Ladies We Love is a monthly interview series with women from around the world that provide us with inspiration through their travels and personal stories. This month we got to know Hannah Corderman, a wonderful and inspiring woman who is raising awareness for Usher Syndrome.
1) Hannah, please introduce yourself to our readers? What do you do? Where are you from?
Hello! My name is Hannah Corderman. I grew up in a town just outside of Boston, Massachusetts with three younger siblings, multiple dogs, and one very large cat that thinks he is a dog.
After graduating high school, I attended Colby College, a small liberal arts school in Maine, before returning to Boston to work in marketing. I absolutely loved my job, but, after three years, I quit. As awesome as it would be to say I quit to travel the world, I actually decided to head back to school!
I now live in Nashville, Tennessee and am pursuing my MBA (Master of Business Administration) degree at Vanderbilt University. I am focusing my studies on business, marketing and strategy, and entrepreneurship.
Despite being a full-time student, I am deeply committed to traveling the world and raising awareness for Usher syndrome. I am excited to share that I recently launched a blog that intertwines these two personal missions!
2) Could you please explain your story to our readers?
I was born with a moderate to severe hearing loss and wear hearing aids. When I was 17 years old, I was unexpectedly diagnosed with Usher syndrome, a rare genetic cause of combined deafness and blindness. With no present cure for Usher syndrome, the doctors revealed I would eventually lose most, if not all of my eyesight and my hearing. Indefinably heartbroken, I was nevertheless slightly relieved by terms of my condition.
Before going blind, I still had years of retaining some of my vision. My hearing loss would most likely remain stable until later in life. I was nothing but grateful to have this time. Rather than simply fall into an all-consuming depression under the weight of this progressive disease, I would instead choose to use Usher syndrome as motivation to live my life as fully as possible during the time I have left to see and hear.
By making the necessary sacrifices, I have already compressed a lifetime of extraordinary experiences into the eight years since my diagnosis; from backpacking in Thailand and volunteering with elephants, to staying in a glass igloo in Finish Lapland, to camping in the Sahara desert, the list goes on. Once, when I was in Iceland, I was unsure if my vision had deteriorated too much to see the Northern lights. I broke down in tears of relief when I finally saw the aurora faintly dancing on the outskirts of Reykjavik.
One of the biggest lessons I have learned in the last eight years is that this disease is so much bigger than my own life. There are thousands of people who are affected by Usher syndrome; thousands of people who struggle to see and hear every single day. By sharing my story, I hope to raise awareness about Usher syndrome, not only to accelerate a cure but also to encourage others with Usher syndrome to remain positive and keep seeking the light.
Usher syndrome will never define me. Rather, it empowers me. We all have our unique stories and struggles. I hope to inspire all women to live each and every day to the fullest, and not let life’s unexpected challenges hold us back from following our dreams.
3) We were very happy to have you on one of our Bali retreats and were inspired by your story, could you please explain to our readers about Usher Syndrome?
I am incredibly grateful for my Bali experience with We Are Travel Girls! Not only did I get to check off one of my top bucket list destinations and explore a beautiful country, but I had the opportunity to meet and connect with such strong women. Through this experience, and with their support, I found the confidence to share my story.
Usher syndrome is a genetic cause of combined deafness and blindness. An estimated 400,000 people are affected by this inherited disorder worldwide. There are three clinical types: Type 1, Type 2 (my type!) and Type 3. Each type is distinguished by the age when the symptoms appear, as well as the severity of the symptoms that include hearing, vision and sometimes balance. DNA testing is available to confirm the type.
The vision loss component of Usher syndrome is caused by retinitis pigmentosa (RP). A progressive disorder, RP causes the cells in the retina to deteriorate over time. Night blindness is the first stage of RP, followed by a narrowing of the visual field into tunnel vision, and, finally, total blindness. The speed of the progression varies significantly.
Currently, there is no cure for Usher syndrome, however, researchers are hard at work seeking out treatments to potentially slow, stop, or even reverse vision loss and hearing. I am confident that, together, we will find a cure.
4) You are working hard to raise awareness of Usher Syndrome by creating the Usher Syndrome Society, can you please tell us more about that?
I would love to! Until this point, I haven’t mentioned that my younger brother, Tyler, was also diagnosed with Usher syndrome. We are the reason the Usher Syndrome Society exists. I helped create the Usher Syndrome Society, but my mom is the one who truly deserves all the credit. She has dedicated her life to finding a cure for Tyler and me by founding and leading the Usher Syndrome Society, a non-profit organization that uses the arts, educational events, and collaboration to raise awareness and funds for treatments and a cure for Usher syndrome.
We have three major initiatives at the moment. The first is “Shine a Light on Usher Syndrome”, a pop-up exhibit that brings awareness to Usher syndrome through photojournalism and storytelling. To date, our portrait exhibit has traveled to cities in the United States, Germany, England, and Australia.
We also host experiential “Sight, Sound & Strength” events to educate the public and raise funds for Usher syndrome. Events have included fitness, loss of senses stimulation, music, food, and education.
Finally, we recently launched “Tactile”, a collection of artisan goods that bring attention to our collective sense of touch while providing funds towards treatment and finding a cure. Tactile products include bedding and home fashions, t-shirts, athletic apparel, cookies and more.
Through our awareness campaigns, we aim to bring Usher syndrome to the forefront of rare disease research and raise funds to find a cure.
5) How can our readers find out more about Usher Syndrome?
You can visit UsherSyndromeSociety.org to learn more about Usher syndrome. You can also reach out to me directly by contacting me here: WanderLightMoments.com. I would be more than happy to personally answer any additional questions you might have!
6) Through everything you love to travel, what inspired this love?
Long before I was diagnosed with Usher syndrome, I fell in love with traveling. Growing up, most of my family’s trips were confined to places within driving distance of Boston. The first time I left the country (not including the time we crossed the border to Canada to order take-out pizza) was when I was in middle school.
My family took a week-long vacation to the Dominican Republic. Having lived a fairly sheltered life thus far, I was mesmerized by the vibrant energy of the Latin American country. Fueled by my innate curiosity, from that trip onward, I couldn’t help but crave more. I was moved by the idea that outside of New England there was a whole world to discover.
7) What has been your favorite place to visit so far and why?
I love asking other travelers this question, but I also believe it is one of the hardest to answer! Every place brings its own unique experience that it becomes nearly impossible to compare. I also think the people we travel with, and the people we meet along the journey, have a profound impact on our opinion of the place.
If I had to pick one place, though, I would pick Thailand. Confirming my belief that everything happens for a reason, I just happened to book my two-week trip to Thailand during Yi Peng – the festival where thousands of lanterns are simultaneously released into the night sky. It is a visual memory I will hold onto forever. Thailand is also the place where I finally got to fulfill my childhood dream of hugging a rescued elephant!
8) What advice would you give to someone with a disability who is afraid to travel?
It took me a while to figure this one out, but my best piece of advice is to not be afraid to ask for help. For the longest time, I was determined to ‘hide’ my disability and do everything independently.
I used to avoid going to certain places, such as dimly lit restaurants or concerts because I was scared that I would not be able to navigate the place on my own. Regrettably, I used to not drink water on nighttime flights because I was afraid that if I got up from my seat to use the restroom, I wouldn’t be able to find my way back in the dark. There are so many moments that I look back on and wish I simply just asked for help. I also wonder how many great life moments I missed out on because I was afraid.
I am far from perfect when it comes to listening to my own advice, even today, but I have definitely learned that asking for help is the best course of action when it comes to having a disability. Whether asking a friend, a family member, or even a complete stranger, I have found that embracing, rather than hiding, my disability makes my life easier and makes traveling less scary. I have also noticed that this connection can truly bring out the best in people and people genuinely want to help. You just have to ask!
9) What destinations or experiences are on your bucket list?
Like most travel enthusiasts, I have a rather long list of destinations and experiences on my bucket list. In the interest of answering this question succinctly, I have narrowed my list, primarily based on the visual memories I hope to create before it becomes too late. I am eager to visit the Galapagos Islands, Antarctica, and New Zealand, as well as experience an African safari, dive the Great Barrier Reef and hike in Patagonia.
10) Now for a fun question, what is your favorite quote?
I am obsessed with the American version of the show “The Office”. That said, my favorite quote has to be the very last line of the entire series, “There’s a lot of beauty in ordinary things. Isn’t that kind of the point?”
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