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Meet The Deaf Woman Who Had To Learn How To Live Again After Going Blind

"I didn't have any skills. I had to learn everything again."
Another deaf-blind lady, Michelle, can still play the piano with her condition.
Another deaf-blind lady, Michelle, can still play the piano with her condition.

Heather Lawson was born deaf. She grew up in Melbourne with the impairment and coped well with the reality of relying on her sight to be able to socialise and communicate.

But then she also lost her sight, to the point of having tunnel vision, leaving her "frightened" and "alone".

Heather told Channel 10's The Project the loss of another crucial sense meant she had lost the skills she relied on to live and was forced to learn how to function again.

"I am deaf-blind. But I was born deaf. Then I grew up deaf. I coped with that well. I had vision. Later on when I was a teenager around 13-14, I slowly lost my sight and I had tunnel vision," she said.

"When I was deaf, I had vision, so I could socialise. I was a really happy girl, involved in activities. I could see other people's signing.

"As I lost my sight it impacted on my life. I was frightened. I felt alone. Because at that time, I didn't have any skills. I had to learn everything again."

She now relies on a language known as Tactile Auslan -- a system of communication where a deaf-blind individual places their hands over the hands of an interpreter as they use sign language, in order to be able to feel the movements and read what they're saying.

She told The Project this unique form of communication has become the way she now lives her life and manages to maintain a 30-year friendship with another deaf-blind person, Michelle Stephens.

Unlike Heather, Michelle grew up with minimal sight due to a premature birth and lost her hearing during her 30s as a result of childhood ear infections.

She was an early recipient of a cochlear implant and when her remaining hearing faded, she too had to learn the skills of life once again -- including her pet hobby in playing the piano.

"At first it was really devastating. I naturally thought that I would never, ever be able to play the piano again," she said.

Michelle also said her friendship with Heather grew around their training to re-learn communication techniques. Now they support each other through the good and bad days they experience using new technologies such as Braille display text and email.

"We became friends and we used to catch up and do training together and I used to go to her house a few times. We do have good and bad days but we support each other," she said.

"Heather and I work very closely together. For instance, we're always texting each other about something."

Both Heather and Michelle were also the creators of an immersive performance that was featured in the Sydney Festival in January called Imagined Touch. The event required attendees to wear goggles and headphones that restricted light and sound in order to experience life as a deaf-blind individual.

"Imagined Touch for Heather and I was a very empowering sensation. Heather and I have been able to make sure people can have a true understanding of what our lives actually are like," Michelle said.

However, with the growing awareness around their impairments, both women told The Project they don't like receiving pity, listing the things they've managed to achieve in life with the support they've had available to them.

"I don't like people saying 'oh, poor deaf-blind person,' you know, pity. Because deaf-blind people can do things. As long as they have support, and they're given that support, it builds their confidence," Heather said.

"I've done rock climbing, abseiling, I climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge, I did jetskiing. I've sky-dived."

And for Michelle, she believes there's many more challenges and experiences to come.

"I really am so fortunate that I've had the time I've had and I've got through the challenges that I've got through and I've still got a lot more challenges to get through."


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