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Reporter’s Take: Interviewing deaf-blind source

Paul Richard McGann uses a small braille display that helps him operate his iPhone. Photo by Shayna Mendez, Point Park News Service.
Paul Richard McGann uses a small braille display that helps him operate his iPhone. Photo by Shayna Mendez, Point Park News Service.

While reporting on her story about the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, reporter Alicia Green encountered Paul Richard McGann, who is both deaf and blind. Those disabilities did little to limit McGann’s ability to communicate about the how the Act has helped the disabled community — or about how there’s more to do. Here’s Alicia’s first-person account of how she conducted the interview…

When Paul Richard McGann contacted me to be interviewed for the story I was doing on the 25th anniversary of the American with Disabilities Act, I wondered how he reached out to me through email because he was deaf-blind. Initially, I didn’t ask him.

I sent McGann 20 questions that night, asking him to be as thorough as possible. Those questions included one about how he was able to send and respond to emails. He replied the next morning. I learned from his responses that he was using a braille display, which is equipped with his computer. He told me he used his two hands to read and type. He asked if I didn’t mind that he would send me another post to give me more answers. I told him it was fine.

A close up of Paul Richard McGann using the braille display that helps him use his iPhone. Photo by Shayna Mendez, Point Park News Service.
A close up of Paul Richard McGann using the braille display that helps him use his iPhone. Photo by Shayna Mendez, Point Park News Service.

McGann would end up sending me five different emails that were paragraphs long. I was in awe. I learned he has Usher syndrome, a disease that affects one’s hearing and vision. He was not always deaf-blind. Fifteen years ago, he lost his vision. Before his vision changed, he was a teacher’s aide and an intervenor at the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children. His position eventually changed to braillist because he could no longer see. Now, McGann works as an active advocate. He is a member of Pittsburgh’s City-County Task Force on Disabilities.

McGann continued to tell me about his concerns within the disability community, including the lack of jobs for disabled people, Social Security issues and airport concerns. He told me about the time he was traveling and he waited to board his plane. However, he was left behind at the airport because of a travel agent. He wonders why airport officials are so paranoid and miserable when they see disabled people. He explained how he needs an interpreter for his deaf club, but due to money they aren’t able to afford it. Reading all of this, I truly began to understand the problems those with disabilities face.

I think what touched me the most about the interview was McGann’s story about his late-wife Karen. He talked so highly of her, explaining to me their story and all they had been through together. Karen, who could see and hear and was a certified interpreter, married McGann even though her parents were upset about it. He told me he promised her he would remarry after she died. I thought that was beautiful because after all he’s been through he still has hope.

Interviewing him was a different experience for me, but overall it was rewarding in so many ways. I’m excited to see what happens with the autobiography he is currently writing.

 

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