“Some disabled people have a dream – a goal for themselves -- but they feel they can’t succeed -- that they can’t do it,“ LeAnn Cayer said in response to questions translated by an interpreter for the deaf-blind. “We should never let anyone talk us out of our dreams.”
Like Helen Keller, the most famous American with deaf-blindness, Cayer was born with hearing and vision losses. Her condition Congenital Rubella Syndrome was caused when her mother contracted what is commonly called “German measles” during pregnancy.
As the person chosen to represent more than 2,400 Oklahomans with vision and hearing losses during Helen Keller Deaf-Blind Awareness Week, June 25 through July 1, LeAnn Cayer, 34, knows about the struggle to obtain educational and personal goals.
“When I was at home in Houston, my mom did everything for me,” Cayer said communicating by voice and American Sign Language (ASL) at her Oklahoma City home. ”She meant well, but I should have learned to budget money, to study on my own, to be independent before I went to college. Basically, I had to teach myself to be independent – the hard way.”
“Transportation is the biggest barrier to a normal, every day life” Cayer explained. “I’m pretty much limited on where I get to go. Although I like the METRO-Lift system here better than other cities – the way you call in the day before to make a reservation -- I wish they could serve a wider area. Most of the time a friend has to give me a ride.”
MetroLift is a system of accessible vans providing public transportation for people in the Oklahoma City area who have difficulty using the bus system.
Cayer started pre-school training in Houston at age two. The next step was “mainstreaming ” or entering public school classes with students who didn’t have disabilities. Though she was the only deaf-blind student from elementary through high school, Cayer excelled academically, winning the school spelling bee in the fifth grade as well as other honors.
Evaluations and some training at Helen Keller National Center in Sands Point, New York and at Criss Cole Center in Austin, Texas helped develop communication, mobility and independent living skills.
Cayer’s college education began in 1984 at Gallaudet University, the world’s only liberal arts university for the deaf, in Washington, DC. She attended classes off and on until 1989, struggling with the algebra and geometry course requirements. Cayer, who could not see the chalkboard, had difficulty applying classroom lectures to the math problems she viewed at home with special equipment.
In 1999, she transferred to the Oklahoma City campus of Oklahoma State University, enticed by the opportunity to substitute business math, a course she recently passed on the second try.
“When we put our minds to it, people with disabilities can succeed, even if it takes [us] a little longer than other people,” Cayer said with a smile.
For help in adjusting to vision and hearing losses, LeAnn Cayer turned to the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services (DRS). Glenda Farnum, a specialist on deaf-blindness in the Division Visual Services, and Karen Goforth, Cayer’s counselor from the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, worked as a team to ensure that her unique needs were met.
Kent Bowers, an orientation and mobility specialist from the Division of Visual Services, trained Cayer to navigate better with a cane, accompanied by her American Eskimo hearing service dog Blossom.
Goforth continues to provide guidance and assistance with the cost of tuition, transportation, computer maintenance and repair to her Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) which enlarges and projects text for easier reading. Cayer also received hearing aids and environmental devices to help her function better at home.
“LeAnn is bound to succeed,” Goforth said. “She’s got determination. She’s very perceptive. She focuses on other people instead of herself. But what impresses me most is the fact that LeAnn does things for herself, rather than waiting for someone else to do them for her.“
Farnum said, “We asked LeAnn Cayer to represent deaf-blind Oklahomans during Deaf-Blind Awareness Week to increase understanding of the services DRS offers for Oklahomans who are deaf-blind and those with severe sight and hearing impairments.”
David Rushton, also a DRS specialist on deaf-blindness, noted, “LeAnn is a great role model for people who mistakenly think that life is over because you have a disability. She demonstrates what people with disabilities can accomplish.”
Cayer’s career goal involves helping people, perhaps in a career as a vocational rehabilitation counselor, a teacher for children with disabilities or a specialist on deaf-blindness.
“My dream,“ LeAnn Cayer said, “is to be fully independent – at work – at home -- financially –when traveling by myself. Then I’d like to help other people become independent too.”
To obtain information about available services, contact Glenda Farnum, (405) 522-0507, voice, or David Rushton, at (405) 522-2123, voice or TTY/TDD.