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December 8, 2003

Deaf-blind student beats odds, set to graduate from CSUS

From: Sacramento State University (press release), CA - Dec 8, 2003

Lenore Presley, who was born deaf and gradually lost her sight as well, will join about 2,000 other new California State University, Sacramento alumni when she takes part in fall commencement this month. The ceremonies are scheduled for Dec. 19 and 20 at Arco Arena.

Presley will be the first deaf-blind graduate of CSUS. She will earn her bachelor's degree in social work and participate in the College of Health and Human Services commencement ceremonies at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 20.

"I didn't allow my disability to interfere with my goals, to be a hindrance. I wanted to see this through to the end," says Presley, who came to CSUS as a transfer student from Modesto Junior College in 1996. She communicates through a tactile sign language interpreter.

"Now finally this is my last semester. I'm at the end of the track," Presley says. "It's been a big challenge, and I had help. I couldn't do it all on my own, the research, getting on the Internet, using the software."

She credits her internal strength, her husband, and the staff at both CSUS and the state's vocational rehabilitation program for seeing her through.

Presley has Usher's Syndrome, a genetic condition that causes hearing loss, and Retinitis Pigmentosa, an eye disease which causes progressive blindness. When she initially enrolled at CSUS, she could see well enough to read large print. But her eyesight deteriorated, forcing her to leave school for a year to finish learning Braille.

She recalls that relying on her new Braille skills added another layer of difficulty. Reading requirements seemed even more daunting. But the self-described "star student" from high school says she continued because she wanted to complete her education and get a good job.

Presley was born in Berkeley and raised in El Sobrante. As a child, she attended two public schools with self-contained deaf classes before attending the California School for the Deaf in Berkeley (now in Fremont). She has attended two community colleges, another four-year university and a technical school, initially studying computer programming and data processing. She briefly worked for the IRS before returning to college, but marriage and children brought a temporary halt to her pursuit of a bachelor's degree.

Being both deaf and blind is rare. Though reliable statistics are hard to come by, DB-LINK, the National Information Clearinghouse on Children Who Are Deaf-Blind, estimates that in the United States 35,000 to 40,000 adults as well as 11,000 children (ages birth to 21) are deaf-blind. Major causes include syndromes such as Usher and Down, congenital anomalies such as fetal alcohol syndrome, prenatal dysfunction such as AIDS and post-natal causes such as head injuries or stroke.

Not all people considered deaf-blind have a total inability to see or hear. But the combination of the two impairments, when they're severe, requires unique educational approaches and other assistance.

Experts don't know exactly how many blind-deaf students have earned college degrees nationally or in California, but there aren't many. In recent years in California, a blind-deaf student is known to have graduated from CSU Los Angeles, while another is expected to graduate from CSU Northridge next year.

After graduation, Presley hopes to help other deaf-blind individuals as a vocational rehabilitation counselor. She not only has personal experience, but a near encyclopedic knowledge of the struggle for services and education that those with disabilities—particularly the deaf-blind—have faced.

"Unfortunately, the deaf-blind population is still very underserved as far as providing education, job skills and life skills, especially here in California," she says.

Sources on deaf-blind:

• American Association of the Deaf-Blind – (301) 495-4403 and • DB-Link – (800) 438-9376 and • Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths and Adults – (516) 944-8900 ext. 326 and

The complete fall 2003 commencement schedule is attached.

Fall Commencement 2003

CSUS will once again have seven ceremonies over the course of the two days, one for each of the University's Colleges. By the end of the current academic year in spring 2004, about 5,000 students are expected to graduate.

Friday, Dec. 19

1 p.m. College of Education

3:30 p.m. College of Social Sciences and Interdisciplinary Studies

6:30 p.m. College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics

Saturday, Dec. 20

8:30 a.m. College of Health and Human Services

11:30 a.m. College of Business Administration

3 p.m. College of Arts and Letters

6 p.m. College of Engineering and Computer Science

Candidates assemble one-half hour prior to each ceremony.

Tickets are not required, and programs will be available at the event. Parking at Arco Arena is $10, as it is for all public events at the facility.

More information about CSUS commencement is at (916) 278-4724 Additional media assistance is available by contacting the CSUS public affairs office at (916) 278-6156.


© 2003 California State University, Sacramento