With hearing loss since birth, Kay was raised and worked on the family farm in Illinois. Throughout her life she’s had a varied career including working for Senator Ted Kennedy, the White Plains School for the Deaf, Texaco, Pepsi Cola, Kraft-General Foods, Procter & Gamble, and more. Currently she is in “semi-retirement” which means she’s not employed but is still volunteering a whopping 65-70 hours/week!
Kay says “I feel I am accomplishing my goal, but also sharing what I have learned through experiences. What is important in my work and contribution to the community is to make sure no other individual will go through the lifelong challenges of having a hearing loss – bullying, psychological trauma, lack of resources, lack of knowledge – and ensuring individuals with disabilities have the right guidance and tools to be successful in life. While growing up, I did not have parental support and encouragement. The expectation was I had to be capable of doing exactly what hearing people could do since our society is a hearing world. I was told I could not drive and hundreds of other things because I could not hear.” To add fuel to the fire, I attended public school and I worked three times harder than other students to keep above a C in classes without any type of accommodation. It wasn’t healthy environment. The ADA was not in place until 30 years later. My parents were uneducated, and they did not know what to do or where to go nor did they try because of the stigma about deafness. They were trying to ‘fix me’ into being a normal hearing person without the tools and guidance. It wasn’t until I graduated from high school that I learned about the OVR through my speech pathologist.”
“I went to Northern Illinois University for a year and learned about Gallaudet University and that’s where I met my first deaf person. I did not know sign language was available. I did not know there was a residential school for the deaf in Illinois, etc. I was belittled and told I could not work. At my high school graduation I created my own motto, “I will work, I will put a smile on my face, I will face the world outside of my hometown, and I will get a college degree(s).” I have completed these goals and beyond.”
“I spent time from 1973 through early 1990s committing my energy and time to raising our four children and working full time. I am very proud of our four hearing adult children who have achieved far more than I (teachers, software research engineer, and nurse practitioner). Now they have their own families and we have 10 grandchildren ages ranging from 6 to 18.”
We asked Kay how she first learned about Independent Living. Kay says she knew “a deaf individual in Cincinnati, OH who worked at the Center for Independent Living. The CIL had a great deaf program and the person asked me to serve on a couple of committees since I understood the deaf community, communicated well with all hearing loss population. I praised the CIL’s mission statement and how important it is to learn to live independently and be self-sufficient. It is vital to be empathetic, compassionate, and trustworthy to learn and listen to others with different disabilities and the challenges he/she faces. When I moved to Williamsport, I applied for the BOD position and was accepted on the NCCIL Board. Then, we moved to Altoona, and I reached out to serve on their board at the South Central Center for Independent Living of PA.”
“Ed Roberts, the founding Father of CIL and pioneered CIL’s path across the United States shared it best. The core ideas for CIL is set in the mission statement of PA SILC and the mission statement used at all CILs, ‘To use our collective power and legal mandate to develop and secure public policies that ensure civil rights and expand options for all people with disabilities in all aspects of life.’ Provide people in the community about our services. Encourage people with disabilities to seek support. Allowing those with diverse abilities to make choices on their own and live independently in our community and workplace. Empower and stimulate those with clients/consumers toward self-worth, self-confidence, and trust in themselves. Adaptation and willing to change.”
“It is necessary from the board, administration, and staff to understand what the needs are for individuals with a disability. It is essential to make sure the general public is educated and aware of the services the Center for Independent living centers have available. This is not just about textbook education and skills, but interaction with various types of disabilities and those with multiple disabilities. This involves changing the mindset of those with disabilities and individuals/parents to raise them.”