IM this article to a friend!

November 8, 2004

People: Deaf letter carrier Della Nevels

From: Danville Advocate, KY - Nov 8, 2004

Staff Writer

I take some pride in the fact that I, a middle-aged man rapidly nearing status as a coot, walk five miles a day. But I have met my match. Ever try to walk with Della Nevels? I did, and I'm still winded.

But our walking situations are different. I walk as a hobby. Nevels walks as a pro. She is a letter carrier who often must pound the pavement in and around downtown Danville just to do her job.

And while I do my walking for the purely selfish reason that I'm trying to stay in some sort of decent physical condition for a man of my advanced age, Nevels does hers not only to meet the requirements of her job, but for a much nobler reason.

While all who deliver the mail on foot must confront the historic obstacles of rain, sleet and snow - and fang-bearing dogs - Nevels must surmount an additional barrier. Or so it would seem to someone who doesn't know her.

She is deaf.

But Nevels will tell you - speaking as best she can and signing as passionately as she can, both proudly and defiantly - that her inability to hear is not a handicap to her job, or life, as we hearing people might see it. Her lack of hearing, in a way, is an opportunity, especially when it comes to her job.

She wants to be a role model for deaf children.

"I transferred (from a Lexington post office) to Danville to show kids at (the Kentucky School for the Deaf) that they can work like me as a carrier. That they can do almost anything they want in life," said Nevels, who communicated with me through a combination of sign language, voice and words written on my notepad.

KSD graduate

Nevels, 40, is a 1984 graduate of KSD. She considers the state's historic school for deaf children in Danville not just her alma mater but also her home.

"I was born in Corbin, but I grew up at KSD," she said. "It is not just where I went to school. It is where I lived. KSD people are my family."

Nevels went to work for the U.S. Postal Service 16 years ago. She worked at a Lexington post office as a clerk for 11 years, then sought and received the transfer to Danville five years ago.

"I wanted to be a carrier. I wanted to go where I could work outside and meet people," she said, adding that she doesn't at all mind the rain, sleet, snow or, believe it or not, most dogs. "I love being outside. I love getting to know a lot of people.

"I hoped there would be an opening for a carrier in Danville. My dream came true."

Another dream was realized when she married Kevin Nevels, also a postal employee, and the couple had their two children, Crystal, 21, who is in her third year at Centre College, and David, 17, a high school student. Her husband and children are hearing, but, as you might expect, that's no obstacle to Nevels, either.

"We can communicate with no problems. I can communicate with most hearing people with no problems," she said. "I can read lips and have some voice. (Her husband and children) and many other hearing people I know at least some sign language.

"And my (facial expressions) are worth a lot of words," she said with one of her favorite such expressions, a smile.

A "swing" carrier

As a "swing" carrier, Nevels walks some routes while driving others, but most of them are in Danville.

She normally starts delivering mail at 9:30 a.m., and she doesn't stop, except for a short lunch break, until 3:30 p.m. But the hour she reports to work is 7:30 a.m. That's when she and her colleagues package into bundles all the mail for their routes, after all the letters and small packages have been sorted and in placed in bins for each route.

During the downtown Danville foot route she walked - make that practically sprinted - the other day, Nevels seemed eager to get to each home or business. But first things first. She hauled out a device that looked like a TV remote control, aimed it at mailbox and punched it.

"Every hour we have to let the post office know where we are," said Nevels.

She then went down First Street and Broadway, occasionally waving at a homeowner.

"Some people don't know I'm deaf and try to talk to me. I have to tell them I am deaf," she said, saying and signing that reality. "Most do not know sign language. But they all understand a wave and smile. They are the same things in English and in sign."

One Main Street businessman said he didn't know any sign language but added that the tool is not needed to assess Nevels as a person as well as a postal employee.

"She's quick, efficient, and a real sweetheart," he said.

Most dogs don't understand sign language, either. But the more threatening among them will understand the pain of a special spray if they take on a carrier.

"Most dogs do not bother me but if they do ," said Nevels, pulling a little red can of "dog repellent" from her mail bag and showing her walking partner.

A weapon to control dogs

But not long after she showed one weapon used to control dogs, she showed another - her friendly personality.

As she approached the porch of a small house on Broadway, a little white dog was barking. When she got to the porch, he was wagging his tail.

He jumped up and started licking Nickels.

"I don't need (the spray) for this dog. He's my friend," she said. "But pit bulls? No way."

As much as Nevels enjoys foot routes, she said she may not be handling all the walking those routes demand as she gets older. "In 10 years, I will be doing only truck routes. I will be too old," she said, forming her right hand into nearly a clinched fist at her chin, then moving it downward in a pulling motion, to indicate a beard, the sign for old.

But it's the people at the other end of the age spectrum who keep her going, just as much as it is a regular paycheck.

Whether she is delivering mail in a truck or on foot, her double-mission will remain the same until she retires - to do her job and to show KSD students, especially girls, they can have most any job they want.

"When I came here five years ago, I wanted to show these kids that I, as a deaf person and a woman, can do a job that was mostly done by hearing men,"

Nevels said to a huffing and puffing reporter struggling to catch his breath. "It's hard work, but I am (proof) that deaf kids, girls as well as boys, can do it."

Copyright The Advocate-Messenger 2004