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Sherri Rodgers | Living With DeafBlindness

Young deaf blind woman at an indoor climbing gym. The athlete is guided by her sister guided by her sister preparing her ropes.

Sherri Rodgers | Living With DeafBlindness


Editor’s Note

In recognition of DeafBlind Awareness Week later this month we talk with guest, Sherri Rodgers, about what it’s like to live with dual sensory loss. Sherri and her twin sister Susan are very good friends of mine and among the first blind people I connected with after losing my sight. It was partly due to their friendship that I was able to embrace my sight loss and continue doing what I love–advocacy.

As the editor of the podcast one of the most difficult things I have to do is to determine what makes it into each episode. During this episode Sherri talks about a fire in her apartment building in which she was previously instructed to “shelter in place.” Unfortunately, when emergency situations arise many times people with disabilities are left to fend for themselves. So following are a couple of resources that may be helpful:

  • Emergency Ready Sheet (The sheet is from Disability Rights Texas but the info you download once completing it can be useful)
  • Smart 911 While Smart911 is a national program it is not offered in every community however there is an option to request that it be implemented in your community.

If you have any other suggestlions or resources you’d like us to share please let us know in our Facebook Group. ~Steph

Helen Keller Deaf-Blind Awareness Week June 26th, 2022

The focus this year is Diversity and Inclusion: How creativity and innovation are built upon a diverse group of perspectives. Who better to help initiate that innovation than the DeafBlind community, a group of people whose lives are driven by the pursuit of change and innovation?

~Helen Keller National Center for DeafBlind Youths & Adults (HKNC)

YouTube Video


Stephanae McCoy: Welcome back to another edition of Bold Blind Beauty On A.I.R. podcast. The show this clearing the air for more A.I.R. (Access, Inclusion, and Representation). I’m Stephanae McCoy, and with me are my co-hosts,

Nasreen Bhutta: I’m Nasreen Bhutta

Sylvia Stinson-Perez: and Sylvia Stinson-Perez.

Steph: Access is the word of the year on Bold Blind Beauty On A.I.R. For this month, I went back to Webster’s dictionary and I came up with a different definition and the definition is as follows: Access is defined as permission, liberty, or ability to enter approach or pass to and from a place or to approach or communicate with a person or thing.

June 26 through July 2 of this year, is DeafBlind Awareness Week. The focus this year is diversity and inclusion: Creativity and innovation are built upon a diverse group of perspectives. Who better to help initiate that innovation than the DeafBlind community, a group of people whose lives are driven by the pursuit of change and innovation? ~Helen Keller National Center for DeafBlind Youths and Adults.

Living With DeafBlindness

A selfie of Sherri an attractive senior woman with short silver hair. She's wearing a pink crew neck top.
Sherri Rodgers

I am so thrilled to introduce a very good friend of mine, who is our guest. Her name is Sherri Rodgers, and she is going to be sharing some of the things that she has gone through in her life as a DeafBlind person. Sherri, can you tell us just a little bit about yourself before we get into our questions?

Sherri Rodgers: I am DeafBlind, have Usher Syndrome since that’s what being DeafBlind is. I have a cochlear implant and I’ve had that since 2017. And I grew up accepting, I was farsighted. So my main thing was when I started losing my sight was I could see things better at a distance, but I couldn’t see anything up close. And that was very frustrating.

Nasreen: Hi, Sherri, what are some of the biggest challenges that you have faced in your time?

Sherri: I would say the main thing is learning to use a cane. I still had sight when I graduated to the use of a white cane. And there were times where I felt I didn’t need it only to find out I did. So the I use, you know started using it regularly.

The other challenge is right now at work. They’re doing a remodeling job. Because they’re about to put a Starbucks in, so their remodeling the whole store. And right now it’s been difficult because the way they have reconstructed our department is not very user friendly to a blind person. I have a friend who helped me to figure out how to find a landmark that would take me directly over to the case where I put my sandwiches.

Other challenges are dealing with customers. I can be right in front of them with my cane and whoever is sight guiding me has to stop me because the customer will run me over.

The other one I recently went through a fire three weeks ago, in which I did not hear the fire alarm in time. And didn’t hear my neighbor across the hall pounding on my door because I had fallen asleep in my recliner. So when I did wake up and heard it I kind of thought, oh my gosh, I grab stuff I needed and when I went out the hallway was full of smoke.

Sylvia: Sherri This is Sylvia. And I wonder, what would you say are the most significant challenges for people who have combined hearing and vision loss? Most of the people who listen to our podcast are people with visual impairments, and some of them/us are getting older and starting to experience a little bit of that hearing impairment. Which is certainly not the same as having Ushers but it does impact your ability to cope and to adjust. So what are some of the things you would say, are the unique challenges of having a combined hearing and vision loss?

Sherri: Yeah, I was always hard of hearing, not totally deaf. But I would have to say that some of the things a deaf blind person would, is the ability to navigate and not hear anything, but yet still know where they are and where they’re going.

I have a twin sister who is deaf blind with a cochlear implant. And when she takes that off at night, she is totally deaf. But she has adjusted to a cochlear implant enough that she does not hear as well as I do. But we recently last year moved in together into a brand new apartment, in a building that has eight floors. And we have never lived in this type of an environment where there’s lots and lots of people in one building. And then we have to get from the third floor to the first floor by elevator. So that this is a whole new experience for us of being DeafBlind and navigating, which we picked up on really quick.

Sylvia: So good orientation, good orientation, and using landmarks. Seems like a really important thing when you don’t have that hearing to count on.

Sherri: Right. And it’s one thing I have discovered with a cochlear implant is hard to determine where sounds are coming from. But we like I said, we have adapted very easily. And the people on our floor know us well enough. And, you know, they’ll sometimes say, “you know, these are things I could not do. Or if I was in your shoes, I couldn’t do that.” But I kind of get a little irritated when people say that, because if you ever reached that point, then you do what you have to do.

Communicating With Usher Syndrome

Close up of a blind person's hands using a computer with a braille display.

Sylvia: What about communicating with others? I feel like and I think about and Steph I Nasreen I wonder about you guys, when I feel like I’m in a loud place where I can’t see or hear, I find it really difficult to communicate with others.

Sherri: Oh, it is disorienting. It’s also frightening. Because I cannot get oriented to the layout of the room. I know when we would meet in person, if there was a lot of people already there, then sometimes I would have trouble trying to find where to go sit because I didn’t exactly know the layout of the room or the layout of how the tables were set up or where the chairs were.

A lot of times I would have to yell and ask for help or yell and ask for somebody specific if I wanted to sit with. But in the situation, like a conference, it would be very unnerving. Because people don’t know me. I don’t know them. They don’t know that I’m hard of hearing. And so that made it even more difficult trying to navigate and try and find a place to sit or navigate and try and find people I knew that I could talk to.

Nasreen: I think we’ve all been in that space and place Sherri I mean, I feel like the deer in the headlights when there’s just too much noise. And I also get disoriented and I just have a vision issue. So I empathize with what you’re saying completely. I also want to ask you a question Sherri, what about some of the tools? What are some tools that you can share with us or techniques that a DeafBlind person would use that perhaps, you know, somebody who’s visually impaired might not think of using or we don’t use it all and don’t know.

Sherri: I have a braille display, which I use with my phone. But I have also found that using an iPhone, and my braille display, I use the braille display more for navigating. It’s easier to navigate, to know where I am. But that’s one thing that a DeafBlind person would absolutely need to communicate with.

Steph: You did talk a little bit about the devices that you got, after the fire. Can you tell us a little bit more about how those work to alert you, when there’s something going on, you need to know?

Sherri: Yes, I have a device that I wear in a case on my hip. And if the sound monitor outside of my door above my doors, anything coming through the sound monitor, would automatically you will get three vibrating beeps to alert you to the sound monitor. The doorbell would have two vibrating beeps, also in sets of three with vibrate.

And then we also have a smoke the smoke alarm in Susan’s bedroom. And if that ever went off to alert us that there’s smoke in the apartment, then it would be a constant vibrating signal, until we found out where it is in the apartment. If that ever went off, it would be challenging to try and find out where it’s coming from in the apartment. So we would know how to exit the apartment if we had to.

And there’s other devices, but I didn’t look into them. So I’m not really familiar with the other devices are. But again, they would all have different vibrating numbers of vibrating signal to alert you. And as soon as you know how many signals you’re getting, then you would know right away what the device is and what the problem is.

Common Misconceptions

Checklist on a blackboard with True/False selections.

Steph: So Sherri, can you share with us what are some of the most common misconceptions that you encounter when people learn that you’re DeafBlind?

Sherri: Well, number one, they automatically say, you know, they know how well I’m working and see me navigating, they right away, say “if I’m in your shoes, I would not be able to do that.” So that’s one misconception. They think they wouldn’t be able to do it.

There’s a group of people that I work with, that all started about 10 or 11 years ago. And two of them, they were standing behind me talking one day and I heard them. I guess they were trying to be inconspicuous. But I happened to hear one of them say, “I don’t know how to talk to her. I wouldn’t even begin to know what to say to her. And I just let them go on for a minute. So finally I turned around and I said excuse me, I said I know you’re talking about me. I said my name is Sherri Rodgers I am totally blind and I am hard of hearing. And if that conversation you just had was meant not to be heard. Well, I heard it. I said what you to talk to each other about you can talk to me about.

Sylvia: Even to add to that is that I do think that oftentimes when people see someone as quote different than they are, they’re uncomfortable. People are uncomfortable with disability. And so I think we do have such an opportunity, and maybe even a responsibility to help people understand that. Hey, just like you said, Sherri, we are peoples. We have lives. We have interests. We have hobbies, we work we have families. And so all of those things are really important and in helping people understand that we’re just people first. So Sherri, would you say that there’s a life motto or quote that you have lived by that’s helped you find the success you have.

Sherri: God made me blind and hard of hearing for a reason. He knew I could do it. He knew I could go through life. Be the success that I feel I am without any regret.

Steph: God made me blind and hard of hearing for a reason. He knew I could do it. He knew I could go through life. Be the success that I feel I am without any regret.

Sherri: Can I give my email? Okay is S H E R G E If they would like to call me or text me, they can reach me at 412-685-2810.

Steph: Thank you so much, Sherri.

Sherri: You’re welcome. It was a pleasure to be here today.

Dana’s Beauty Byte

A handsome Middle Eastern man applying moisturising cream on his face while looking in the mirror.

Dana Hinnant: In honor of Men’s Health Awareness month for June, these tips are for you. It’s important for men to take care of their skin you need to be on a routine as well. Look for products that are designed specifically for men along with ingredients.

It is important to cleanse your skin daily. However, I recommend if you only do it once a day, make sure you do it in the evening, because that’s when you have the most build up and debris from the day. And please cleanse your skin after a workout.

Make sure you’re following the proper shaving technique that you are using the proper tools and products for your hair type. And if you need help with this, you can always consult a barber. If you are wearing a beard or facial hair that’s been quite popular during this pandemic, make sure that you take care of it. You must cleanse, hydrate and keep it trimmed in shape. You want your beards to look neat.

And if you have any doubt or which direction to go, when it comes to your skincare, you can always consult with an esthetician who’s a licensed skincare professional. Or go to a dermatologist if you have more extreme issues. And that’s your Bold Blind Beauty Byte.

Sylvia: I have to say, Dana, I love how you told those men to cleanse after they work out.

Dana: Well, it’s very important.

Sylvia: It sure is girl. We don’t want to smell them either.

Dana: No, they have to take care of their skin as well. So it’s very important for them to get on the right routine that’s set up for them. And if they keep things simple for themselves, they can. They’re more likely to stick to it.

Sylvia: Men are notoriously bad about taking care of themselves and their skin. They really are.

Nasreen: Yeah, the good thing is that there’s some products out there by different companies out there that cater to men’s health care. And, you know whether that’s facial products, deodorants, hair care, but there are lines out there for men, and they should go check them out.

Steph: You know, one of the interesting things that I’ve found, through some of my reading is that some of the products for men well, actually, equal products for women are cheaper for men than they are for women. And yet they have the same ingredients. And I found that a lot of women will use the men’s products versus the women’s products because they understand the difference. And I know it’s a marketing thing. But why is that Dana? I mean, it seems so cruel.

Dana: Right! I think it’s like you just said Steph it’s a marketing thing. And let’s face it, women are going to pay for beauty beauty products more so. So they’ll put out the money for whatever their need or whatever they’re looking for.

Even though I know things have changed in dynamics and different generations are different because there’s a generation of men that are all into taking care of themselves. But for men, it’s usually a simpler routine versus a woman. But I really think it’s that whole, like you said, stuff, that whole marketing thing. If a woman is going to do that, I would recommend look at those ingredients and really understand, can I use this on my skin? Will this work for me too?

Sylvia: So today, we’ve talked about having combined vision and hearing loss. Which is often a thing that can happen to us who are visually impaired as we age, in some ways, naturally. So we got to take care of our hearing as well. But, you know, there are many people who have combined hearing a vision loss. And we talked about some strategies for overcoming that. And now we’re talking about age management for our skin. So interesting conversations.

Steph: Thanks so much, Dana. Especially for the the advice for the men because that’s, it’s important. And it’s something that we don’t really focus on enough.

Sylvia: And it’s something that men don’t focus on too.

Nasreen: It is great to see companies now catering products towards men, and men’s health care, and men’s beauty in general. So that’s really great.

Sylvia: And men, it matters, how you look and smell and feel it matters.

A Discussion on Vision Vs. Hearing Loss

One man in two different poses: In one his eyes are covered and the other his ears are covered. Text next to each photo reads Hearing, Sight.

Nasreen: Since we’ve been talking about, you know, visual loss and hearing loss, I have to ask you guys, which one would be more? Do you guys think harder to navigate being visually impaired or being hearing impaired? What do you all think?

Steph: Can I go first? When I was younger, I remember thinking that going blind would be the worst thing that could happen. And when I say blind, I mean totally blind, because I had a friend who was totally blind. And that was my experience. So if I went totally blind, I wouldn’t know how I could go on.

But now that that is my real life experience, I’m not totally blind, but I’m on the blindness spectrum. And being that whenever I get really, really sick, you know where the head’s congested, and everything is clogged up. When my ears get clogged, it feels like your head’s underwater and you can’t hear very well. I really disliked that feeling. And I don’t know that being deaf feels like that I have nothing to draw that experience from because that’s not my story. But I think I would really hate not being able to hear I think that that would be really difficult for me to to navigate.

I just, and again, because it’s not my story, I can’t wrap my head around it. Now, I am losing some hearing. But I only know that from other people’s perspective from the way I talk and from, having my devices turned up. I haven’t had it, assessed medically, and I’m putting off doing that I guess because it’s sort of a self protection thing, and I’m afraid to hear what they’re going to tell me.

It is, it is and I know I have to do it. I was actually at an event a woman there was from the Helen Keller center, and she was telling me to get it done, because that would be a dual disability. So I am going to do it. But for me, I would have to say hearing.

Sylvia: So when I say first off, I will say that, you know if you look at studies or kind of just anecdotal stuff, people will say that they fear vision loss more than almost anything and way more than they fear, hearing loss. And so over the years, you know, I’ve worked in the field of blindness and encountered many individuals with dual sensory loss, some who were had hearing impairments as a result of aging, so they had the vision and hearing impairment. So low vision, low hearing, but others who truly were deaf blind due to Usher’s or other other things.

And so then I was teaching college and I actually asked my college students just as an introduction to blindness, what they which which they would rather experience which they felt would be easier to live with? And I can tell you that every single class I asked and I taught for five years, every single class, the majority, almost every single person said that they thought it would be easier to be deaf.

But by the end of the class three, four months later, they all said they thought it would be easier to be blind. And because in my experience, having worked with people who are deaf blind, and then working across the hall for many years, with the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services department right across the hall from us, and just having so many friends who were hearing impaired, and then having many friends who are deaf blind communication, is the major challenge that I have seen that people who have significant hearing impairments experience.

We, as people who are blind can talk to anybody. When you have a hearing impairment, your communication drops to people who can communicate with you. And if you’re if you are deaf, that could be that someone who can use sign language, if you’re deaf blind, it might be only someone who can use tactile sign, or who you can use Braille with. And so your world shrinks. And I think that that has to be so hard. And I’ve seen it be so hard for people.

Nasreen: I have to agree with Sylvia because it’s something that looking at my dad now who’s hard hearing, and really screaming at him to just o communicate, really to get our message across it’s simple message and more in depth message. It’s very frustrating. And it’s a challenge. And different aids we have to use so that he can read the whiteboard or hear or read our iPad or something, but just to communicate. And that’s the biggest, it’s a challenge and a barrier, same time.

Personally, I think now that I look at things, I guess I would rather be blind because like you said, at least I can communicate. I can hear I can get around and help myself, knowing to use echolocation and things like that to find things and, and other aids. But to not being able to hear, I guess I would to feel like I would be disconnected with the world and communication would be the most difficult thing to deal with. I would feel like I’m unheard. And probably people would shy away from me.

Or like Sherri said, how do we talk to that girl? How do we communicate with her? And that’s a barrier. And that’s, something that’s utterly difficult and painful to as a person. I mean, that was a lot of emotional trauma.

Sylvia: So I think we always on Bold Blind Beauty On A.I.R. we often just talked to people who have experienced challenges and overcome those. And today we talked to Sherri who’s overcome hearing and vision loss. And I think that we have to admit that having any disability, let’s just be honest, living life is a challenge.

And we need to have more compassion for each other and try to put ourselves into other people’s shoes and experience what must that be like. And we talked a lot about frustration and how frustrating that must be. And can we reach over to that person and make that connection, whether someone is deafblind, whether they’re hearing impaired, whether they’re blind, whatever it is, whether they’re going through a challenge, what can we do to connect to people and create more inclusion?

Steph: Ladies, this was a great segment, I love being able to talk with different people who are experiencing different things. And one of the things that we’ve talked about here on Bold Blind Beauty On A.I.R. is that being different isn’t bad. You’ll always hear me say we have to get to a point where we accept people where they are as they are.

And even though we’ve talked about some of the frustrations with communication and those types of things, with people who are DeafBlind or people with maybe perhaps other disabilities that we may not fully understand. I’m a great believer in there’s always a way and this is one of the reasons why Bold Blind Beauty fully supports A.I.R. (Access, Inclusion, and Representation).

Because it’s important that like you said Sylvia, we are compassionate, we are kind we are patient and we can connect with people because there is always a way that’s why we are doing what we do. So I just thank you all so much for this conversation and this episode and spreading awareness about DeafBlindness Awareness Week.

Nasreen: Thank you for listening to this episode of bold blind beauty on air. Please subscribe and if you enjoy this show, please do recommend it to your friends and family. Thanks for listening everybody.

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Image Descriptions

  • Header: Young deaf blind woman at an indoor climbing gym. The athlete is guided by her sister guided by her sister preparing her ropes.
  • YouTube Thumbnail: Bold Blind Beauty’s podcast logo is a bright yellow illustration of a hot air balloon on a black background with the words “Bold Blind Beauty” in white text and a curved arc around the top of the balloon. Under the balloon are the words “On A.I.R.” Additional text reads: “Sherri Rodgers | Living With DeafBlindness”
  • A selfie of Sherri an attractive senior woman with short silver hair. She’s wearing a pink crew neck top.
  • Close up of a blind person’s hands using a computer with a braille display.
  • Checklist on a blackboard with True/False selections.
  • A handsome Middle Eastern man applying moisturising cream on his face while looking in the mirror.
  • One man in two different poses: In one his eyes are covered and the other his ears are covered. Text next to each photo reads Hearing, Sight.

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