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Spring 2007 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

By Jennifer Edwards, Odessa American Staff Writer Photos by Cindeka Nealy, Odessa American Reprinted with permission from the Odessa American

Abstract: Parents share their journey of having a daughter with deafblindness, including how they felt upon receiving the initial diagnosis and sending her to residential school out of state. The article also shares with the readers how JoAnn is living a productive life full of typical activities that bring her enjoyment and satisfaction.

Key words: blind, hearing impaired, deafblind, deaf, disability, grief

The woman with the pretty smile, dark glasses and fingers sensitive as catfish whiskers is normal, and her parents want everyone to know it. JoAnn Rand has worked at Red Lobster 12 of her 41 years; loves bowling, hates not having a schedule and has a penchant for fried chicken and Mexican food.

She just happens to be blind and hearing-impaired, like the 4 million others in the nation who share one or both disabilities, according to the 2000 Census. Of those, 320,000 live in Texas.

She's just a normal young lady, except for the loss of hearing and vision, her mother, Celestine Rand, said. She loves to shop with a capital S, and take trips. JoAnn bears this out, signing a familiar response into her mother's palms when asked, What do you want to do? Shop, signs JoAnn. For shirts - she tugs at her own, bright pink polo - and pants.

When she gets a moment away from working or shopping or covering the calendar in her room with braille appointments, she'll go into the family room and listen to 45s on the old, cabinet-style record player. Among her favorite artists are others that share her challenges - Stevie Wonder, Ronnie Milsap.

She's normal, and always has been, but it took her family years to realize that.

Bringing Home Baby

The year was 1963, and Celestine Rand was 26, and very pregnant with JoAnn. She, husband Riley Rand and daughter Jacqueline, then 7, lived in Odessa, where Riley was a pump mechanic for Winters Pump Corporation. He was 29.

alt Celestine Rand, left, looks on as her daughter JoAnn decides which pair of shorts to purchase by feeling the texture of the material Wednesday as she shops for a gift for a friend at the Music City Mall.

Though Celestine briefly got a rash on her face during pregnancy, neither the Rands nor their doctor suspected there was a problem with JoAnn. They didn't suspect it on the day JoAnn was born, either. Then, they knew.

Dr. Wheatley Stewart came up to Celestine's room in Medical Center to break the news about their new daughter, asleep in the hospital's nursery. He said he thought JoAnn was going to have a problem with her vision, Riley Rand, now near 70, said. He saw the film collecting on both eyes.

Celestine and her husband were stricken by the news. If I'd have known, I might have expected something, she said. But it was a shock. We were both pretty much devastated.

The hardest thing, at first, was the loss of the plans they had made, for a larger house, for other things.

It had a great impact on me, Riley said. When you're young, you don't think about anything like that, something that will change your whole life. Everything that you had goals for, everything went zero.

For years afterward, Celestine would think that it was a piece of fruit she ate that had destroyed her baby's sight. Later, she found out that it had been Rubella.

altRand adds the Red Lobster seal to a bundle of silverware Tuesday while at work. Rand has been employed at Red Lobster for the past 12 years investing two-hours a day, three days a week rolling around 150 bundles per hour.

Finding Normalcy

The Rands brought JoAnn home to the house they still inhabit on Dobbs Avenue, a comfortable split-level sided in warm, brown brick. Here, said Riley Rand, JoAnn had a normal life. She rode a tricycle. She snuck off down the street. Once, she even tried to motor off in the Rands' car. She broke one of the glass ashtrays and she realized it wasn't right, Celestine explained. So she went and jumped into the car and started it.

That headstrong attitude, (which she has, to this day, managed to keep) still couldn't hide the fact that something still seemed to be wrong with JoAnn, now 3.

My brother-in-law mentioned that he didn't believe JoAnn could hear very well, Riley Rand said. He would clap his hands and say, 'Come here, JoAnn,' and she wouldn't respond. Mom had noticed signs, too. I had mentioned to her doctors about her not being verbal, she explained. The doctors here kept telling me not to worry about it.

But Celestine persisted, and finally got a referral to a hearing and speech center in Houston. The second blow fell. Their daughter had a second challenge: She had 65 percent hearing loss in one ear, 75 percent of the other.

When you're a young man, you wonder, what's next? Riley Rand remembers.

After the diagnosis, they knew they'd have to let her go at a time when they wanted to hold on the tightest. They were going to have to send her away.

Set Her Free

altJoAnn Rand communicates with her mother by feeling the signs from her hand Tuesday at Red Lobster. Rand, 41, is blind and has lost an average of 70 percent of her hearing, caused by a case of the German Measles that she contracted before birth.

When JoAnn Rand was 5-years-old, mom Celestine Rand braided her thick hair into pigtails and slipped a yellow and white checked dress over her head. Then she slipped a white sweater over the little girl's arms. It was January and it would be cold in Alabama.

Then mom, dad Riley Rand and sister Jacqueline, then 12, piled into the car. Together, they drove nearly a thousand miles to the Helen Keller Cottage in Talladega, Alabama.

This is where she would attend school, far away from her family, literally in the dark because of a visual impairment that became complete blindness by the time she was 7.

Thirty-six years later, Celestine still chokes up talking about this time. At first, she was happy because, at the time, she really didn't understand that we were going to leave her, Celestine Rand said. Everybody was crying, including my husband. It was the first time I'd seen him cry. But JoAnn adjusted.

At the school she learned to have a normal life among her peers. She picked up sign language, learned to decipher Braille. Her teachers even taught her little things, like how to line up her shoes in a row so she could find them more easily in the morning.

Celestine in church.At home, her parents missed her terribly. She was fine, Celestine Rand remembers. We were the ones who couldn't adjust. We had many a crying session at Dallas Love Field, when it came time to send her back to school.

She eventually moved from Helen Keller to Austin's Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, where she graduated at 22. These days, mom and dad have the satisfaction of knowing they did the right thing.

I was persistent about her having a life outside of home, she said. And I knew she could be productive.

Situation Normal

Now, 40 years after the Rands found out about their daughter's blindness, they've stopped looking for normalcy. It found them.

Celestine in the kitchenIt lives in JoAnn's everyday bedroom, with its big bed, brightly colored quilt and boom box.

It resides in the routines they've developed over the years, of shopping and traveling and baking and eating, and generally just being together.

And, of course, it blooms in JoAnn herself.

Denise McVea, an intervenor who spends several hours a week with JoAnn, explained it like this: When I first started working with her, I thought about all the things I thought she couldn't do, she said. Then, I found out just how much she can.