Akie Abe, spouse of Japan’s Prime Minister, visits Helen Keller National Center

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Spouse of the Prime Minister of Japan Akie Abe (second from left) is joined by (L-R) Helen Keller National Center Executive Director Susan Ruzenski, Helen Keller Services President and CEO Kim Zimmer, and the spouse of the Consul General of Japan Yukiko Yamanouchi. (Photo courtesy of the Helen Keller National Center)

The Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths and Adults, or HKNC, a division of Helen Keller Services, was honored to host two distinguished guests this week, Aike Abe, the spouse of Prime Minister Shinzō Abe, and Yukiko Yamanouchi, the spouse of Ambassador Kanji Yamanouchi, the Consul General of Japan in New York.

Abe was in the United States while the prime minister attended the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York and requested the opportunity to visit HKNC’s headquarters in Sands Point accompanied by Yamanouchi.

“We were thrilled and honored when we learned that Mrs. Abe wanted to visit us,” observed HKNC Executive Director Susan Ruzenski, “but nothing could have prepared us for how warm, caring, and engaging she was with the students and staff. During our interactions, while Mrs. Abe toured the program she even demonstrated Japanese sign language for us. Through her translator and HKNC’s sign language interpreters, Mrs. Abe took the time to speak with the students about their lives, aspirations, and what they hoped to accomplish at the National Center. It was very moving. We all came away with the feeling we had made a new friend.”

Authorized by an Act of Congress in 1967, HKNC is the only organization of its kind in the United States to provide training and resources exclusively to people age 16 and over who have combined vision and hearing loss.

Hellen Keller Services President and Chief Executive Officer Kim Zimmer was also present for the tour and appreciated the significance of the visit by Abe.

“Helen Keller Services was founded more than 125 years ago and continues to set the standard for serving the blind and deaf-blind communities,” she noted. “Technology evolves and the world changes but what remains constant is our commitment to inclusion for individuals who are blind, visually-impaired, or who have a combined hearing and vision loss. It is that commitment that first drew Mrs. Abe and Ms. Yamanouchi to our National Center. Meeting these women of character and compassion was a privilege. I speak for everyone at Helen Keller Services when I say I hope we have the opportunity to host them again in the not too distant future.”

In addition to its Sands Point headquarters, HKNC maintains 10 regional offices serving New England, Mid-Atlantic, East Central, Southwest, North Central, South Central, Great Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southwest, and Northwest. HKNC also partners with other agencies across the United States to build their capacity to work with individuals who are deaf-blind.

Founded in 1893, Helen Keller Services offers services and programs through two divisions: Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths and Adults and Helen Keller Services for the Blind. For more information, please visit www.helenkeller.org.

Submitted by Helen Keller National Center. 

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