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An Inspirational story of Judy – a speech and hearing impaired individual with some thoughts on the existence of learning disabilities



Judy came to me almost 20 years ago. She was hearing impaired and mute who had just a year ago graduated from high school. The State subsequently enrolled her in a janitorial training program figuring being deaf and mute what else she could ever become. The terms of the training program were that she will receive a six months training for a certain fee and then upon completion she will be placed in a job and training agency would receive the balance the training, i.e., the placement fee. . She completed the first part of the training earning a title of “Janitorial Technician” but when it came to finding her a job, they could not. So to complete the second part i.e., the placement part of the program and get paid for it, they sent her to work in a restaurant where, as I understand, she was put to wash dishes.

Judy went home crying. Her cousin who was a student in the first class I taught in 1967 to see if science could be taught to almost anyone brought her to me.


My initial reaction to Judy was of dismay wondering what I would be able to do with her especially since she is speech and hearing impaired. If nothing else we would run into communication problems, I surmised. But then I realized, she is not blind or physically impaired. Up till now she has been living her life, even graduating from high school, a feat not many people endowed with speech and hearing accomplish? Plus who am I to judge her before giving her a try. Instinctively then I created an apprenticeship position on the spot and told Judy that I have an apprenticeship opening and if she is interested to try it out, she needs to come to the lab the next morning at 9.00 A.M. Not having any funds, I also told her that I am not able to pay her anything and she will not have to pay me anything either.

She was there the next morning, right on time! Within two weeks this highly challenged individual took over my Microbiology lab., transferring and maintaining cultures and doing all other routine lab duties.

All I did was to show her what we do and how we do it writing some of the directions and “whys” as we went along. This was remarkable to say the least (well to us not to her). As funds became available I put Judy on a nominal stipend.

Little by little, by wearing a hearing aid and joining speech therapy classes, Judy began to talk and within two years she was good enough to answer my phone calls and take messages.

Slowly but surely, she began to set up labs and even teach to incoming students who were coming to us via Mayor's Office of Employment and Training.

As part of our educational programs and also to sustain ourselves financially, we were also preparing and selling generic but “classroom quality” lab supplies to colleges and universities thus enabling them to re-open the wet labs closed when “modernization” in the form of computers and audio-visual aids came along and the funds allocated for wet labs and other teaching formats were diverted to bring in these modern devices which in fact hurt not helped the quality of education.


To us it was thus important that somehow the wet labs be re-opened and if funds are the limiting factor, providing generic “classroom quality” supplies at less of a cost could facilitate re-opening of the labs thus re-invigorating the quality of science education.


Judy had learned to prepare the needed supplies and test them that they met our quality control guidelines. Slowly but surely she then took over this part of our educational activity.


During the time as she got better and better at what she was learning and doing with us, she also used to go to Chicago Health Club or a similar workout facility. There, they made videos for a commercial and when they edited the videos, Judy ended up in a commercial which aired I believe on the Spanish TV channels.

These commercials brought her to the attention of the PR people of AT&T, I believe and if I am not wrong, she also made some commercials for AT&T and then did some modeling for a fashion store and also did some commercials for a hair shampoo company. 

Judy is a very personable personality. Hailing from
Puerto Rico, with Latin features, she is a statuesque beauty. Her commercials, her gentle manners and genuine model like features, guess what, eventually she was picked up for a role in the movie "Back Draft."

She has only a small role but what a transformation from a janitorial technician assigned to wash dishes in a restaurant to where she is now.

Financial constrains that my fledgling educational program chronically suffers from plus the blossoming of Judy into an actualized human being coupled with her venturing into commercials and movie, eventually made it difficult for Judy, both financially and time wise, to continue working with me at the Institute. We parted company a few years ago.

The latest news of Judy is that she is now married and has a baby, a baby boy, I believe, and living in Chicago.


The bottom line is, and what Judy demonstrated, that we need to bring a paradigm shift in our own thinking and the two words we need to remove from our vocabulary and from our judging scale are “disabled” and “handicapped”. True, that is how they look to us and we judge and treat them accordingly but they are living and functioning in their own reality and doing so remarkably well.


Another case in point is my own grandson who is legally blind with a 20/200 visual acuity and suffers from Achromatopsia which is basically a severe sensitivity to light and does not see colors. Yet he behaves in more than a normal way. What I learned from him and his behavior is that he is living in a different reality and is quite adjusted to it.


He is only eight years old but his wealth of knowledge is formidable. He knows all about birds, perhaps more than an ornithologist. He also guides me with our fish tank we have at the Science Skills Center. A year or so ago I asked him about how long shall I leave the light on? And his answer was “when I was into fishes, I left the light on for eight hours”. Imagine at eight years of age he has already graduated from fishes and truly so because his latest mission is a charitable organization he started that he calls “Eggs of Hope”.


This happened a year or so ago when he was between 6 and 7. He came to my lab asking me for an incubator as a Christmas present. When asked why, he said he has these fertile eggs and he want to hatch them. But for that, I told him that the lab incubator won’t do because the eggs frequently need to turn during incubation. So we bought him a regular poultry incubator.


Now he has thirty or so hens and he gathers eggs from those hens which he sells for $3.00 a dozen and donates the proceeds to Heifer International. I understand that the amount he donates is matched dollar for dollar by the “Dannon” Yogurt people. Go figure disability! He has none but a different reality that he is adjusted to and living within that reality.


Here is the link to his story which appeared in the Saratoga Newspaper and also the link to his video about his “eggs of hope” project.



The remarkable thing about him also is that he draws beautifully. See his drawings : 


How he does it is beyond me. My only guess is that his fingers not his eyes are somehow connected to his brain and they know where the pen is and where he wants it to go next. It is similar to the blind people who can navigate through a furnished room as long as you do not disturb the set up.

He also plays Djembe. See his videos playing Djembe at:

And the last thing that comes to my mind is “how a mole does live in its burrow without eyes?


We with the eyes and with our full faculties are the limited ones and are acting as judges and juries limiting those we think are limited while creating charitable programs aimed at caring for them. Are we caring for them or for ourselves?  Because the funds we so generate often become our financial bread and butter!


Riaz-ul Haque, Ph.D., 
Associate Professor (Emeritus) 
University of Illinois at Chicago 
Founder: Science Skills Center

Center for integrative learning and the

International Foundation of Microbiology

And the International Institute of Biochemical and Biomedical Techno logy – iibbt.

729 S. Western Avenue, Chicago Illinois USA 60612 
Phone: 312-243-7716; fax: 312-243-2041 
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