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June 24, 2005

Deaf, blind couple have not allowed their impairments to dampen their enthusiasm for lif

From: Villages Daily Sun - The Villages,FL,USA - Jun 24, 2005


THE VILLAGES - Harry and Elaine Anderson are Villagers with a positive spirit, a zest for living, and a desire to make the most of every day. They're not about to let being deaf and blind stop them from enjoying life.

"There are no rules engraved in stone that we cannot have quality of life," Elaine, 65, said via e-mail, adding that they cherish their Villages home, socializing with friends and being active in the community.

Elaine loves the water aerobics classes at Mulberry Grove sports pool, and Harry, 68, has a new set of golf clubs he's eager to play with.

"We are very, very happy here. It's like a dream world," Harry said as Flint, his guide dog, played at his feet.

"I feel that The Villages is our Utopia," Elaine said. "We enjoy every minute."

When the Andersons communicate with one another, Harry places his hands over his wife's hands, so that he can "feel" what she is saying in sign language.

Elaine was born deaf, while her husband of 41 years was born with Usher Syndrome, a condition that causes hereditary deafness and progressive loss of vision, often leading to blindness. He began losing his sight in his teen years.

Villager Madeline Hauth said the Andersons are an inspiring couple.

"They show what one can do, even when you are blind and deaf. It just shows life goes on, no matter what your handicap is. I know deaf and hearing-impaired people do not like the word disabled because they - we - are not. We make the best of what we were given," said Hauth, who met the Andersons through the Deaf and Hearing Impaired Club in The Villages.

Harry just finished serving eight years as national president of the American Association of Deaf-Blind, a nonprofit consumer organization that strives to promote public awareness and understanding of the deaf and blind community.

"My first project, and most important area, was to increase public awareness that deaf-blind people are not any different," he said.

The Andersons recently returned home from Phoenix, where Harry was the keynote speaker and presented a workshop on technology for the deaf-blind in educational settings.

"The phrase 'action speaks louder than words' is very true in our lives," Elaine said. "We know how people can be ignorant about issues with deaf people, but I see such an improvement in awareness of the deaf community. Being deaf, or deaf-blind, does not hamper us from reaching our goals, dreams and wants."

The Andersons continue to dream.

They are planning a trip to Eastern Europe in 2006 with several other deaf couples and an interpreter, and they are thrilled to have obtained permission for their guide dog, Flint, to accompany them on the trip. Poland, Hungary, Germany, Croatia, Austria, Slovenia, Slovakia and the Czech Republic are the countries on their itinerary.

"I look forward to this trip, which will mean so much to me because my mother was raised in Poland and my father was raised in Hungary," Elaine said. "My grandmother's brother and family died in a concentration camp somewhere in Hungary, or another country. ... And now I have a chance to visit where my parents and relatives were raised."

Elaine was born in the Bronx, N.Y., and moved to Manhattan to be closer to Lexington School for the Deaf. At 11, she moved back to the Bronx and, without her parents, started to commute to school by subway. This was her routine for seven years.

Harry was raised in Minneapolis and graduated from the Minnesota School for the Deaf.

The couple met in college at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., the only four-year liberal arts college for the deaf in the world.

"I bumped into her," Harry said in a joking tone.

They quickly found they enjoyed being together and have been together since their June 20, 1964, wedding day.

"I admire Elaine's intelligence, self-determination, loyalty, sense of humor, compassion and, above all, her deep and sincere love and support for 41 years," Harry said. "Elaine stood by me and supported me as I trekked the long rocky road leading to total blindness. She was my coach, my cheerleader and first lady when I became president of American Association of the Deaf-Blind. ... If it wasn't for Elaine's deep faith, love, trust and being positively stubborn, I wouldn't be here today."

Elaine said she knew when she met Harry that he was the man of her dreams.

"I was looking for a man who has great personality, sense of humor, sensitivity, good education, good flow of communication, good sense of diplomacy, willingness to share chores, self-determination and creativity," she said, adding Harry was all that and more.

Elaine majored in library science at Gallaudet and graduated in 1963. Harry received a bachelor's degree in business administration and went on to receive two master's degrees, the first in deaf education, and the second in school guidance counseling.

"We set high goals for ourselves, and we have achieved in our lives and careers," said Elaine, who went on to teach English, math and reading at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in St. Augustine.

"I was at ease teaching deaf students, as long we communicated in sign language and I was able to make concepts clear to understand," she said.

The couple raised two deaf sons, Jeff and Brant, who graduated from Florida School for the Deaf and Blind and also from Gallaudet, the second generation of Andersons to graduate from the college.

The Villagers are proud grandparents, and are thrilled that their grandson, Chas, 10, who will be coming to The Villages to visit in July, will be involved in the Intergenerational Program.

Elaine is eager to show Chas local sights and also plans to show him one of her favorite places - the Museum and Butterfly Rainforest in Gainesville.

The Andersons' home features awards Harry has received for his work for the deaf and blind over the years. His most cherished is the Anne Sullivan National Award. Sullivan was Helen Keller's dedicated teacher, and the award was given to him for helping deaf-blind children and adults learn independent living.

Elaine proudly added that her husband also is in the Hall of Fame of the Minnesota School for the Deaf for his work on behalf of others, and was recently awarded a plaque for his work as national president of the American Association of Deaf-Blind.

Theresa Campbell is senior features writer with the Daily Sun. She can be reached at 753-1119, ext. 9260, or

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