Ambition opens doors for Deaf-Blind spokesperson
NORMAN, Okla. – Five a.m. is not too early for Ryann Fical. Not when she’s going after something she really wants.
In this case, she searched online until she found a summer internship needed to complete her degree in recreational management from OSU.
Fical, who has significant vision and hearing loss, contacted the University of Oklahoma’s Fitness and Recreation Department located near her family’s home in Norman
Her second email mentioned her disability. By then, Fical’s future supervisor, Director for Fitness and Recreation Dr. Amy Davenport, was sold on her communication skills and not concerned about her deaf-blindness.
May 18 was Fical’s first day on the job.
“Ryann has a big heart and a lot of drive and she wants to do a good job,” Davenport said. “If you have your heart and drive, you can overcome… Ryann is proof of that every single day.”
Recently, Fical and Davenport stole a few minutes from a busy day for an interview in a quiet Huston Huffman Fitness Center conference room.
Occasionally during the interview, Fical signaled her vocational rehabilitation and employment counselor Joan Blake, who repeated questions or clarified information, functioning during the interview as a Support Services Provider for people who are deaf-blind.
Blake is a specialist on deaf-blindness with Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired, a division of the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services.
SSPs are trained professionals who provide visual and environmental information, guide services and communication assistance to people with vision and hearing loss.
In addition to SSP services, DRS provided financial support for Fical’s college education, travel and independent living training, job search assistance, and a new laptop.
Davenport reports that Fical, who is the center’s first long-term intern, is “making great strides” in writing the first manual for future interns.
“I have also shadowed some of the employees, and I have observed and participated in some fitness classes,” Fical explained.
Her next big project is the 4th of July Splash Bash!, featuring food, fireworks, a DJ and swimming at Murray Case Sells Swim Complex on the OU campus.
“We’re happy with the internship,” Davenport said, “… she takes it upon herself to learn more and to get involved with things and really participate with the staff.”
When asked why she wanted to intern at the Huston Huffman Fitness Center, Fical joked, “I thought I had a chance to get something here,” adding a smile for her supervisor.
The OU Huston Huffman Fitness Center at the SJ Sarkeys Complex employs approximately 250 people and remains open from 6 a.m. to midnight most days of the year for students, faculty, staff and their spouses.
Summer camps are in progress, along with yoga, water aerobics, dance classes, boot camp, indoor cycling, basketball and intramural sports. Center staff will teach more than 1,000 children to swim this summer.
Fical’s favorite sport is horseback riding. She earned an associate degree in Equine Science Management from Morrisville State College in Morrisville, New York.
“After Morrisville State College I wanted to get into hippotherapy – it’s therapy with horses and people with disabilities -- and also something with recreation,” Fical explained.
She studied recreational therapy, succeeding through hard work at OSU-Stillwater.
Frustrated by the inability to get the kind of internship she wanted, Fical dropped out of school for 18 months. Around that time, she met Joan Blake, her new DRS counselor.
“Ryann wanted to work with horses, so I took her out job hunting, and she got a job at Majic Stables in Norman – the first place we went – basically cleaning stalls, saddling up the horses for children’s classes, unsaddling them and brushing them afterward, things like that. ” Blake said. “It was brutal work, but she loved it.”
In fall 2014, Fical became the volunteer events planner for Sight-Hearing Encouragement Program (SHEP), an organization which helps all Oklahomans with sight and hearing losses and promotes training for and access to Support Service Providers.
Not one to give up, Fical returned to OSU in spring 2015 to finish her degree. She and Blake negotiated an agreement with OSU academic staff and department administrators that led to Fical’s new major in recreation management.
She must complete the 480-hour internship in order to graduate in December 2015.
“My next move is to find a job,” Fical said. “I’d like to work in a facility, YMCA, health club or go back with horses. I’d love to do something with hippo therapy.”
In recognition of her success, Blake nominated Fical who was selected by DRS to represent Oklahomans with vision and hearing loss during Helen Keller Deaf-Blind Awareness Week. Governor Mary Fallin proclaimed June 24 through 30 as an official week of celebration in Oklahoma.
Helen Keller was an author, disability advocate and lecturer who is considered the best known American who was deaf-blind. She learned to read braille and raised print, and to communicate with speech and sign language for the deaf with the help of her teacher, Anne Sullivan, who also had a visual disability.
“Deaf-blindness is one of the most difficult barriers to overcome, and Ryann has had more than her share of setbacks, but she persisted until she achieved her dream,” Blake said. “Ryann demonstrates the spirit of determination and faith in herself that we would like to instill in all of our consumers with disabilities.
“One would hope that other deaf-blind individuals will see her success and feel inspired to do the same in their own lives,” Blake said.