The Director Emeritus of the Center for Deaf-Blind Persons says disabled people have the ability to live independent lives.
Ruth Silver, a Milwaukeean, is a talented cellist who once dreamed of playing for a symphony. Instead, she spent a lifetime teaching deaf and blind children, founded the Center for Deaf-Blind Persons in 1983 where she continues to serve as Director Emeritus, served as the executive director of the Center for Blind Children in Milwaukee, was a foster parent to a deaf blind child, and recently, in her 80s, published her autobiography, Invisible: My Journey through Vision and Hearing Loss.
Silver suffers from Retinitis Pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease that has left her blind, and has been losing her hearing throughout much of her adult life.
As a child, Silver was picked on by other children and teachers thought that there was something cognitively wrong with Silver. She dealt with these situations by trying to be by herself and to hone in on memorization, observation, and listening skills. Silver compares her life to “living in an invisible prison.”
Once Silver was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, her parents took it hard; her father cried and her mother, stunned, asked Silver to keep it a secret to prevent disgracing the family. Her father became her inspiration, never pitying her, and she strove to please him.
In fifth grade, Silver made a friend: the cello. The teacher described how music can bring out emotions and that is exactly what it did; Silver could finally feel joy and sadness, she could skip and run.
While going to school, Silver became discouraged with her physical degeneration. Her father inspired her to overcome the hardships and to strive to be her best:
“You have a choice right now: you can spend the rest of your life in an arm chair or you can go out there and do everything everybody else does, but maybe a little bit better,” says Silver, quoting her father.
She wanted to continue developing her musical skills to become a professional cellist, but her father bartered a deal with her to go to college. She did not plan on going to college because she did not want to be around people and it would bring extra stress and pressure. However, she attended Wisconsin State College, now University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, for a Bachelors in Deaf Education and later earning a Masters in the Blind.
Silver married and became a teacher for children who were both blind and deaf. She found that there were little resources available for her students and decided to create her own.
Today, Silver says that there have been big strides in technology to help persons who are deaf and blind assimilate into a hearing and seeing world and to help them become independent.
But Silver is trying to help us all realize that people with disabilities are in fact, people who can live full, meaningful and productive lives, who can contribute to and help others. Most importantly, Silver hopes that by sharing her own story of struggle, survival and success to inspire others with disabilities.
Ruth Silver is the author of Invisible: My Journey through Vision and Hearing Loss, published by iUniverse - it's also available as an e-book. Silver is the founder and director emeritus and consultant/outreach presenter of The Center for Deaf-Blind Persons, a nonprofit organization that continues today to help deaf-blind individuals. She lives with her husband Marvin in Milwaukee.