Knoxville (WVLT) - It's hard for most of us to imagine life without one of our senses, especially not being able to see or hear, two of the things we rely most on each day.
But for thousands of people being both deaf and blind is a way of life.
This week is deaf blind awareness week. To honor it, Volunteer TV's Stacy McCloud introduces us to an inspirational man who has every reason to dwell on what he can't do, but instead stays focused on what he can.
Monday through Friday, this corner office at ETTAC is occupied by Tommy Bedwell, hard at work preparing to teach his next sign language class.
"I know general phrases, thank you, things like that,” Alicia Scruggs is here for her first lesson. "I want to be proficient in it, it's one of my goals."
It would be hard for her to find a more experienced teacher to help her reach that goal.
At age 60, Tommy has been signing his entire life.
"My mother and father would be calling, Tommy, Tommy, and I wouldn't hear them,” Tommy was born deaf, so sign language, he certainly knows. It's his teaching strategy that at first might throw you off a bit.
"I have to admit it's a little intimidating,” says Alicia.
Tommy doesn't look to see if his students are signing correctly. He uses touch, to feel their hand positions. Not a chosen method of teaching, it's his only choice.
At age seven Tommy’s vision became worse each day. Then at 29 he was diagnosed with Ushers Syndrome.
The prognosis was that one day he would become one of the thousands of people in the world that are deaf-blind.
"I have many frustrations and many of those frustrations have gone away,” says Tommy.
While he does have some central vision in his left eye, Tommy is now considered legally blind. "I can see different individuals, but everything looks black, I don't see the color,” he says.
"Literally if you make a fist so that all you have left is a tiny hole to look through, close your right eye, that is what he had left,” says Lois Symington from ETTAC
Technology called Zoomtext allows him to use a very large font with white or yellow on black contrast, to email and type back and forth with students.
He can even read a newspaper or review his students lessons by sliding them under an advancement called CCTV.
Sadly, these luxuries won't help forever. Eventually Braille will be his only sense of sight.
Despite knowing that, Tommy has an attitude that is, to say the least, contagious. "Of the five senses two are gone, my hearing and my site, but I still thank the Lord I have 3 senses left."
"I hate the word inspiration, so many times people put inspiration and disability together, but I have to tell you Tommy is one of the most motivating people I've known,” says Lois.
For Tommy, life isn't about what he's never been able to do, or pondering on what he once has vague memories of doing. It's about moving on. It's about being more thankful than words could ever express, for what he does have left. "I can still taste, I can still feel, I can still smell."
"I think the lesson we can all learn, is you just deal with what you have to today and just move forward with the biggest smile on your face that you can,” Lois says.
To find out how you can take lessons from Tommy, you can call ETTAC at(865)-219-0130.
If you would like to tell Tommy how his story inspired you, you can email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org
To learn more about what programs ETTAC has to offer, visit their website, http://www.discoveret.org/ettac/.
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