ADA, Okla. – Donald Gore only missed six days in the fourteen years he worked at Folger’s Drive-In in Ada.
“I like to work and be on time,” Gore said. “It’s no fun to stay around the house and be bored.”
Problems with increasing vision and hearing loss led Gore to seek help from Roy Alexander, a vocational rehabilitation counselor for the Chickasaw Nation.
Gore, who has Usher Syndrome, is a member of the Chickasaw Nation.
The genetic condition combines hearing loss with retinitis pigmentosa, resulting in progressive loss of side vision due to degeneration of the retina.
Usher syndrome is the most common condition that affects both hearing and vision loss.
Alexander introduced Gore to Gayle Lee, a vocational rehabilitation counselor for Visual Services, which is a division of the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services.
Alexander and Lee turned to a team of Visual Services experts to help Gore learn new skills and use technology to re-enter the workforce.
Lee contacted Visual Services’ specialists on deaf-blindness Jeri Cooper and Stephanie Butler. Cooper, a rehabilitation teacher who is deaf-blind herself, travels the state to help clients with vision and hearing loss. Stephanie Butler became Gore’s new vocational rehabilitation counselor due to her expertise in deaf-blindness.
Liz Scheffe helped him improve orientation and mobility skills so he could travel safely and efficiently in the community.
Sharon Shipe provided more rehabilitation teaching training to help Gore adjust to loss of vision and develop practical skills.
Visual Services funded eight months of training customized for Gore’s specific needs and employment goals at Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youth and Adults in Sands Point, New York.
“I was a little nervous at first,” Gore said. “After I got used to it, I learned Braille from A-Z — they told me I was a fast learner -- now I am starting to learn how to sign too.”
At the Helen Keller National Center, he was also exposed to cutting-edge technology, on-the-job training at several employers’ locations and the opportunity to interact with others who are deaf-blind.
While he was there, Gore created a rectangular model from clay with depressions to hold six balls to help him quickly learn to read Braille.
The basic Braille unit is an arrangement of six raised dots, two across and three down that resemble the number six domino just like Gore’s teaching aid.
Gore came home in March with the knowledge and technology he needs to re-enter the workforce.
“It made a lot of difference,” Gore said. “Now I’m ready to go to work.”
Gore received a Smart Beetle, a pocket-sized device that produces Braille and connects by Bluetooth to computers and iPhones.
Visual Services bought him a Ruby, which is a handheld, portable video magnifier.
Cooper purchased a computer and iPhone for Gore through the National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program, promoted as iCanConnect Oklahoma. Cooper manages the Oklahoma program, which provides assistive communications equipment and trains deaf-blind clients to effectively connect with outside world.
Molly Sinanan, the Helen Keller National Center regional representative, and Gore’s Oklahoma team are setting up job interviews for Gore, who is eager to get back into the workforce.
“(At first) I didn’t know what I was going to do – how blindness was going to affect me,” Gore said. “Now I just need a chance to show what I can do on the job.”
Impressed with his work ethic, Cooper and Butler asked Gore to serve as spokesperson for Helen Keller Deaf-Blind Awareness Week, an annual event celebrated internationally from June 24 through 30.
Keller’s birthday falls on June 27.
In Oklahoma, Governor Mary Fallin issued a proclamation recognizing the celebration and the accomplishments of deaf-blind Oklahomans.
Governor Fallin is invited to read the proclamation on Wednesday, June 27, during an event that is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. on the south lawn of the state Capitol at 2300 N. Lincoln Boulevard in Oklahoma City.
Deaf-blind participants and advocates will come together at the event to thank Gov. Fallin and state senators and representatives for approving House Bill 1244, also known as the Jeri Cooper Act, which increases deaf-blind Oklahomans’ access’ to Support Service Providers.
SSPs provide visual, auditory and environmental information and communication assistance for people with vision and hearing loss.
Gore will also share his experiences with Visual Services, the Chickasaw Nation and Helen Keller National Center.
Don, who has five children, is married to Sandy Gore, who has three. He has nine grandchildren. She has seven and two who are deceased.
For more information about the celebration or employment and independent living services for Oklahomans who are deaf-blind, contact Jeri Cooper at 918-551-4921 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Stephanie Butler at 918-551-4904 or email@example.com.