Shirley was born in 1936 in the heart of Pennsylvania coal country to two hearing parents. A few years after losing her father at the age of six, Shirley noticed her peripheral vision beginning to fail while enrolled at the Pittsburgh School for the Deaf. Even though her vision was failing rapidly, she continued with her studies, and she graduated. Shirley later married her longtime sweetheart and had three children. She did not learn of her Usher’s Syndrome diagnosis (a relatively rare genetic disorder resulting in a combination of hearing loss and visual impairment and a leading cause of deafblindness) until she was 40 years old, after failing a vision screening during a job search. Shirley was then referred to a specialist who diagnosed her with Usher’s and was finally able to find the answers to her many life-long questions and be connected to the support of the deaf-blind community in Pennsylvania and eventually here in Ohio.
Here in Columbus, where Shirley moved after the death of her husband in 2004, the Comprehensive Program for the Deaf at Columbus Speech & Hearing Center and the I Can Connect Program are essential to Shirley’s dream to stay connected. The Center is not just helping her connect to her children – but also to her very tech-savvy four grandchildren – by providing her with a specialized laptop, training and support so that she can now send and receive emails to them whenever she likes. “I have made a list of everyone I want to contact. I still have so much to learn about my new computer. It feels like I’m in first grade again. It’s so exciting. My children a re so happy for me, and my grandchildren in North Carolina and New Jersey can’t wait to see my texts and emails.”