Campus: CSU Sacramento -- December 15, 2003
Deaf-Blind Student Beats Odds, Set To Graduate From CSUS
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,
“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
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
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
“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.
More information about CSUS commencement is at (916) 278-4724 or www.csus.edu/commence.
Additional media assistance is available by contacting the CSUS public
affairs office at (916) 278-6156.