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Remembering Linda Hagood

Authors: Kate Hurst, Outreach Program, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI)

Keywords: communication skills, story-telling, social skills, autism, language skills, Playing With Words

Abstract: The staff of TX SenseAbilities mourns the loss of Linda Hagood and offers this tribute to her, written by her longtime friend and coworker, Kate Hurst. We not only celebrate Linda’s life and her many contributions to the fields of visual impairment and deafblindness, but we also proudly dedicate this issue to her. We will continue to honor her work by sharing some of her many publications in future issues of this newsletter.
Linda Hagood sitting at a table.

Linda Hagood

One of the great benefits of working at the Texas School for the Blind & Visually Impaired is having the opportunity to collaborate with people who are passionate about the work they are doing. After almost 35 years with the Outreach Programs, I can say that I have been truly blessed in this regard. I have been given the opportunity to work with so many amazing professionals at the school, around Texas, nationally, and even internationally. When one of these remarkable people leaves us, it leaves a big space in our hearts and in the profession.

Recently one of these treasured colleagues, Linda Hagood, passed away. We all believed she would be one of the lucky ones who go through the rigors of treatment and come out the other side to live many more years. That’s just how Linda rolled, and that is what we expected.

When I first met Linda, I was new to TSBVI Outreach, and she was working as a speech-language therapist on campus, primarily with students who had multiple challenges in addition to their vision loss. I would see her with the students, and we spoke in passing. My impression of her from that time was that she always seemed to be laughing with her students as she worked. Her unique laugh was something between a laugh and a nervous giggle. I can still hear her laughter in my head.

Linda was all the things educators in special education should be…she was patient, she was kind, and she deeply cared about her students. More than that, she was fascinated by her students and wanted to know what made them tick.

Later, when Linda joined Outreach, we shared a tiny office in the old Silverrain Building. I learned that Linda was also a great thinker. She used every bit of “learning” she’d received in college or on the job as she tried to puzzle out how to do a better job of supporting students who had difficulty communicating. She read; she listened; she studied. We all came to benefit from that work when she delivered her book, Communication: A Guide for Teaching Students with Visual and Multiple Impairments (TSBVI, 1997), and one of my favorite of her many articles, “Conversations Without Language: Building Quality Interactions with Children Who Are Deaf-Blind” about Dr. Jan van Dijk’s approach Conversations without Language: Building Quality Interactions with Children Who are Deaf-Blind.

Her interest in yoga and its benefits in helping children learn how to self-regulate when they are in distress led to her writing Better Together: Building Relationships With People Who Have Visual Impairment and Autism Spectrum Disorder (or Atypical Social Development) (TSBVI, 2008). Perkins School for the Blind hosts an online course based on her Better Together curriculum called Autism and Visual Impairment.

Linda left TSBVI at some point and moved to the Northwest. She also traveled to India with Perkins International to collaborate with teachers, students, and families in that country. Around this time, she developed a deep interest in and began to think about story-telling and its importance in our lives. Linda started to work on her doctoral degree with the idea of researching how the co-creation of stories helps to develop skills (social, emotional, and communicative) in students whose language is challenged. When she was diagnosed with cancer, I was privileged to be invited to work with her, Charlotte Cushman, Jay Hiller, Cyral Miller, and Megan Mogan on the development of Playing with Words, her approach to play-based story-telling on the Paths to Literacy website. As a group, we chatted freely about communication, education, students who intrigued us, and learned about the work Linda had done. I treasure that time and those conversations.

Linda will be missed by so many people that they can’t all be counted. Here are just a few of the things that have been shared with me about her:

Cyral Miller

Linda had a knack for approaching children in creative ways that helped them build personal connections. She helped develop new approaches to supporting language development at TSBVI with the Tactile Symbol System, described in her article “A Standard Tactile Symbol System: Graphic Language for Individuals who are Blind and Unable to Learn Braille.” She also published Communication and Better Together through the TSBVI Curriculum department. Linda collaborated with staff at TSBVI while working in Comprehensive Programs, delivered training statewide through her position in Outreach Programs, and worked internationally in India with Perkins International. She also taught online courses for Perkins, worked as a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) in Washington State, created a dynamic new minisite on Paths to Literacy called Playing with Words, and in so many ways contributed significantly to the education of children who are blind and deafblind. She never stopped learning and was pursuing a doctorate as a fellow in the National Leadership Consortium in Sensory Disabilities in the past several years. Linda was smart, funny, adventurous, and a great friend to many in Texas and far beyond. She had a memorable laugh and a questioning mind. Linda Hagood made a difference! We mourn the loss of this dynamic woman.

Jay Hiller

I’ve known Linda for about 38 years and her passing seems so strange to me. When I met her, she was 26. Over the years, I have found Linda to be unfailingly generous with her time, kindness, knowledge, and insights. She struck a good balance between being nonjudgmental and letting me know when she thought I was about to make a mistake or that I didn’t have enough confidence in myself. She had a great sense of humor and an optimistic outlook. She was brave. I know of events in her life that were hard for her and hurt her, including this last illness. She would just keep going. She loved her children and grandchildren and her many, many friends. That she is no longer part of the world truly saddens me. I already miss her.

Deanna Peterson

I got to work with Linda when she was one of our speech pathologists, and I was teaching functional academic students at TSBVI, and also when she herself came back as a classroom teacher and had deafblind students in her class. She was a true collaborator, always bringing new ideas, interested in hearing new ideas, and had such a positive and upbeat personality. I was often in awe of the way she would use the imagination of her students to craft the most incredible original stories. She was one of a kind.

Sara Kitchen

I love how Linda worked to empower the creative impulses of some of the least appreciated creators: those with autism and autistic-like tendencies. These individuals have unique perspectives of the world and these perspectives are often discounted, socialized, or trained out of them. Writing provided a socially acceptable way to communicate, empower, and build self-esteem and Linda developed programs surrounding it. She contributed to a more positive self-image for so many of her students through creative programs that encouraged the development of an individual’s authentic and distinctive self. She acted as a mentor to her colleagues who saw the magic of her work.

Charlotte Cushman

Our field lost a treasured friend and visionary colleague with the passing of Linda Hagood. She has contributed an enormous amount to the field through her writing, her teaching, and her modeling of innovative techniques. As a speech-language pathologist, Linda recognized that collaborative storytelling can be a powerful way to develop communication and language, as well as social skills, all while having fun. Paths to Literacy is deeply honored to be the designated repository for the legacy of her work called Playing with Words.

To Linda’s family and her many friends and colleagues who mourn her passing, let us take joy in the times we have shared with her. Let us make use of the many things she taught us. Let us be as passionate and creative as she was in our work with children who are visually impaired and deafblind.

“The way in which stories are told is never a monologue...it’s essentially interactive—it’s a conversation.”

Githa Hariharan