SSC-Natick Press Release
U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center-Natick
Public Affairs Office
Natick, MA 01760-5012
Contact: Public Affairs Office
Date: October 25, 2007
Speaker overcomes obstacles to meet goals
Elaine Ducharme, director of the DeafBlind Community Access Network and a DeafBlind individual, addressed the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center (SSC) work force on Oct. 10 with the assistance of interpreters and the use of tactile sign language. Ducharme's presentation was part of the observances at SSC for National Disability Employment Awareness Month. (Photo by Strategic Communications)
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NATICK, Mass. -- On Oct. 10, the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center's (SSC) work force welcomed Elaine Ducharme, director of the DeafBlind Community Access Network, who spoke on the topic, "DeafBlind Can." Ducharme is both deaf and blind and has overcome these disabilities to be a vital member of the Community Access Network work force.
John Manning, deputy to the garrison commander, introduced Ducharme by saying that she had been born deaf but later developed Ushers Syndrome, which led to her loss of sight. Ushers Syndrome is a genetic disease that usually involves a serious hearing loss and progressive vision loss.
He then emphasized some of her accomplishments, such as establishing a non-profit organization in Connecticut called the DeafBlind Association of Connecticut, participating as an active member in the DeafBlind Contact Center and the American Association for the DeafBlind, and receiving degrees from Northwest Connecticut Community College and the University of Connecticut.
Dorothy Griffith, a member of the SSC work force, who is deaf, also spoke. Griffith said that Ducharme is a "courageous, brilliant woman."
"From Elaine and me," Griffith said, "people with disabilities can do anything except hear and see. We are able to succeed at education or a career."
With the assistance of interpreters and the use of tactile sign language, Ducharme began her presentation.
"I wanted to take this opportunity to explain what it is to be a DeafBlind individual," she said.
Speaking about her past, Ducharme mentioned that as a deaf young woman, although having some challenges academically, teachers suggested to her that perhaps she might want to work with children.
"When I began to lose my sight," she continued, "I had to rethink my goals for the future."
She mentioned that she wasn't happy with how she identified herself at that time and was trying to figure out what being a DeafBlind person meant.
I spent some time working, and was denied a lot of jobs, Ducharme said. That was very defeating, so I decided I needed to change my attitude and make myself marketable. With her family's encouragement, she decided to study Braille at the Helen Keller National Center in New York.
"I had visited the Center before and was appalled," she said. "I was afraid I would lose my academic knowledge. I thought to myself, 'I'm too smart to be in this place.'"
However, it turned out to be a "great place," for Ducharme because it was where she learned to become independent.
I had been depending on friends and families to be my eyes and was apprehensive of using that white cane, she said, but after doing some self-analysis during this time, I came to the realization that I was a DeafBlind individual.
After her realization, Ducharme started interacting more with the DeafBlind community and eventually went to the National Convention where she met more people who were DeafBlind.
Shortly thereafter, Ducharme was asked to be the coordinator for a DeafBlind organization. "Although I didn't have much experience," she said, "I thought I might give it a try."
Another defeat lay in her way however, as she was laid off from that position. "I tried not to think of it as a defeat," she said, "I realized now I could go back to school." Previously, Ducharme had been working full time and going to school.
She then got a job helping to write curriculum for DeafBlind individuals and how interpreters could work with them. Then, another defeat, as her position got cut.
At this point, Ducharme decided to return to her home state of Connecticut and it was there that she decided to work on setting up an organization to support DeafBlind individuals. She created the DeafBlind Association of Connecticut that helps DeafBlind persons develop leadership skills and build relationships in order to make positive changes in their lives.
From approximately 1987 to 2001, Ducharme focused on this work; however she said her family eventually gave her a nudge to further herself by moving from Connecticut and trying to find a job that matched her needs.
She applied for jobs across the country, Chicago, California, Louisiana, before finally having an interview in Boston.
"I have a wonderful brother," Ducharme said, "who is also DeafBlind. He would come to Boston with me, so he and I moved. Since moving, we have met so many wonderful people and now I am studying for my Masters [Degree]."
Ducharme is enrolled in the Masters Degree program at Springfield College in Boston, hoping to graduate with a degree in Administration and Human Services. She talked a little about her thesis project, which is working with senior citizens who are DeafBlind.
"Often they feel like they have no support and end up isolated," she said. "I want them to know there are options available to them now. There is more support for DeafBlind individuals. There are also more communication methods available, such as tactile communication, and I want to encourage them to take advantage of it and to get out. Maybe we can't watch TV, but there's a whole world out there."
She said that day by day, she is slowly arriving at her goals. I'm out in the 'real world,' she continued, I've tackled obstacles. I've gone to college. I've worked with DeafBlind individuals.
When asked how she describes herself now, Ducharme said, "As an individual, a motivated person. I'm Elaine, a person, a woman, who happens to be DeafBlind."
Before taking questions and passing around some mock glasses that imitated limited sight, she mentioned that she doesn't like the word 'disabled.'
"Disabled folks aren't disabled, we're just not perfect. But, nobody is. We're all human."
Manning said Ducharme's talk was, "informative, enlightening and encouraging."
The presentation was part of the observances at SSC for National Disability Employment Awareness Month.