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Blind students with white canes waiting to cross Congress Avenue, a busy six lane road.

Jean Robinson, TSBVI VI Outreach Family Support Specialist

Author’s Note: This article is a combination of an article reprinted with permission from “Businessman receives award for motivating others” by David Ball, Reporter with The Orange Leader and from an interview with JoAnn Priddy, mother of Brett Simpson

Abstract:  A young man with deafblindness wins The Christian Knapp Great Motivator award for his success owning and operating his own business. His involvement in his local community began as a high school student and has won him recognition. His mother shares her thoughts about their journey.

Keywords: Family Wisdom, deafblind, disability, employment

Brett Simpson is one impressive individual. What’s so impressive about Mr. Simpson is that he is blind and deaf, yet he goes to work every weekday. He owns and operates Brett’s Place, a snack bar at the main entrance of the Orange County Courthouse in Orange, Texas. In October 2011, during the annual conference for the Deaf-Blind Multihandicapped Association of Texas (DBMAT), he received the "Christian Knapp Great Motivator" award for his work accomplishments. The award is named after a young man whose life was short but very motivating to others.

Brett and his family feel Orange County should share in his joy. The county employees played a big part in Brett achieving this award. He succeeds Burt Hardwick, a blind man who ran the snack stand for 30 years. The business was already set up for a blind person and it was a perfect place for him. He has an amplification device (FM system) that enables him to hear over environmental noise. He also has a wireless receiver in his pocket that vibrates if a customer has trouble getting his attention. The Orange County Commissioners’ Court voted to give the contract to Mr. Simpson and he has been in operation for two years.

JoAnn Priddy, Simpson's mother, said that her son could stay home but he wouldn’t like it. “His favorite part of the job is talking to people. He likes visiting and is very social. No matter what he’s doing, he will always want to help other people. He’s made a lot of friends. It’s like a family here,” she added. “He’s always been independent. He was taught that at an early age,” his mother said. He was involved in several activities growing up including his church youth group, a summer job with Camp Fire Boys and Girls and received the Best Camper award at the Lions’ Camp in Kerrville. And if that wasn’t enough, Simpson also was given the prestigious Courageous Heart honor from the Diocese of Beaumont.  After he graduated from high school in 2006, he attended the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI) in Austin for two years. There, they taught him important skills such as using a tactile grocery list for supplies and reading simple Braille. The school made a video of him working at their snack bar. He also worked in the TSBVI library and at a food bank in Austin.

Mr. Simpson gets up on his own at 5:30 every morning and gets to work by 7:20. His morning routine includes a 30 minute walk on his treadmill. His co-worker, Amanda Dille, gives him a ride to work and he sings in the car the entire time. “I love him,” Dille said. “He’s a nice boss. He lines me out. He’s structured and organized.” You also can find him singing every other Thursday at The Barking Dog Lounge on open mike night. Last week, he sang, “It’s Five O’clock Somewhere.” He sang the same song at the 2011

Lions’ Club convention in Beaumont. Simpson is a member of the Texas Federation of the Blind and attends their monthly chapter meeting in Orange. Priddy said the organization is seeking other blind people to join. He has become active in the Community Christian Church attending activities and services twice a week.

Upon reflecting on the last 25 years, Priddy noted that her biggest frustration was training and re-training vision teachers in her local district. Her son had 3 different vision teachers that were new to the field of blindness. Coordinating teacher training fell on Priddy and she felt that she was starting over each time a new teacher came on board. It took time for a new teacher to understand Brett’s communication and learning style and for them to form a meaningful relationship. One of Priddy’s best experiences was participating in Futures Planning several years ago with Deafblind Outreach Transition Specialist, David Wiley. “It opened my mind up and gave me the chance to dream about all the possibilities. I realized that Brett could do something he loves and have a happy life.”

 Brett Simpson with Melanie and Gary Knapp of DBMAT

Brett Simpson with Melanie and Gary Knapp of DBMAT