Monday, May 25, 2009

Deaf-blind woman celebrates her graduation from California college

From The Times in San Luis Opisbo:

It might be hard to find somebody on the Central Coast more determined to get her college degree than Corrina Veesart (pictured with her interpreter Abby Kopp). The 27-year-old blind and deaf student has spent the past nine years working toward her associate degree in general studies at Cuesta College. The fruits of her hard work and dedication were rewarded Friday when her name was announced at Cuesta’s graduation.

“I’m so excited, a little nervous, but very excited,” Veesart said through an interpreter before the ceremony. “It has been a huge effort for me. But I love school and really wanted to succeed.” Veesart can hear virtually nothing, and while she’s legally blind, she can make out hand signals within a few feet of her face. The woman who grew up in Los Osos, and currently lives there with her mother, used interpreters to relay information from class lectures. She often took one class at a time because of the amount of time it took for her to wade through information from lectures and grasp lessons. In a geology class, for example, Veesart’s interpreter, Abby Kopp of Cuesta’s Disabled Student Programs and Services, decided to create physical representations of landscapes to help her feel and understand concepts better.

Getting an education, Veesart said, has been a fight since her elementary school years, when some of her teachers thought she was mentally incapable of learning. But her mother, Pearl, went to court twice to push for her daughter to get a proper education in the public school system, Veesart said.

She switched schools a few times within the county before finding teachers and a support system that worked. Veesart graduated from San Luis Obispo High School in 2000. “She’s an extremely outgoing person who loves to be part of things,” said Kelly Hannula, deaf services facilitator at Cuesta’s Disabled Student Programs and Services. “And she loves to read since she can’t watch TV or listen to the radio. Her poetry writing is incredible. I think she should write a book about her experiences.”

Veesart said she enjoyed taking physical education at Cuesta and might pursue teaching it or work as a physical therapist. She loves swimming and running and enjoyed a kickboxing course she took.

“I want to be included in the world,” she said. “I love learning. I love people. I hate the idea of being alone or isolated with my own thoughts.”

Through her courses, involvement with interpreters and work as a paid tutor in sign language, Veesart said she made many friends while at Cuesta. She has had an extremely close working relationship with her interpreter, Kopp, since high school, and they’re friends as well, she said. “I have many friends,” Veesart said. “Some sign. Some don’t. Some finger words in the alphabet in the air and I can read what they’re saying. Sometimes I write things out and they write back.” Veesart can read Braille as well as large one-inch print up close. She has a magnifier for standard book texts, but can read only one letter at a time with it, so using it can be time-consuming. She said she doesn’t feel sorry for herself, and interpreters at Cuesta note her enthusiasm and love for learning. But she admits to sometimes getting frustrated.

“I just want equality and for things to be fair,” Veesart said. “I want my experience to be the same as the next person’s.”

While she’s not sure of her next step, Veesart said she may continue to take classes at Cuesta and keep her options open. One day she hopes to be independent and live on her own. But for now, she can bask in the delight of finishing her degree.

“I want education, I want to be successful, and I want to help people,” she said. “I love people.”