OKLAHOMA CITY – Author, lecturer and humanitarian Helen Keller remains one of the best known deaf-blind Americans, even though she died 48 years ago.
In celebration of Keller’s achievements, the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services named Daniel Meek to represent Oklahomans during 2016 Deaf-Blind Awareness Week, June 26- July 2.
An investment advisor and accountant from Mustang, Meek has Usher’s Syndrome Type III. The condition combines hearing loss with retinitis pigmentosa, resulting in progressive loss of side vision due to retina deterioration. Type III is the only one of the syndromes to cause loss of vision before hearing.
The threat of special education classes caused Meek to consider dropping out of public high school. He utilized large-print textbooks and other adaptive teaching methods at DRS’ Oklahoma School for the Blind, but did not learn Braille or cane travel there because he hoped his vision loss would stabilize.
“I regret being such a stubborn little kid,” Meek said. “I should have taken advantage of the stuff they (Oklahoma School for the Blind) had to offer, but I heard of people with RP (retinitis pigmentosa) who didn’t lose their eyesight, and I said, ‘That will be me!’’”
The gradual decline in Meek’s vision caused his world to shrink. He lacked the skills and confidence to travel and communicate at work and at home. Meek worried about being dependent on others. A fog of depression set in.
“I was on the verge of not even being able to do my current job with blindness and deafness on the horizon, let alone be able to find a new career,” Meek said.
Eighteen months ago, things changed for the better. Helen Keller National Center in Sands Point, New York referred Meek who had his first interview with a dynamic team of Deaf-Blind specialists from DRS Visual Services. Jeri Cooper was deaf-blind herself. Cooper and Joan Blake had many years’ experience with the double disability of deaf-blindness.
They called in Debbie Trout and Pam Holloway, both Visual Services rehabilitation teachers who help clients develop a range of new skills and successfully adjust to vision loss. When Blake retired last fall, Deaf-Blind Specialist Stephanie Hunter joined the team.
DRS provided guidance and counseling, communication assistance, adaptive technology, new hearing aids and funding for Meek to complete his accounting degree at Colorado State University through their online program.
DRS recommended and prepared Meek to attend a week-long, accelerated mobility program at Leader Dogs for the Blind in Rochester Hills, Michigan. Leader Dogs funded transportation and training.
He has also successfully completed three Braille distance learning courses through Hadley School for the Blind.
Today, Meek uses a white cane for travel, magnification software in conjunction with a screen reader on his computer and a Bluetooth neck loop to stream phone conservations to his hearing aids and other technology as needed. He relies on the zoom window, which enlarges text, to verify words.
Sometimes Meek uses a Support Services Provider to participate in in conferences and retreats. SSPs use hand over hand, or tactile, interpretation to provide information through touch and movement that would otherwise not be accessible.
He recently passed the third part of the challenging four-part Certified Public Accountant examination. Blake helped Meek with his list of accommodations, such as an assistive listening device, for the accounting exams.
Meek’s secret weapon, however, is an “incredible memory” according to his boss Dan Parcel, owner of CC Investment Advisors in Oklahoma City.
Dan and Daniel have known each other 16 or 17 years. Parcel refers to their current relationship as partners, although Meek is technically an investment advisor representative for the company.
“Daniel researches 90 percent of stock fundamentals for our customers who are long term investors looking for dividend-paying stocks,” Parcel explained. “He runs our reports for customers and remembers what’s on every page when we go out for a presentation.”
“I want other employers to know that sometimes people with disabilities work harder,” Parcel said. “They understand they’re up against something, so they put out the extra effort in to get the job done.”
Things are looking up for Daniel Meek.
“My sign language is progressing; my braille is progressing; and my independent travel is progressing, which means my self-imposed prison has been unlocked,” Meek explained. “I realize my journey isn't complete, and there will always be obstacles to overcome, but with the right attitude, tools and skills, we are all unstoppable.”
Meek gives credit to his wife Kendra, a public school teacher, for her support. The couple has two daughters, Kylie and Keagan.
“There have been so many wonderful and encouraging people through Visual Services and other organizations that I have had the honor to get to know and utilize their expertise and guidance over the past year and a half,” Meek said.
Cassandra Oakes, founder and president of Sight-Hearing Encouragement Program (SHEP), is a friend. SHEP promotes the use of Support Services Providers and helps all Oklahomans with sight and hearing losses. SHEP’s offices are in the same building as CC Investment Advisors.
Meek serves on SHEP’s planning committee for a Deaf-Blind symposium scheduled for October at Sequoyah State Park in Hulbert.
“Taking that first step is the hardest thing,” Meek admits, “but that’s what helps build confidence.”
Daniel Meek is one of 70,000 Americans who have hearing and vision loss, according to population estimates by the Helen Keller National Center.
While specific employment numbers are not available for deaf-blind workers, U.S. Census data indicates that 29.7 percent of Oklahomans, ages 16 to 64, with all types of disabilities are employed, compared to 67.4% of individuals in the same age range with no disabilities.
Last year, DRS served 91,388 Oklahomans with disabilities with career preparation, employment, residential and outreach education, independent living programs and the determination of medical eligibility for disability benefits.
The agency helps job seekers with disabilities face barriers to employment, such as inaccessible worksites, lack of transportation or specialized equipment, and employers’ reluctance. The agency also provides career counseling, training, job placement and other services that build skills and qualifications needed in the workforce. For more information, visit http://www.okdrs.gov or phone 800-845-8476.