I was born profoundly deaf with a double hare lip & cleft palate. When I was 3 years old, I attended DePaul Institute where I learned how to talk & lip-read. ~Susan Rodgers
For as far back as I can remember I have always been fascinated by identical twins. I imagined it would be so cool to trick parents, teachers, and friends by causing general mayhem by trading places. Throughout my life I have been very fortunate to have friendships with several sets of twins and I also grew to appreciate the individual differences among each set. Enter Susan and Sherri Rodgers two of the most remarkably fierce ladies I’ve had the pleasure to call my friends.
When facing a new situation do you ever get that churning feeling in the pit of your stomach that triggers the flight or fight response? Since I’m chickenhearted by nature it’s more flight than fight but I think you can catch my drift. That’s how I felt back in 2011 when in an attempt to further advance my acclimation to my vision impairment I attended my first local Council of the Blind meeting here in Pittsburgh. I wasn’t sure what to expect and thought for a minute that maybe this wasn’t one of my best ideas but I ventured forward into the unknown. Of course my fears were unfounded and to my delight it was at this first meeting I met the remarkable Rodger sisters.
Susan and Sherri both have a hereditary condition known as Usher Syndrome. Usher syndrome is a double whammy and is described as “the most common condition that affects both hearing and vision.”1 One would think that a person who’s sight and hearing impaired would have great difficulty navigating in a sighted world and after meeting Susan and Sherri, both of whom are very active members in the community, one’s thinking would change.
I’ve been a member of the Western PA Association for the Deaf/Blind (WPADB) for at least 15 years, being a part of the group I knew a few people but had to talk to them through an Interpreter. If you’ve never had this experience it can be quite challenging. ~Sherri Rodgers
Being vision impaired, I’ve come to understand that one of the main issues associated with the loss of vision is the general lack of access to information. With the advances in technology access to information has greatly improved but there is still room for additional improvement. Take for example Sherri’s experience of talking through an interpreter to some of her deaf/blind friends, or Susan at 3 years old learning to talk and lip-read, these are critical to communication. If not for interpreters, braille, white canes, service animals and other devices, people who are blind, deaf or deaf/blind would live life in a vacuum. To further expand on this idea, when a sighted person is suddenly unable to see faces or interpret body language, this becomes a barrier and can hamper how we communicate with one another. So imagine then what it must be like for a person lacking two of their major senses, it’s not something to invoke pity but just awareness.
These two sisters, Susan and Sherri, did not let Usher Syndrome stop them from living a fulfilled life of going to school (at DePaul School for Hearing and Speech then later public high school), working, and advocating. Both are extremely computer savvy supporters of the blind, deaf/blind and disability community and work to give voice to those who may not or cannot speak for themselves. Some of their activities include:
- Membership in the Golden Triangle Council of the Blind
- Membership in the Pennsylvania Council of the Blind
- Membership in the WPADB
- Members of the local para-transit service Committee for Accessible Transportation (CAT)
- Fundraise for Foundation Fighting Blindness’ Annual Pittsburgh VisionWalk
The sisters serve in different capacities in the above organizations and if that weren’t enough, each of them, work part-time. These two women, Susan and Sherri, are each powerhouse who overcame and continue to overcome struggles and obstacles in their day-to-day living.
Please understand that this post is not intended to minimize the challenges that Susan and Sherri have faced in their lives rather it is to honor them as fierce bold blind beauties. I cannot begin to imagine what it would be like to walk a day in the sister’s shoes but I can tell you that to walk along-side them is, in a word, amazing!
“People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within”. ~Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
1 For additional information on Usher Syndrome visit www.ushersyndrome.nih.gov