PORT WASHINGTON, N.Y. — Many people can’t imagine what life would be like without sight or hearing, but Ellen Foshag isn’t letting the loss of either slow her down.
Foshag has lived with her husband in Pittsburg for the last 34 years, and has been diagnosed with Usher Syndrome Type II, which is characterized by progressive loss of vision and hearing. But she is fighting back. Currently, Foshage is taking part in intensive training at the Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths and Adults in New York.
She began classes at HKNC March 7, and will be there for a total of eight weeks for assessments, followed by a training session. But Foshag hopes to be there longer.
“My being here is federally-funded, and then the money is funneled through the states,” she said. “If I am approved by the state to continue training, I could be here nine months or longer.”
She hopes to know more about how long she’ll be staying after a meeting with state officials April 18.
For her time at HKNC so far, Foshag said it is fast-paced.
“It feels like being in college all over again,” Foshag said. “I take classes, have homework and a room on campus.”
HKNC is a one-of-a-kind facility for folks living with deaf-blindness. All classes and training are done one-on-one with individual instructors and focus on orientation and mobility, communication, technology and even organizing money and writing checks.
“I’m leaning to identify and categorize different money, write checks and do things I could before when I had better vision,” Foshag said. “We work on cooking skills, how to identify clothing and how to clean.”
Her training also includes assessments with audiologists, eye specialists and independent living experts. She is also taking part in vocational training to find her job strengths so she can work once she is finished.
“A lot of us are learning we can be very high-functioning in our daily lives as long as we have the correct teacher,” Foshag said. “Kansas does not have many in-state services for the deaf-blind.”
Foshag tried home study courses in the past, but said they were unsuccessful, which is why it is so important for her to stay on at HKNC.
“Now I have actual teachers,” she said. “Someone to show me and coach me on how to do things better.”
Foshag retired seven years ago, after a career in social work and nurseing. She and her husband have remained active. They are members of Sunflower Kiwanis and enjoy walking at the Robert W. Plaster Center at Pittsburg State University.
But Foshag said being at HKNC has helped her with more than just reclaiming her daily life.
“If you are deaf-blind, there are very few people like you — I have not met anyone dealing with dual-sensory loss in Pittsburg,” she said. “You come to the Helen Keller Center and you are not odd anymore because everyone is like you.
“And while you’re training you think ‘if they can do it, so can I.’”
— Chance Hoener is a staff writer for the Morning Sun. He can be emailed at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @ReporterChance.