Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Appalachian Trail hiker who is deaf-blind

Last night I went to a small meeting in the library at my university that was intended to celebrate the end of the hike of Roger Poulin and Roni Lepore.  Poulin was born with a condition that affects hearing, vision, and balance.  He is deaf, his balance is apparently bad enough that police officers think he's drunk, and he describes the vision he does have --extreme tunnel vision in one eye, no vision in the other-- as allowing him to see an area about the size of a softball.  Lepore is deaf and serves as Roger's special service provider.

(To be able to see what Lepore signs Rodger has to hold on to her arm at the wrist so that he knows where he needs to put his softball of vision.  Of course there's also tactile signing, which is effective even in the dark.)

Unfortunately Poulin wasn't able to complete his hike.  About two miles from the top of Mt. Katahdin he, Lepore, and some people who had joined them, were forced to turn back due to conditions and daylight.  Everyone, especially Poulin, was disappointed.  As he pointed out in his remarks, two miles from the top is within sight of the goal.

He'll be returning to do the end of the trail next year in June or July then the daylight lasts longer.

He got the idea when his brother (one of his brothers? I had some trouble following things) was planning for an attempt at the Appalachian Trail which never materialized.  In 2007 he met Lepore at the Helen Keller National Center in New York and told her about the idea.  In 2008 the two began taking classes to prepare.  By 2010 they were ready to start.

Poulin at first thought that he could hike the trail much more quickly than he was actually able to.  He measured himself against the hikers who were passing him, mostly sighted hearing people with no balance problems, and Bill Irwin, author of the book Blind Courage (the only blind person to hike the entire trail without human assistance.)  That meant that he was hoping to finish the trail in less than a year.  That... didn't happen.  Once he accepted that he needed to go at his own pace it seems like things went reasonably well although using protective equipment apparently required a fair amount of soul searching because of childhood bullying about such equipment.

Poulin isn't all that young.  Bullying can have effects that last a damn long time.

On another note, a large proportion of men can't smell male body odor, it seems like Poulin might  be one of them.  Lepore had a lot to sign about his stench.  That had to be one the more humorous things they discussed.

If you're interested in more about this, see their blog.


  1. Look! It's new content! And really interesting, too!

  2. I've worked a little (a very little) with deaf-blind persons, because I am a hearing student of ASL, and the level of intimacy between the signer & receiving partner was significant to me -- way more intimate to me, and in a very different way than when I'm signing with a sighted person. Maintaining that level of partnership & cooperation over the years it took to plan & then all the trail hiking itself -- it is amazing, just on a human level. Argh! I'm not saying this right!

    1. It was hard for them to maintain that level of cooperation, as it would be hard for anyone. At one point Lepore couldn't do it anymore and left for about a week. But to leave for a week you have to end up coming back at the end of it, even if your original plan was to leave for good.

      When they gave their remarks you got a sense that they were genuine straightforward people and part of that, I think, is that they didn't try to pretend everything went perfectly. They talked about having disagreements and fights and bickering. Which is what real people do when they're taking a very long, frequently stressful, journey.