Deaf employee doesn't let impairment push her out of picture
October 14, 2011
FORT STEWART, Ga., Oct. 14, 2011 -- Canons blasted, the band played with vigorous gusto, commands were called, excited family members shouted their approval with glee and cars, trucks and motorcyclist zipped by traveling up and down Gulick Ave. during a ceremony on Fort Stewart's Cottrell Field -- yet she heard none of it. Department of the Army Multi-Visual Information Service Center Photographer, Catherine "Diane" Johnson, is deaf.
She can be seen at various ceremonies on the installation, or in the DA photo lab but where ever people meet or see her there is one aspect of Johnson that is apparent; she is passionate about her job and does not see her impairment as a challenge.
"A lot of Soldiers, men and women, never thought that I was deaf," said a half-smiling Johnson. "They thought that I was ignorant. But no, I am not an ignorant person, I am a deaf woman."
With a full smile she added, "But I read lips very well."
Johnson, a Pitkin, La. native, was three years-old when she suffered hearing loss and does not know what caused her to be deaf.
At the age of nine, things started to turn around for Johnson when one of her mother's friends told them about a school in Baton Rouge, La. for the deaf.
"My mom put me in the deaf school," Johnson explained, "It was the best for my education, so that I could grow up and get a better job to and to have communication with the hearing and the deaf also."
For the past 31 years Johnson has worked as a photographer in the federal government system and she affords her training to her early education in Louisana.
When Johnson was 15, the school she attended offered photography classes. She was hooked after taking her first class. Now an avid lover of photography, Johnson enjoys passing on what she learns to others in the craft.
Near tears Johnson explained that it was her mother who strongly encouraged the award winning photographer to achieve greatness in the field of photography.
"I'm telling you, I thank my mom for this," Johnson said. "My mom is just a wonderful mom."
The day Johnson was born was the same day her father, an active-duty Soldier stationed at Fort Polk, broke his neck suffering paralysis from the neck down. He was soon medically retired from the Army and continued to reside in the Louisiana area. He died a few years ago Johnson said.
Johnson continues to thrive at work and said she is not ready to retire. As a hearing impaired wife, mother and grandmother, she has taught her family how to use American Sign Language.
"All of them," she said.
Although Johnson faces some communication hurdles in life, she nor her manager see them as impossible to overcome.
"As far as [having] challenges, I don't even look at her that way," said Steve Ng, MVISC manager. "She goes out and shoots photos and communicates with the customers."
Ng added that Johnson's safety is his top priority, yet Johnson enjoys going up in the bucket truck to take various wide-area photos.
"Out in the field, if there was an assignment for a photographer to be around fast moving vehicles I would caution her or reassign the request to someone who doesn't have a hearing impairment," Ng said.
Apart from that, Johnson has no problem with communication and she said her job provides her with various communication tools. Ng stated that he enjoys joking around with Johnson and although she is hearing impaired, she loves to talk.
"Obviously she needed some special equipment to help her along," Ng said. "We are just getting one system set up at Hunter [Army Airfield]. She needed some sort of communication device and Sorenson Video Relay Service serves that purpose."
Through the free 24-hour SVRS, Johnson is able to make and receive calls to others. According to the Sorenson VRS website, the system works when video relay calls are placed over a high-speed internet connection through an easy-to-use videophone connected to a TV monitor or personal computer with a web camera. On the other end of that call, the deaf user is able to see an ASL interpreter on the monitor and signs to the interpreter, who then calls the hearing user via a standard phone line and relays the conversation between the two.
Johnson also has a VRS application on her personal cell phone too.
"With the video phone it really helps me a lot," Johnson said. "I can communicate just like hearing people do. I can call just about anything I want."
"I am not ashamed of being deaf or hard of hearing. That is who I am," Johnson said.