New phone could help deaf Fort Myers man communicate

He calls it his “Ho Ho Ho wish list” but the handwritten lines don’t just show what Dennis Fultz wants for Christmas; they help show who he is.
Movies and games top it.
Fultz can’t hear, but he’s intensely interested in the world — and if that world happens to be the Wild West or the U.S. Marines, so much the better. John Wayne is one of Fultz’s heroes, as is anyone in the Corps.
He can’t tell you that, but he’s delighted to show you, pointing to a huge wall hanging of the Duke, and hauling fatigues and utility jackets from his bulging closet and pointing animatedly at the insignia.
“He loves anything to do with the military,” says Zebbra Brown, his in-home support services trainer. Brown works for LARC, a Fort Myers nonprofit that serves people with developmental disabilities like Fultz.
Though Fultz, 64, can’t do some of the things most U.S. adults take for granted, like drive or hop a plane on his own, with LARC’s help, he’s able to live by himself in a Fort Myers apartment. He attends programs at the agency’s Fort Myers campus weekdays, and Brown visits frequently to make sure he’s getting along. She’s teaching him to cook and care for himself, as well as helping him become more fluent in sign language.
Also on his list are a phone he can use to text (he’s learning to read and write), shoes, a game controller, a helicopter and real handcuffs with a key.
Brown jokes that he wants to lock her up, but really, Fultz is as taken with law enforcement as he is with the military.
“Sometimes when we’re driving, he tells me I should go through a red light so he can see the police,” she says.
An only child, Fultz was born in Ohio and lived with his elderly parents in Fort Myers until they died in the early ’90s. Without words, Fultz shows a visitor a photo album of their simple graves in nearby Memorial Gardens cemetery. Pointing skyward, he folds his hands in prayer before tracing a finger down his cheek.
“He’s saying they’re in heaven and he’s sad,” says Pamela Jenkins, LARC’s community services manager. “They’d also tried to teach him some signs, and we’re working to enhance that.”
Fultz’s mother also taught him to crochet; he nods proudly at a container in front of his couch with pastel baby clothes he’s making for a family at his church with a newborn and holds up a delicate yellow throw for the crib he’s almost finished.
Fultz’s repertoire of gestures and facial expressions is as expressive as the late mime Marcel Marceau’s. He pantomimes ideas with perfect clarity and his wide eyes show a range of emotions. More often than not, those emotions are curiosity and delight.
Although he doesn’t speak, he giggles, laughs and raises and lowers his voice conversationally. And his affection for Brown and Jenkins is plain, as is theirs for him.
“He’s such a sweet, happy person,” Jenkins says. “We’re so proud of him.”