Heba: Navigating a path to independence

“I can do a lot of things!”

Heba, an Independence Academy student, applies that attitude to everything she does. 

Heba currently works at the Selleck Dining Hall on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus as part of her work experience with the Independence Academy. She is also deaf-blind, and works with her teacher, Jill Ihde, on skills that help her navigate her everyday life. 

“Jill and I, we work on cane travel, Braille skills, and technology,” Heba said. “These skills help me. So, like with cane travel, if I’m going somewhere I know how to use the cane. If I’m using technology it helps me email people and do my own work assignments on the iPad by connecting the BrailleSense to it by Bluetooth.” 

BrailleSense is a Braille keyboard that can connect to devices like laptops and iPads.

Ihde is a teacher of the visually impaired on the LPS deaf-blind team, and says Heba has never met a stranger. Her infectious personality makes working together easy.

“I just love her attitude,” Ihde said. “She’s always smiling, loves to tell jokes and joke around. So even if it’s not your best day, she’s going to make sure it is your best day because she’s a joy to be around.”

Originally born in Syria, Heba moved to the United States six years ago. This fall, she achieved a major milestone - she became an official U.S. citizen.

“It was great, it was awesome,” Heba said. “I [am] so happy that I’m an official U.S. citizen.  I can vote now, I can go to visit other countries.”

Heba studied for her citizenship test by listening to civics questions, practicing her reading and writing, and going over all the forms necessary to apply for citizenship. When they told her she had passed the test, Heba was elated.

“I felt great, I was so happy.”

Ihde says Heba’s success is a testament to her willingness to try new things.

“One of the greatest things about Heba is she always wants to learn more,” Ihde said. “You can not give her enough information. She is a very hard worker and there is no task that she won’t try.”

“Oh, that’s so true,” Heba agreed. “I always ask for more work whenever I get done with my work in the classroom.”

Ihde says Heba is also a master problem solver, never allowing herself to be held back from a new task or challenge.

“When something is difficult, she doesn’t say ‘I can’t do it’,” Ihde said.  “She wants to try it and then she wants to work toward a solution so that she can do what everybody else is doing.”

“I want to try everything that I can,” Heba added.

Heba participates in activities for individuals who are deaf-blind outside of school, as well.  It was during one of these summer programs that she got her job at the Lincoln Children’s Museum where she helps take out trash, wipe down benches, and assists with other custodial tasks. According to Heba, work is her idea of fun.

“That’s an interesting fact [about me],” she said.

Over the past few years, both Heba and Ihde say Heba has grown in her ability to advocate for herself, whether it be at work, at school, or in everyday life.

When asked what she would like others to know about people who are deaf-blind, Heba said it’s important to remember that people who are deaf-blind can do things on their own.

“They’re able to walk, make friends, talk to people, go out on their own, listen to music, read books and do fun activities,” Heba said. “They can even advocate for themselves.”

Published: December 20, 2022, Updated: December 21, 2022