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Disability Awareness Month: Patty Wilson serves as ‘ears’ for Tinker’s deaf community

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Meet Patty Wilson. Many of you have seen Ms. Wilson in training classes, organizational meetings, awards luncheons, town hall meetings and in many other settings across the base. Ms. Wilson, who has worked for the Department of the Air Force for 28 years, serves the Tinker community as the main sign language interpreter for all activities and organizations.

Ms. Wilson interprets for the deaf and hard of hearing employees in any activity where she can provide assistance. She also developed and teaches beginning and advanced sign language courses so co-workers and supervisors can learn to communicate with the hearing impaired individuals in their work areas. Since her first year at Tinker, Ms. Wilson has been instrumental in orchestrating base-wide events in honor of Disability Awareness Month. She feels it's important to educate the workforce about people with disabilities.

Not many people know this, but Ms. Wilson is among the 54 million Americans living with a disability. Ms. Wilson was born with Hammer Toes which caused her toes to curl up under her feet and eventually prevented her from walking. At the age of 14, Ms. Wilson was in a wheel chair and wasn't happy about it. Through determination and help from her brother, she taught herself to walk again. Today, Ms. Wilson has no feeling in her feet; she can't tell if she misses a step or if her feet become fatigued or injured. Ms. Wilson's motto is, "Never let your dis-ABILITY prevent you from doing or becoming whatever you want to do in life and never give up."

A native of Ohio, Ms. Wilson moved to Oklahoma after she graduated from high school. She first went to work for the Shawnee School System, and then for a Shawnee savings and loan company. Through hard work and dedication, she became a vice president of the savings and loan company. She noticed deaf customers needed extra assistance to conduct their business and felt compelled to do something. Following the bank's motto, "We're Here to Help," she learned sign language so she could assist them.

Ms. Wilson provides personal assistance specifically for people in need in a wide range of settings such as doctor appointments, legal assistance, housing placement, family intervention and education. She is also involved in a variety of community activities, providing interpreting services for a wide-range of special events. She has interpreted for the Midwest City Holiday of Lights, the annual lighting of the Midwest City Christmas tree, Red Earth, Septemberfest at the Governor's Mansion, Special Olympics, Make Promises Happen at Frontier City and the inaugural addresses for former Gov. Frank Keating. She volunteers monthly at the Westview Living Center, home for the disabled and additionally brings Christmas carolers to the deaf residents each year. She provides interpreting services at her local church so the hearing impaired can be a part of the church community; she has also played a major role in helping various churches establish their own deaf ministries.

Ms. Wilson also extends her skills to the community through her "Talking Hands Deaf Club." For 26 years, this group has been coming together monthly with activities to allow the deaf and hard of hearing to convene and enjoy the fellowship of one another. Ms. Wilson volunteers her time at Frontier City, to raise money for the Talking Hands Deaf Club. Additionally, she has taught sign language classes one night a week for the past 40 years. Since 2009, she has been teaching sign language as a foreign language at Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee.

Ms. Wilson loves to travel and believes everyone should have the same opportunity. For nearly a decade, Ms. Wilson has organized trips for the hearing impaired and arranges for interpreters to join them. In June 2012, Ms. Wilson took 54 others on a cruise to Alaska; another year, she vacationed with 123 individuals. Ms. Wilson has a bus trip to New Orleans planned for 2013, and she is already working on a 2014 trip to Hawaii.
"It is all worth it," she said, "when you see people's eyes light up because they are having the time of their life!"

Ms. Wilson is married to retired Tinker employee Stan Wilson. They have four children, seven grandchildren and a great-granddaughter on the way. Her family is the joy of her life. Her happiest moments are when the children and grandchildren convene in her home for their monthly dinner and their annual vacations together.