Ashley Jackson can't see or hear. Yet this girl is one of the most brilliant minds I've ever met.
In this episode, she shares her story of living without hearing or sight. When I first met Ashley, back when Lexie was only 10 months old, I knew a smattering of sign language. Okay, I knew most of the sign alphabet.
As a child, the first "real" biography I'd ever read was about Annie Sullivan, Helen Keller's teacher, and how she finger-spelled the sign alphabet into Helen's hand to teach her...everything. I devoured the story of this half-blind teacher locking the kitchen door when tiny manic Helen clawed her way around the table, snatching people's food, and battled this wild child into folding her napkin.
That story of how one woman opened the world for someone living in darkness shaped who I'd become, as a teacher, mother, writer. Yet I never dreamed I'd actually get to finger-spell into a deaf-blind hand.
Not until that day on a loud, crowded church bus when this tall teenage girl climbed on the bus holding onto her cousin's shoulder. No, she wasn't just blind. She was also deaf. And if someone only knew how sign, she could understand what they were spelling by feeling their hand.
On that bouncing bus, I spelled into her hand, "M-y n-a-m-e i-s R-e-b-e-k-(bump)-h."
Shaking my head, I continued. "W-h-e-e d-o y-o-u g-o t-o s-c-h-o-l" (Oh yes, I did misspell a lot. For a while I honestly thought the sign for "r" was "t")
"Where do I go to school? Oh, Tennessee School for the Blind. I'm just visiting here for the weekend."
I raced my stuttering fingers across her palm, trying to get to know this amazing person as well as I could in the short amount of time we had. I only saw her two or three times after that. Each time, I'd learned a few more signs. Just hoping I could talk to her again.
So imagine my delight when I met Ashley a decade later (last year). Now she was a senior at UT Martin, even more brilliant and polished. I began driving her to church sometimes, and on one of those trips she let me interview her so you can also hear her story.
Ashley lost her eyes before she turned a year old. Her prosthetic eyes are lovely, but she sees nothing. Her hearing was lost shortly afterward, but thanks to God's gift of brilliant minds and medical technology, she now has cochlear implants that somehow transmit sound waves to her brain and allow her to understand speech. That's how I was able to interview her while driving.
She still "hears" through finger spelling, but she has also learned to understand speech. You'll hear more about that in the interview.
What's most impressive to me is Ashley's hunger to learn, and even more, to share with others. She's graduated from the University of Tennessee at Martin and dreams of opening the world up for children with disabilities.
This one quick truck ride didn't allow us time to share her entire story, and Ashley's a gifted speaker. If you're interested in booking someone who will leave your group a lifelong impression, make sure to check out her website and consider booking her for a speaking engagement. She's about to head up to Gallaudet University to get her Master's, so if you're local, don't wait too long!
I hope you enjoy this interview. Please excuse the vehicle noises. This story is a gift from God. Let's not take the precious gifts of life, sight, or hearing for granted. And like Ashley, may we never use our weaknesses as excuses, but rather, as bridges to help others.