Travels from: Boston, MA
Jaimi Lard refuses to let the fact that she has been deaf and blind since birth stop her from having adventures. "Anything is possible — you've just got to go for it," she says.
Educating others about what is achievable for people with disabilities is a central part of Jaimi's life. She works as a spokesperson at the Perkins School for the Blind, in Watertown, Massachusetts, traveling to schools and civic organizations and speaking, through her interpreter, about what it's like to be deafblind. "I always enjoy meeting people and I like people to get exposed to deafblindness and know what that experience is like," Jaimi says.
Jaimi began defying the expectations of others at an early age. Jaimi's mother had rubella during her pregnancy and as a result Jaimi was born totally deaf with virtually no vision. But her parents refused to accept the opinions of doctors who said their daughter would be uneducable. "My parents hired a tutor who taught me sign language," Jaimi recalled. "As I began to pick up the basics, it was clear that I could learn."
When she was five years old, Jaimi left her home in Long Island and traveled to the Perkins School for the Blind. There she met children who talked with their hands just like she did and teachers who understood how to present a world she could neither see nor hear. Jaimi continued her education in Perkins' Deafblind Program, growing up on Perkins' campus, graduating in 1986 at the age of 22.
At Perkins, Jaimi learned skills to help her be as independent as possible. She took part in a vocational training program and landed a job at Brigham and Women's Hospital where she delivered mail and transported blood samples throughout the facility's 16 floors. She worked there for 13 years.
In 1995, Jaimi testified at the U.S. Congressional hearings on the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act about the impact of educating individuals who are deafblind. In June of 2000, Jaimi returned to Perkins as official spokesperson and today she gives presentations through an interpreter at schools and civic organizations and helps with tours for visitors to Perkins.
While an independent living counselor helps answer mail, pay bills and run errands, Jaimi relies on computer technology and large print software to complete a variety of other daily activities, including shopping, reading the newspaper and sending email.
But Jaimi's independence goes beyond routine daily tasks. Jaimi loves the outdoors and physical activity and so she became involved with AccessSportAmerica, a non-profit dedicated to helping people with disabilities increase physical and mental capabilities through physical activities.
For Jaimi, everything is about contact and communication. The world is only as dark and silent as the people around her allow it to be. "I can't see, I can't hear, but I want to do the same as other people," Jaimi says.
When Jaimi speaks to groups, she helps people to understand how deafblind people like herself can overcome disabilities and gain independence. In January of 2008, Jaimi was named a "Hero Among Us" by the Boston Celtics Shamrock Foundation for her work educating and inspiring others.