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HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Hillsboro residents Lisa Ferris and Niklas Petersson with their children, Niam, Aaron and Avery, take time out from their busy schedules for a little family fun.With a set of twin boys, a five-year-old son and two guide dogs at home, Lisa Ferris and Niklas Petersson have a full house and a full life.


The Hillsboro couple have their own business and Ferris just won a national award from Hadley School for the Blind, which provides distance education programs for the blind and visually impaired. Hadley, founded in 1920, is the world’s largest educator of braille and serves nearly 10,000 students in all 50 states and 100 countries each year.

Ferris is the recipient of Hadley’s “Richard Kinney Challenge of Living Award,” an award named after the school’s longtime administrator and school president and presented to one person every year. Kinney was also one of the first three deaf-blind Americans to earn a college degree, according to Hadley spokeswoman Sheryl Bass.

Ferris is deaf-blind and has Alport Syndrome, an inherited progressive disease that causes deterioration of the kidneys, eyesight and hearing.

She holds a master’s degree in special education of students with severe disabilities and deaf-blindness from the University of Kansas.

Most recently, Ferris, 45, and Petersson, 42, who is also blind, started a vocational rehabilitation training business called Miles Access Skills Training (MAST).

“We started it in January of 2014 so we are still in an establishment phase, but so far it has done nothing but grow and has been a lot of fun to develop,” Ferris said.

MAST provides skills training to people with visual impairments and other disabilities, Ferris said. Ferris and Petersson specialize in adaptive technology.

“We teach people with disabilities how to use a computer or mobile device with speech or braille instead of vision,” she explained.

The company helps individuals as well as employers who need to provide adaptive accommodations for their employees.

The couple has worked with Portland State University and Juneau Transit in Alaska to make their web presence more compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Ferris, who has lived in the Portland area since 1997 and in Hillsboro since 2004, hails from Iowa. Petersson immigrated to the United States via Canada, but was raised in Sweden.

Having both experienced living with blindness in multiple states and countries, they “saw a gap and a real need that we could fill,” with MAST, Ferris said.

“Many of our clients are older people who are not eligible for vocational rehabilitation services. Others have other health issues or disabilities, so don’t fit into an already established program very well,” she added.

Petersson and Ferris strive to not turn clients away due to inability to pay. They’ve done some creative, “interesting pay arrangements,” Ferris said, including helping someone “learn to read books on her iPhone in exchange for a braille typewriter.”

Here, Lisa talks more about how the world of technology has opened up opportunities for people who are blind or visually impaired; and talks about life as a deaf-blind person living in Hillsboro:

“I hope to perhaps start a mobile device/computer exchange program so that our clients can have access to all of this wonderful technology that is available now. Mobile devices, especially iPhones with their built in accessibility features, have caused a revolution in what it means to be blind. They are more than a luxury item for people with disabilities. They create an equality to access the world on a level that has never been achieved before.”Hillsboro has especially good transit for a suburb and good access to downtown Portland. It also still has a bit of a small town feel with the downtown Hillsboro area. We live right near the Orenco/Platform District which has just exploded and has a lot of walkability for us.

“I like being able to walk to restaurants and stores. We ask for customer service help to go shopping often and we usually get excellent help at places like New Seasons and formerly (Hank’s) Thriftway before it closed.

“What is probably most challenging is the misunderstanding and misperceptions that deaf-blind people face. It takes patience and flexibility to communicate with a deaf-blind person, and I need people to meet me half way.

“Because I do have some usable vision and hearing, people have a hard time figuring out what to do with me and often just don’t even try. I cannot explain to people exactly how much I see or hear, I don’t know how to explain that. But I am happy to let people know the best way to communicate with me and if they can stick with it for a while, they will start to get more comfortable and know what to do.

“The biggest challenge is getting people to give you a chance and not have such low expectations.”


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