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Iris Martinez - Making the World Understand Her

by Iris Martinez, Chicago, IL

I was born in a Spanish-speaking family in Puerto Rico. My parents and older siblings do not have disabilities but my two younger brothers and I were born Deaf. We know American Sign Language (ASL).

My father found a school for Deaf children in New York City. I started going to school when I was seven-years-old. My first language was Spanish. I've forgotten it because I didn't practice in school or at home. The first thing I learned in school was to read lips. I was 20 when I stared to learn ASL.

My first job was at Radio Shack. I was in charge of an entire department. Then I worked in the Continental Bank in downtown Chicago as a teller. I was there for more than two years when I decided to return to school to study computer science at Northwestern Business College. At Northwestern I had access to a sign language interpreter in class.

I have been married to a Deaf person for more than 33 years. My husband and I volunteer to participate in plays presented in ASL in which all the actors are Deaf. We perform dramas and comedies and travel to different cities to perform. We also have done Latin dance performances in cities in Massachusetts, Illinois, Texas and in Mexico.

I was director of the Miss Deaf Illinois competition for three years, and have accompanied four young women who were competing for the crown to the event.

Now I work at Access Living, an independent living center in Chicago. I am an administrative assistant. I have been in this position for 14 years.

I enjoy sewing, dancing and music. Even though I can't hear the words I can feel the music thanks to the vibration in the floor.

I am proud of myself and my accomplishments. I have never been ashamed of my disability because I have always figured out a way to communicate with others. Sometimes I am frustrated when another person does not understand me, but I find a way to make them understand me.

Today, thanks to advancements in communication technology, I live an independent life. At my house I have an accessible telephone and other accessible appliances that alert me with lights or vibrations.

All these barriers have been removed thanks to advancements in technology and to the efforts that each one of us to not let our disability impede our independence.