EVERETT — Debbie Curry and Bria Rainey stand together at a wide, industrial countertop in Everett’s Carl Gipson Senior Center.
Curry, who is deaf and blind, delicately folds silverware into paper napkins. Rainey is silent as Curry relentlessly chips away at the bin of unrolled silverware, occasionally stopping to push aside a bent spoon or a creased napkin.
Rainey is Curry’s employment specialist through Sherwood Community Services, an organization that provides early learning and employment assistance to people with disabilities.
The vocational program matches participants with volunteer and paid positions in the community. Last year, Sherwood served nearly 170 adults, and paired them with more than 80 businesses and volunteer sites. Employment specialists, like Rainey, help people apply for jobs, prepare for interviews and provide training.
Every so often, a staff member from the senior center will ask to speak with Curry. Rainey directs Curry’s hands away from her work and toward the staff member’s face. This is one way she communicates.
The practice of touching someone’s mouth to communicate is called Tadoma. The deaf and blind person places their thumb on the speaker’s lips and fingers on their throat. That way they can simultaneously read the speaker’s lips and feel vibrations from their voice to understand what they are saying.
Along with Tadoma, Rainey uses tactile American Sign Language to speak to Curry. The helper forms signs into Curry’s other hand to interpret by feel. Curry responds with a mixture of sign language and verbal communication.
Rainey and Curry have been working together for almost a year. Curry has been in Sherwood’s programs for decades. “It’s an amazing thing to be a part of,” said Eric Wollan, program coordinator at the senior center.
Curry has been volunteering at the senior center since February. She said through Rainey that her favorite part of working there is folding towels. “She is extremely task-oriented and focused,” Rainey said.
Curry worked for the state Department of Services for the Blind for 11 years before coming to Sherwood. Her first position at Sherwood was sorting electrical parts and cleaning TV remotes. After her time sorting, Curry started to express a different interest.
“She strongly related to us that she loved folding things,” said Lance Morehouse, Sherwood’s CEO. “Because of that, Sherwood helped find her the positions at the senior center and other retirement homes.”