Meet Janis Simmons, Mobile

For Janis Simmons, being deaf was not a big deal. The 59-year-old woman had been using American Sign Language (ASL) since early childhood, when an illness caused her to lose her hearing. She attended the Alabama School for the Deaf in Talladega and was immersed in the deaf community. 

The problems came two years ago when her eyesight, which was never good, deteriorated enough that she was almost totally blind.

At the time, Janis was retired after working at the Mobile Association for the Blind for 38 years. She was living on her own and enjoying her favorite hobby, shopping.

When she lost her vision, Janis lost her way to communicate, could not live on her own, and was no longer able to get around.

“It was very hard to get used to,” she said through an interpreter.

She moved in with her sister, who also lives in Mobile. Her goal was to eventually be able to live independently again in her own home.

To assist her, Janis was referred to OASIS, ADRS’ program for Alabamians 55 and older who are blind or visually impaired, where she met Linda Fugate, a certified vision rehabilitation therapist.

Linda partnered with Debi Robbins, an interpreter with the Alabama Institute of Deaf and Blind (AIDB) Regional Center in Mobile, to help Janis become more independent.

To communicate, Debi taught Janis tactile signing, a technique for signing into a person’s hand.

OASIS also purchased Janis a Deafblind Communicator, a device that helps her to communicate face-to-face with anyone, whether it is a waiter, cashier, friends, or family members. One part of the device allows a person to send text messages to the person who is deaf/blind. The other part of the device allows the person to read and respond to the text in Braille. 

For more than a year, Linda met with Janis weekly to teach her how to read Braille and conduct activities of daily living.

Also, Debi had to assist Janis in learning English, a language that is distinct from ASL. 

“Working with Janis was one of the most challenging things I have ever done, but also one of the most rewarding,” Debi said.

Janis has since become an expert in reading Braille. She also has worked with Caitlin Simpson, her orientation and mobility specialist, to learn how to use a cane and attended a weeklong Orientation and Mobility Workshop at the AIDB Regional Center.

Although Janis is not out on her own yet, she is much closer to it.

“At the initial interview with me, she was depressed and scared,” Linda said. “Now she has completed her Braille course, is reading beautifully, learned independent living, and is looking forward to moving back to her own home.”