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David and Kimberly Williams Transcript

Minnesota Deaf Heritage Oral-Visual Interview with David and Kimberly Williams

Background Information

Interview Information

This interview with David Williams (DW) and Kimberly Williams (KW) was incorporated into the Commission of Deaf, DeafBlind, and Hard of Hearing Minnesotans’ (MNCDHH) Oral-Visual History Project. This interview was originally produced by the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services Metro Division (DHHSD) of the Minnesota Department of Human Services. This interview took place in 1997. The interviewer was Robert “Bob” Cook (BC).

Translation Notes

A note about translation of this interview: The interview was recorded in American Sign Language (ASL). The interviewer and interviewees used ASL as a first language, and the signed information was translated into vernacular or spoken English by interpreters. 

This transcript and the open captions in the video are based on the spoken English information.

Actions are in brackets. Translation notes are in parentheses and italics (using the emphasis font), and they represent additional information and corrections about what was said.

Transcript of Interview with David and Kimberly Williams

Key to names:

KW = Kimberly Williams (signs in American Sign Language, voiced in English by interpreters)

DW = David Williams (signs in American Sign Language, voiced in English by interpreters)

BC = Robert “Bob” Cook (signs in American Sign Language, voiced in English by interpreters)

[Visual of title graphic “Minnesota Deaf Heritage: Interview with Kim and David Williams”]

[Robert “Bob” Cook is sitting with David and Kimberly Williams for the interview.]

BC: Hello, I'd like to introduce you to a Deaf couple, Kimberly and David Williams. Kimberly, I'd like to ask you a few questions. First, can you share with me your educational experiences growing up as a child?

KW: I attended the Indiana School for the Deaf. I started in 1960 and continued there until I graduated in 1975. Then I came to Minnesota to attend the Technical Vocational Institute (TVI). At TVI I majored in the Deaf program called general office practice or GOP. I've worked ever since I graduated from TVI, so that's my educational background.

BC: David, tell me something about your childhood.

DW: I grew up in Buffalo, New York. I went to St. Mary's School for the Deaf. All of our teachers were nuns. I graduated in 1975, the same year as Kimberly. Then I also attended TVI for two years. I majored in Civil Technology, which is related to Civil Engineering. That’s working on the highways and such. I've been employed in my field for the past twenty years.

BC: Is your work interesting? I don't understand what you said about the highway. Can you explain more?

DW: All right. I work in the soil and cement lab. What I do is study and do tests on the different elements used to make the roads. I test different rocks and granite to determine the best stabilizers that will keep the road hard and eliminate weak areas in the pavement. In addition I test the moisture levels of the cement mixes. So I do testing in both areas.

BC: Very interesting. Kimberly, can you tell me more about what you do? More in-depth. 

KW: OK. I work for Find, Inc. We've been around for almost four years now. I work with the Deaf Blind Community Involvement Program in which volunteers and DeafBlind individuals go out to different activities monthly, to expose the DeafBlind person to a variety of things. I also do work with an outreach program which teaches independent living skills such as understanding mail they receive. Thirdly, I teach tactile signing as well as American Sign Language (ASL). I'm really a bit of a jack of all trades. I enjoy the variety which makes it the best position I've held.

BC: Are you also involved with Deaf and DeafBlind community activities?

KW: Oh yes, I'm very involved with MDBA, the Minnesota Deaf Blind Association. I'm on their Board. I'm active with Find Inc. and many other groups. I'm much more involved with the DeafBlind community now than I was in the past. Previously, I was in denial, but now I've accepted that I am a DeafBlind person. It is part of who I am. I now look on it in a more positive way in that it gives me the opportunity to educate people.

BC: David, how are you involved in the Deaf Community?

DW: Mostly I am also involved with the DeafBlind Community, since I help Kimberly be involved with the different agencies such as MDBA. I've become more acquainted with her friends and I have some DeafBlind friends myself too. We enjoy going out to restaurants and different social events together. It's something the two of us can do together. I'm also active in other parts of the Deaf community. I'm involved with the Deaf sports group, Minnepaul and with Thompson Hall events. I like to go to Thompson Hall to see old friends and hang out together. Those are a few of the things I do socially.

BC: I'm impressed. Kimberly is from Indiana and David, you are from New York, and yet the two of you decided to settle down in Minnesota! I think you're crazy! Don't you think it's too cold here?

DW: Yes, true it is cold here. I remember back in 1975, when I was graduating from high school – back then the job market was pretty bleak so I decided to go to college. I applied to Gallaudet and to TVI. I didn't apply at NTID (National Technical Institute for the Deaf) in New York because I was bored there and wanted to move somewhere else, I was definitely ready for a change. Gallaudet didn't accept me because my test scores weren't at their required level, but TVI did. So, I entered TVI and was there for two years. Really their program was exceptional. They offered a job placement program which was encouraging because New York had such a high rate of layoffs and unemployment at that time. President (Jimmy) Carter was in office then, and there was a lot of support at that time for education, but the economy wasn't so great. That's part of the reason I wanted to leave New York.

BC: Kimberly, how did you and David meet?

KW: That's an interesting story. I actually knew him when we were both attending TVI, but I didn't pay attention to him because I was a "good girl" and he seemed a bit rebellious. After graduation, we went our separate ways. We met again at a church picnic, fell in love, and eventually got married. I never thought I would marry that guy David from New York!

BC: David, is her story accurate? Or, do you want to add anything?

DW: I think she's pretty much right. I guess when I thought about getting married, I didn't think of her first off. But when I got to know her and what a wonderful personality she had, we were a perfect match. Kimberly was very supportive and that really impressed me, so I knew I better marry her while I had the chance. We've been together for sixteen years now. Time has really flown.

BC: Sixteen years - that's a long time!

KW: It hasn't felt that long, it feels more like ten maybe.

DW: No, no, no. I think more along the lines of three years.

BC: Were you married in Indiana or New York?

KW and DW: Minnesota.

KW: It’s crazy!

DW: You probably think we're both crazy to come to this frozen land to get married.

BC: What month? You didn't get married in December, did you?

KW: No, no, no. September 27th, our anniversary is in about two weeks.

DW: I remember when we first came to Minnesota it was getting pretty cold, but for many people, the onset of fall also means that hunting season is approaching.

KW: In the spring it was still cold, and there was quite a bit of snow that hadn't melted yet. I remember suffering walking back and forth from Emma's to TVI in the snow. I complained about the weather a lot. After I graduated, I got a job at Kinko's, for a while there. And I fell in love and got married. So it seems like I'm sort of stuck here, which is too bad. I hate cold weather. I prefer warm air and have always wanted to move south.

BC: Do you have any hobbies you want to tell me about?

KW: I love to read anything! Any type of books. I also enjoy bike riding with David on our tandem bike - it allows me to be able to go biking and still feel independent. I collect cat plates. I have a variety of them and I love animals. I am a strong supporter of PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals). I am against abusing animals in the name of research. Those are a few of the things that I do.

BC: David? Your hobbies?

DW: I’m just a couch potato - no I'm just kidding. I’d have to say I really enjoy football. A while ago I was a semi pro receiver. In 1975 I was invited to the New York Giants training camp. We were part of what was called the Metro Miller group. It was the city organization that ran the training camp. They were paid to do that. In any case, I tried there for about one year, but being the only Deaf person, it was very frustrating for me. It was very difficult because of the communication so I had to come up with some codes for them for the different plays so we would know whether it was a run to the right or which direction we were going with this. But there were so many different plays, it just got overwhelming. So it was really difficult and I really struggled with it until I decided offense really wasn’t the best position for me. Maybe defense would be better. I felt that I was quick enough to be on defense, but the coach was impressed with my ball handling ability and decided to keep my on offense. I tried my best for that year but I finally gave up. That’s when I went to TVI. Now I love to watch football on TV and I always try to guess which of the plays or strategies the teams will be doing next. Another hobby, I also enjoy spending time with friends. Getting together socially. 

KW: What about Star Trek?

DW: That’s right. I forgot! Yes, I LOVE Star Trek. I collect Star Trek memorabilia. Just recently I have started to research the show. I've found out that the program isn't totally fiction, but that some of what the actors do is a replica of some of NASA's (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) activity, and they use some of the same terminology. I'm really fascinated by the program, perhaps because I work in a technical field and they use a lot of technology on the ships. So the program really intrigues me. Kimberly, thanks for reminding me of that.

BC: Lastly, share with us more of your experiences growing up. Also, I'm curious, do you think people's attitudes have changed, becoming more positive, and do you think services for Deaf and DeafBlind people have improved in recent years?

KW: For me, when I was at the school for the Deaf, I had no idea that I had vision problems. I knew that something was wrong, because my friends often teased me like I wasn’t normal. Many friends would insult me and say I had horse blinders on. I also couldn't see very well at night, like my friends could. I just tried my best to interact with the other children. Naturally, as I was growing up, my friends pulled pranks on me at bedtime. They would come up and poke me and I couldn't see who it was, of course. I was frustrated, but I learned to tolerate it. Later, some of my friends confronted me about it and because I wanted to be like everyone else, I told them I didn't have a vision problem. I was just daydreaming or not paying attention. One day I asked my mother why I couldn't see very well and she decided to take me to the eye doctor. The doctor said that I had night blindness and some limitations regarding my peripheral vision, but didn't really know how severe it was. After I graduated from high school, as I said before I was going to attend TVI. I'm not sure of the rationale, but at that time TVI required an eye exam prior to starting school. Originally, I went to a regular eye doctor. I told him about my night blindness and he was concerned, so he referred me to the University of Minnesota. I guess I didn't think it was a big deal at that time. I arrived in the morning and there was a day of testing. Unfortunately I did not have an interpreter. I had an eye exam and they put some drops in my eyes which made my vision blur. I was really concerned about communicating with the medical staff as I now could not write notes back and forth. It was very emotional and challenging. I was starving but I was afraid to leave to get something to eat. I thought maybe they would call my name and I would miss it. Finally, at three o’clock, I was called back in to talk with the lead doctor. He told me that I had Retinitis Pigmentosa. I didn't understand what that meant. That is the proper name for the type of eye disease I have. The doctor gave me some special binocular-like glasses to read the information related to Retinitis Pigmentosa. When I asked the doctor what it meant for my future, he informed me that within six months I would be totally blind. I think when he told me that - six months – it really hit me. I went numb. When I arrived home I was in shock. I felt alone and that I had no support. I called my parents and accused them of hiding this information from me, but they assured me that they honestly didn't know. As a result, my parents decided to bring all of my medical records from their home in Indiana here to me, here in Minnesota. After reviewing the additional information my parents provided, the doctor at the University said that I wouldn't become blind within six months, which was a relief, but my field of vision would become very narrow. Of course, I was very much in denial at that point, as I was active in the Deaf Community and really relied on my vision, but that didn't seem to be a problem. As I got older, my field of vision became smaller, and watching signs was a lot more work. Now, I use considerable amounts of energy while communicating with others and tire faster. And, to be honest, some Deaf people are disrespectful towards DeafBlind people. They don't understand our needs in regards to a limited field of vision, and signing slower. I tend to miss a lot and it is very frustrating. Due to the frustration, I started to withdraw from them, I basically let it go, and became more involved with the DeafBlind Community. We share a common bond and understand each other's situation. I didn't want to stay in the Deaf Community and feel isolated. Now my challenge is to go back to them and educate them. I use different glasses to help them understand how I see things, so they can empathize with the DeafBlind population. I love my role as an educator. Sometimes people forget and so I must be persistent and explain the limited field of vision and the importance of wearing dark clothes. Soon people will be able to take a class at TVI - St. Paul Technical College - that focuses on interpreting for DeafBlind consumers. I'm really anxious for that to get started. Also, Find, Inc. is setting up a program called "the DeafBlind and Deaf Bridge" with the goal of developing a rapport between the two communities, so that the DeafBlind Community isn't ignored. Another goal is to help the DeafBlind Community in accessing various organizations while working with an interpreter - basically providing more opportunities for DeafBlind individuals to be able to utilize the resources of the area.

BC: David? Your perceptions of the community?

DW: Hmmm, well, I guess it’s true – there are still problems within the community. I know from Kimberly's experiences, she’s right. It reminds me that it's true what happens at the schools with DeafBlind kids – they do get picked on. I was a guilty party in that respect - ironic now that I'm married to Kimberly. I remember I used to sneak up behind the DeafBlind students while they were watching TV and wiggle my hand in their peripheral vision, slowly moving it forward - just to see how long before they would notice me. When they would finally catch me, they would tell me to knock it off. She's also right about the bedtime pranks. In the dorm, I would sneak up and grab a DeafBlind student's arm or something and then run away. Some of them had a strong sense of touch, almost like their sense of touch was enhanced. Once in a while when I would try to poke or grab them, they would grab me first so I couldn't get away! They could then figure out who it was that was playing tricks on them. But, you understand, I was young and immature at that point and not very respectful. Now that I'm older, and married to Kimberly, I do understand what they go through. Now, from a Deaf person's perspective, I had one traumatic experience I can share, which happened at work and, of course, I didn't have an interpreter. It was in 1978 or 1980, right about 1980. In any case, I was having my performance review with my supervisor and my supervisor’s boss. They were talking about my performance - how I was doing on the job and whether or not I was ready to take on some additional responsibilities. My immediate supervisor had filled out the form and was asking me to sign it without having read it first. If I did that, that meant that I agreed with his evaluation of my work. I let him know that I preferred to read it first but he didn’t seem to want me to do that. Finally, I went to my boss’ superior and, from there, the three of us had a meeting. During that meeting, we wrote notes back and forth because, again, there was no interpreter. I said I really detested that process because there was miscommunication happening and I was missing information. They were deciding on what steps I needed to take to improve myself and be eligible for promotions. It was really an unfair situation for me. It was very frustrating to go through that kind of a performance evaluation – through writing. I guess I felt I missed too much information and didn’t know what they were planning for me. Thing have improved some now but it is still a problem area. 

BC: All right. Well I want to thank the two of you for taking the time to come today. I really enjoyed chatting with you and hopefully we will see each other more often in the future.

KW: Thank you.

DW: Great, thanks.

BC: [Bob speaks to the camera.] And, thank you for tuning in, too.

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