a disc jockey.
Amita Srinivasan is a deafblind student, author and award winning photographer who is passionately interested in empowerment and advocacy for students. She is a freshman at the University of Texas at Austin majoring in psychology. Amita was an invited student representative to the DeafBlind State Plan Stakeholder meeting at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. She has also served on the Student Leadership Advisory Council for Texas State Representative Jeff Leach. Avidly interested in science and technology, Amita worked as a high school intern in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, University of Texas at Dallas in the Infant Learning Project and also as a volunteer intern for AidIndia Eureka Schools.
An honor graduate of Plano Senior High School, Amita seamlessly uses the latest technology to integrate with her hearing aid and FM system to navigate and access information. She is a contributor at mighty.com and a member of Women of Excellence at UT Austin.