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November 13, 2002

Visit sheds light on different world

From: Hanover Mariner, MA
Nov. 13, 2002

By Amanda Gontarz / Correspondent

NDA prepares for
'Miracle Worker'

Imagine, instead of buzzing exasperatingly, your alarm clock wakes you up by vibrating your bed.

Your doorbell doesn't ding, but flashes a bright light throughout your house.

Or someone has to accompany you every time you need to run to the store for a loaf of bread.

The average person may be inconvenienced by some of these differences, but, to Jaimi Lard, this is every day life.

"This is normal for me," she said. "I don't know what I didn't have."

And what Lard doesn't have is a world filled with sight and sound.

When she was a baby, her parents noticed that her eyes moved around a lot and that she didn't respond to their voices.

They brought her to a doctor who determined that their daughter was deaf and blind. He then suggested that she be put into an institution because, according to the doctor, she would never be able to walk, be educated or independent in any way.

Lard, 38, lives in a Watertown apartment, enjoys running and swimming and works as a spokesperson for the Perkins School for the Blind, the same school that educated Lard and taught her the skills she needed to live in today's world.

"I don't want to sit home isolated and people should understand that deaf and blind people shouldn't have to be isolated," she said.

With a sign language interpreter speaking, Lard talked to a group of students at Notre Dame Academy Wed., Oct. 23 about her life as a deaf and blind person in preparation for the school's upcoming production of "The Miracle Worker," which tells the story of Helen Keller.

Lard first learned to sign at the age of 2, when her parents brought a tutor into their home to help them communicate with their daughter. Three years later, she entered the Perkins School, where she spent the next 16 years learning everything from math and science to cooking and table manners.

Like many people, Lard spends a good deal of time in front her computer, reading the news and sending e-mails. Her computer has a special program that enlarges and darkens the text, which Lard is able to read it if she brings her face right up to the screen.

Though she hasn't let being blind and deaf stop her from trying anything, Lard said she admits that life often can be more challenging because of it.

"I can't go to the store by myself. I need someone to go with me. It's frustrating," she said.

Kathleen Walter, director of theater arts at Notre Dame, played the role of Keller in "The Miracle Worker" when she attended the school in the late 60s. In preparation for her role, she spent an afternoon with a blind woman and said she thought the students in this fall's production would benefit greatly from a similar experience.

To learn a little about Lard's world, the students put on blindfolds and earplugs and were guided around the auditorium by their classmates.

"It's like being in your own little world," said sophomore Mary Fegreus, a Cohasset resident.

Fegreus portrays Keller in the production and spent many of the early rehearsals behind a blindfold.

"I thought it would be cool to play someone who couldn't see or hear," she said. ""I talk a lot so the role gives me another perspective on life."

"The Miracle Worker" opens Nov. 15 at 8 p.m. in Notre Dame Academy's Cushing Auditorium with a second performance Nov. 17 at 2 p.m.

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