Author Archives: kimerskine

 

Video Credits: TEDx Talks

Today I watched Heather Artinian’s Georgetown TEDxGeorgetown Talk, “Not the Hearing or Deaf World”. Heather Artinian was the star of the popular documentary Sound and Fury and its sequel, Sound and Fury: 6 Years Later. As the daughter of two Deaf parents, Heather grew up in Deaf culture and was taught to speak with ASL from an early age. Some of her other family members like her cousin were also deaf, however, they supported and got a cochlear implant (or two, not entirely sure to be honest). While Heather supported Deaf culture and was proud of her cultural heritage, she also had many hearing friends and was eager to be a part of the hearing world. At the mere age of 5, Heather knew that she wanted a cochlear implant.

However, her parents were not fully supportive of her decision. Instead of allowing her to get the cochlear implant, the family moved to Maryland which has many more Deaf individuals than her hometown in New York did. They lived there for about 3 or 4 years until her Mom got very sick and had to go back home to New York. During her time in Maryland Heather grew up in a comfortable Deaf environment where she was taught at a Deaf school and ASL was her primary language.

When Heather returned back to New York ASL was no longer the norm and doing the simplest of things like trying to order food from a restaurant was a difficult and frustrating experience for her and her family. Heather wanted to be able to communicate with her hearing friends and to be a part of their world. This is something I can relate to very much. I feel like in many ways Heather’s story is my story. Anyway, as Heather desired to be a part of their world she once again longed for a cochlear implant and this time her family didn’t fight it on it – they allowed her to get her first cochlear implant when she was 9.

Heather has since went bilateral and she is doing very well. She is a graduate of Georgetown University and currently attending Harvard Law school. In her talk Heather focused on bridging the gap between the deaf and hearing worlds and what I loved is that Heather isn’t concerned in being in either the hearing or the deaf world – she wants to be in the Heather world which is a little bit of each world.

Watching Heather’s Ted Talk honestly made me think about my own life and where I am with always having lived in the hearing world and now wanting to learn ASL. People think it’s weird that I never learned ASL and I never belonged to Deaf culture but I didn’t really know about it since everyone I know is from the hearing world so it makes sense that I would want to be a part of that world. Sometimes I feel almost guilty for not belonging to Deaf culture. I’ve had people in a round about way also say that I’ve turned my back on my own culture or I don’t even know who I am or am supposed to be since I’m so out of tune with Deaf culture. Then there’s another part of me that wonders if I’m doing a disservice by wanting to learn ASL. Is this offensive to the Deaf community? I went my entire life trying to fit in to the hearing world and going bilateral and I think being able to hear now is the greatest thing ever and sometimes it’s mind-boggling to comprehend that some people wouldn’t want to hear even if they have the ability to with cochlear implants…and yet here I am after going bilateral wanting to learn ASL and join in the Deaf world. Is this okay or is this cultural appropriation? Have I’ve been missing out on a big portion of my life by not belonging to this culture that I maybe should have been born into? Has my entire life been a mistake for choosing not to belong to this culture? There’s so many questions I don’t have the answers to and may never have the answers to.

Why do I want to learn ASL and why now? Maybe it is because I wonder if maybe I’m missing out on something. Maybe I do want to join in with Deaf culture or maybe I just don’t know yet but I at least want to see what is there. That doesn’t mean that I’m going to go against or abandon the hearing world I worked so hard to get into. It means that whereas Heather wants to live in the Heather world I want to live in the Kimberly world. I want the best of both worlds. I don’t want it to be hearing world and deaf world – I want it to just be 1 world where everyone can co-exist.

I loved Heather’s Ted Talk. I think she is a very smart girl (she’s studying Law at Harvard after all…) and what she says really makes sense. She doesn’t just reject the hearing world the way some Deaf individuals do (I’m looking at you…Mark Drolsbaugh…) she embraces it. Heather wants to make the best future for herself and she knows that in order to do that she needs to learn to adapt to the world around her and the world around her is primarily hearing. However, Heather didn’t forget where she came from. She was never about abandoning Deaf culture. I do get the impression she prefers the hearing world hence why she chose to live with her grandparents, attend a hearing school, and notably didn’t sign during her presentation, but it will always be a part of her and something she is proud of. Heather successfully balances both world to create one universal world that makes her who she is – Heather Artinian. I think we can learn a lot from her and I look forward to hearing more from her in the future.

I was so inspired by Heather that I sent her the following message on LinkedIn:

Hi Heather,

My name is Kimberly Erskine and I am an adjunct professor and graduate student at Rowan University in Glassboro, NJ. I was born profoundly deaf but always lived in the hearing world and got by with lipreading until receiving cochlear implants in 2015 and 2016.

For my MA project I am writing a memoir about my cochlear implant experience. I have been doing extensive research on Deaf culture and ASL as well. Some of my research involved watching both of your documentaries. I also just finished watching your Georgetown TedX talk tonight. I just wanted to say you are a huge inspiration for me and I believe many other deaf/Deaf individuals as well. I admire the way you chose for yourself which world to belong to – the Heather world – and how you’re working to build bridges in both the hearing and deaf communities.

I don’t think I ever had a choice but to belong to the hearing world. I was offered to learn ASL at a young age but declined because I didn’t know anyone who was Deaf and learning to adapt to the hearing world made more sense to me. I never knew that Deaf culture was its own thing. Once I got older and began to learn more about it it completely fascinated me though. I am trying to learn more about it and hoping to learn sign language (I am applying to take an ASL class as independent study this Fall) so that I can meet more Deaf people and communicate with them.

I can understand how challenging being in both worlds might be for you at times. Sometimes people look at me weird for never having learned ASL or belonging to Deaf culture. They think that means I don’t know who I really am or they don’t understand my sudden interest in Deaf culture now especially since I can hear with my cochlear implants. Maybe in some ways I’m also still trying to figure it all out. I really loved your Ted Talk though because it was so relateable to me. I saw a lot of myself in you and your presentation.

I honestly really hope Heather responds because I think she is really cool and would like to make friends with her haha. We shall see…


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Image Credits: Design Thinking Blog

Hey guys! Wow, long time no updates! I apologize for being so quiet lately I have just been so intensely busy! Juggling work full time at Penn Medicine with teaching part time at Rowan University and taking two classes a semester towards earning my MA in Writing for the past year has been no joke! I’ve really been enjoying everything I do though. None of this stuff would have been possible if it weren’t for getting my cochlear implants (or at least not teaching) and it has all been so incredibly rewarding.

School has especially been an interesting experience for me. I am never shy from discussing my cochlear implants with anyone that will (or won’t…as is the case with at least some of my sleepy, bored students…hey I do teach at 8am afterall…) listen from students to classmates, professors, and really anyone in between. One of my students even mentioned that she wants to be an art teacher for the Deaf and learn ASL and hear more about my story.

On the student side of things, well I’m continuing to work towards completing God Granted Me Hearing which will serve as my MA in Writing Master’s project. I have been doing significant research for this project especially on Deaf culture and ASL. There’s definitely a lot to learn and I’m really loving this journey I’ve been on.

But enough about school, the real thing I want to talk about with this post is my hearing appointment I had at Jefferson yesterday morning. This appointment was one of the rare times in my life when I scheduled an appointment kind of “just because”. I mean I guess there was kind of a point to it – I haven’t had a hearing appointment in over a year and haven’t really followed up with anyone as much with my right ear post-activation as I did with my left. I guess it’s because I kind of knew what to do and expect and things have been going well for me. Also, I’m just so busy it’s hard to get around to scheduling appointments like that these days, but with my summer hours allowing me to have off on Fridays I thought it would be a good time to schedule a checkup just to make sure everything is working as it’s supposed to.
I’ll be honest – I was pretty nervous about this appointment. For once though I wasn’t nervous because of my hearing abilities or how I’d test, but I was nervous because I’d be getting a new audiologist. I loved my last two audiologists – Dr. Louisa Yong Yan Liang and Alyssa Lerner (who was an extern when I had her, but I really liked her). Louisa left Jefferson to go to Chicago since her husband is a doctor and took a job there. Alyssa was in a similar situation where her boyfriend finished medical school and matched with a hospital in St. Louis so she left to be with him. This left me without an audiologist.
With all of that being said, I was happy to hear that there was another audiologist I could see, Laura Somers. However, I was still nervous at the prospect of meeting someone knew and gaining a new audiologist.
Fortunately, all of my nerves went away the moment I met Laura and her extern, Shelby Weinstein. They immediately made a great impression on me. They were as sweet as could be. One of the first things that Laura said was “Were you in an article…something about talking on the phone?” referring to the article that I did with The Philadelphia Inquirer. This right away made a great first impression on me because it showed me that she did her homework to familiarize herself with my case and my history. She was very personable and friendly which helped me to relax and made me feel comfortable during the appointment. She had an extern, Shelby Weinstein, who was also very nice. She was more quiet but friendly and seemed eager to learn. Laura took her time with everything she did to make sure to show Shelby what she was doing and Shelby seemed really interested and engaged with it all.
The first thing that Laura did was check my settings and the volume on my right ear. The right ear was the main focus of my appointment since I’ve been doing so well with the left (which makes sense since it was the first ear I had implanted and it’s really common for your first ear to be your dominant or preferred ear since you’re more used to it and it’s also kind of a mental thing – getting your first cochlear implant is such a huge, impactful thing (or at least it was for me) that you don’t forget it. It’s still big and impactful with the second one, but not as much since you have something great already to compare it to whereas with the first one you may be comparing it to nothing.
Laura explained to me that her main goal was to balance my ears out more. She played a series of sounds/pitches and gave me a “loudness chart” where I had to indicate if the noise was too soft, soft, medium, loud but comfortable, or too loud. Most of the pitches fell in the medium or too soft range. Laura turned it up a little bit. At first it was too loud and a bit overwhelming so she had to turn it down a little bit to make it more level. It seems pretty good now but I am still adjusting to it. I notice it the most when I put my processors on for the first time in the morning.
Next Laura and Shelby took me into the hearing test booth and they tested my right ear. First they did the beeps and I scored in the normal – above normal range. This will never cease to amaze me. I still remember when I’d be lucky to have any ranges or pitches listed on the chart. When I was first considering my first cochlear implant I told my surgeon, Dr. Willcox, that I would consider it a success if I could have about 30% of my hearing (at the time I had at the most about 7%) and he said my expectations were way too low – he wasn’t wrong! Now I probably have around 80-90% of my hearing.

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Here’s where my hearing was on 6/29/2017 on my right ear…quite a difference!

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This test was from January 28, 2016 – a little over a month after having my left ear activated. The red circles at the bottom were for my right ear. This is almost a year before I had it implanted.

Next, Laura tested me for word recognition with my right ear. I was a little bit nervous here because the last time I was tested for this in my right ear was on March 25, 2015 I didn’t do very well – earning on a 68%.

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I didn’t do too well on my first word recognition test back on March 25, 2015…

However, I ended up doing just fine. I knew I was doing well – you really can just tell with these things if you’re doing well or not. The more I felt I got them right the more confident I became. In the end I performed even better than I imagined by earning a 90% – quite a big difference from the 68% I earned the last time!

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I only got about 3 of them wrong and I wasn’t off by that much on the ones I missed!

For the final test Laura tested me with full sentences and she added in a high level of background noise – the highest level possible – to make it harder. She admitted that a lot of people with normal, natural hearing struggle with some of these. Honestly I think what makes this hard sometimes is how WEIRD the sentences are. One time I got a sentence that was something along the lines of “The monkey is using sign language.” This time I got “A camel is not the most comfortable animal on which to ride” and “Could you speak up a little?” which isn’t a weird sentence on its own, but when you say it in the context of a hearing test it becomes a little awkward and confusing – Laura actually asked me to repeat it probably because she wasn’t sure if I was saying back the sentence or asking her to repeat herself lol. #DeafProblems – right?
I scored an 84% with this test. I thought that I got about a 70 on the sentences last time but I don’t see a record of it (I keep everything) so now I’m thinking this might have been the first time they did full sentences with my right ear? Either way it would be an improvement and I’m quite happy with these results!

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126/150 or an 84%? I’ll take it! It sure beats my pre-cochlear implant scores of 0!

My appointment concluded with Laura calling me a “Rock star” and telling me I was good to go until next year when I should come in just for a checkup unless of course something is wrong. She told me to keep her posted on my book and everything else. I was definitely impressed by both Laura and Shelby’s care and I look forward to working with Laura more in the future and I hope that Shelby stays at Jefferson so I can work with her more in the future as well because she seems like she’s going to be really good once she finishes her schooling.


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Image Credits: YouTube

This week I read 1 Corinthians 14 and it made me think a lot about the history of American Sign Language actually. In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul is talking to the church of Corinth about speaking in tongues. He acknowledges the ability to speak in tongues as being a spiritual gift from God, however, he strongly urges the church of Corinth not to practice the speaking of tongues unless everyone can do it. Paul explains this by stating, “He that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries.” Men that possess the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues can use it to speak to God, yes, but they shouldn’t use it to speak with the rest of the congregation because they won’t be able to understand him. When we enter the church it should be to honor and glorify God and to help our brothers and sisters and Christ to do the same and to better come to know God and his words. If we can’t even understand what the members of the body of Christ are saying then how can we really come to know God and learn at church, let alone properly worship him in his home?

Paul went so far as to suggest that speaking in tongues could be the equivalent of just making noise without understanding what that noise actually means in verses 7-11. Here he states:

And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped? For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle? So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? For ye shall speak into the air. There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification. Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me (1751).

Wow, definitely a lot of things going on in these verses! Let’s look at the first part of this first, verses 7-8:

“And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped? For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?”

A deaf person may never hear the sounds of a pipe, harp, or trumpet. You could blow that trumpet as hard as humanly possible and that deaf person may never prepare himself to battle if that’s all he has to go on because he’ll never know. To him, the sound of a trumpet is completely meaningless.

For me prior to getting my cochlear implant, I missed out on many sounds. I’ve discovered many of them since getting my cochlear implants, but every day I am also still learning more and more sounds. It’s not uncommon for me to jump a little in class as a train goes by or someone talks or fidgets or I hear an unknown sound. I’m constantly trying to define the source of the sound and what it means. This is what the congregation must’ve been like back in Paul’s time when they tried to understand what the speaker was saying when he spoke in tongues that they did not understand.

I also relate this to ASL. The Deaf community needs ASL so that they can understand what is being said in the church. To them, the verbal communication means nothing. They have no idea what the pastor is preaching without the use of ASL. They will never hear the gospel or understand the message that day. The pastor might as well be speaking in tongues because they’d never know otherwise. Here, Thomas Gallaudet’s arguments for using sign language in the church makes sense.

But hold that thought…

Thomas Gallaudet and the manualists didn’t just think that the use of sign language in the church would help the deaf to better understand sermons; they took it a step further. Gallaudet along with the other manualists felt that sign language would bring the deaf closer to God. In Tracy Morse’s dissertation, “Saving Grace: Religious Rhetoric in the Deaf Community,” she quotes Douglas Baynton’s Forbidden Signs when she says:

For manualists, this view was interpreted in Protestant terms: sign language was an original language and meant “closer to the Creation,” not inferiority (Baynton “Savages” 98). However, for oralists, sign language was associated with lower evolution or “inferior races” (Baynton Forbidden 9). Oralists made arguments that deaf students needed to learn spoken English and lip reading or they would be viewed as animals or savages (Morse 51).

Now, let’s look back to the scripture and focus on verse 11 which states, “Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me.

The word “barbarian” here is what stands out the most to me. Do you know who else really loves the word “barbarian”? Alexander Graham Bell who was NOT a manualist like Thomas Gallaudet, but rather an oralist that believed that the deaf needed to move away from sign language and instead learn to speak verbally and read lips and live in the hearing world.

So, what am I saying here? Do I think that this verse is saying sign language is barbaric? Absolutely not, but at the same time, it could be absolutely so. So it’s a yes and a no for me.

Here is what I think that verse is saying, or what the core message Paul has for the church of Corinth is:

We need to speak in a way that people can understand what we are saying in church so as to not cause confusion or anything that can inhibit man’s understanding of the gospel and man’s ability to honor and glorify the lord.

Back in the time of the church of Corinth, speaking in tongues was a barrier for people in the church because it might have benefited the person speaking it, but it did not benefit the church. Paul is calling for the unity of the church – everyone needs to unite as the body as Christ and work in a way that best serves God and not themselves and that involves speaking a universal language they can all understand.

What does this mean for the deaf in the church? Should they be forced to lip-read and practice the oral method? No. I think the deaf should have a right to hear the sermon in a way that is the most accessible to them. Many churches offer the hearing loop to help hard of hearing and deaf people to hear (depending on the degree of hearing loss of course). If a deaf person needs an interpreter, they should have access to it.

If the majority of church attendees are Deaf and rely on sign language, then perhaps that church should consider doing full sermons primarily in ASL, as that is what will benefit that church and help the attendees to learn and honor and glorify God the best.

We don’t have to worry too much about the speaking of tongues in modern day. 1 Corinthians 13:8 says, “Whether there  be tongues they shall cease”. People cannot speak in tongues today (I acknowledge that many claim they do – I have my own feelings on that but I’ll be nice and go the route of “no comment” on that…). I think that whereas the church of Corinth had to worry about the speaking in tongues today our issue is more or less about what language or what style/tone to use in church. I think it all depends on the congregation and choosing what is the most accessible to your church goers.

Going  back to the discussion on the deaf community…

In Baynton’s Forbidden Signs he explains how many oralists feared that by relying too heavily on sign language the deaf community would isolate themselves from the rest of the world. He stated:

Like their contemporaries in other fields of reform, oralists worried that the lives of people were diminished by being a part of such communities as the deaf community; they would not, it was feared, fully share in the life of the nation. The deaf community, like ethnic communities, narrowed the minds and outlooks of its members. “The individual must be one with race,” one wrote in words reminiscent of many other Progressive reformers “or he is virtually annihilated”; the chief curse of deafness was “apartness from the life of the world,” and it was just this that oralism was designed to remedy. Apartness  was the darkness manualists redefined for a new world (Baynton 32).

Sign language was (and still is) very different from spoken English or any spoken language, really It’s different from what the majority is speaking and when people can’t speak our language, either they or we miss out. Isn’t this the same as what was going on in the church of Corinth in a way? Paul wanted to see the church of Corinth come together to honor, serve, and glorify the Lord and to unite as the body of Christ. Speaking in tongues was something very few church members could do that caused a separation or divide between those who could speak and understand it, and those who could not. It became a distraction that kept people from coming to know God.

Is sign language a distraction that keeps the deaf from doing things in their daily lives? It is obvious that it causes a divide from the hearing and the deaf worlds. In the church, it can make things better for the deaf and I can see how it can strengthen their personal relationships with God, but if we only signed and didn’t speak spoken English, the rest of the congregation would suffer. I don’t see sign language as being a form of language that brings a person closer to God in the sense of it’s a superior or holier language than standard English. I think it’s just another language that for some is their primary and therefore the best and for others is just another language in the world that exists but one they don’t partake in or use in their daily lives.


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Image Credits: QuotesGram.com

Hey guys! Merry Christmas Eve Eve! Today is a really special day for me because it’s the 1 year anniversary of being activated on my right ear. Hurrah!

I apologize for the lack of updates. I know I promised you guys back in like August that I’d post on what it’s like to teach with cochlear implants…and now it’s the end of December…sorry! Between working full time at Penn Medicine, teaching 3 times a week at Rowan, and taking two graduate courses towards my MA in Writing, I haven’t had much time for blogging. But the good news is that winter break is finally here giving me a little bit of free time to give you all an update!

Before I begin I just want to apologize ahead of time for any major typos in this post. My laptop is currently on life support and the R, Y, 7, and perhaps some other keys I’ve yet to discover are currently broken. I’m actually using an external keyboard to type most of this. I know I should be less stubborn and give in and buy a new laptop (my current one is about 7 years old, after all) but I just love this one so much I’m not quite ready to part with it (and to be honest I’m waiting to be able to use my leftover loan money for the Spring semester so I can purchase one from the bookstore with boro bucks…).

Well anyway where was I? Oh that’s right…teaching. What it’s like to teach with cochlear implants. As I mentioned in the past, this past fall semester was my first time EVER teaching. I taught a class of 18 (well, it was originally 18, turned into 17 when one of my students withdrew from the class) three times a week…Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. All of my students were freshman taking Intensive College Composition at Rowan University. This was a first-year writing class for Freshman with lower test scores on their SATS that needed an additional day of class each week for extra support.

I am currently in the process of earning my MA in Writing and I have no prior teaching experience. I am able to teach as part of my MA in Writing program through acceptance into the Teaching Experience Program (TEP) at Rowan University. When I first started teaching I was honestly terrified. I think I practiced my first-day lesson about 20,000 times before teaching my first class on Friday, September 2nd.

I’ll be honest, I was a little nervous about how my students would react to my cochlear implants at first. Being silver and blue, they definitely stand out and are kind of hard to miss…something I’m proud of. I never wanted to hide my cochlear implants from the world and never tried to hide them on anything. However, I assumed most of my students had never seen cochlear implants, wouldn’t know what they were, and never been around a deaf individual. I felt kind of vulnerable on my first day of class. I wasn’t sure if my students would take me seriously if they knew I was deaf, but at the same time my deafness was something I was proud of and wanted to make known to my class.

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Here is a screenshot from my “First Day of Class” PowerPoint. I probably spent a little too much time talking about myself, but I was so nervous and they were so quiet!

While I did have a mini-lesson on rhetorical analysis for my first class, a majority of the first day was spent introducing myself to my class and going over the syllabus. I used this time to explain to my students about my deafness. It honestly felt kind of awkward. My students were SO QUIET on the first day. It felt a lot like “Bueller…Bueller…Bueller”. They just kind of starred blankly at me. I couldn’t get a feel for their reaction at all. Did they like me? Hate me? Find me and my deafness strange? I couldn’t tell at all. I felt strange talking about it though. I almost felt like I had to apologize for it like “Hey guys, sorry but you ended up with a graduate student who doesn’t really know what she’s doing right now and just so happens is also deaf.” I remember actually telling my students, “FYI…I CAN hear now so don’t think you can whisper and get away with because I will know!”I immediately regretted saying that…

My students probably forgot that I said that last statement immediately after I said it, but for some reason it really stuck with me. I felt like after I said it I HAD to hear my students and that asking them to repeat themselves would be like I was lying on contradicting myself and that it would cause my students to lose trust in me. Unfortunately, my students tend to mumble and speak softly on occasion, and this was especially true on the first day when all of my students were still really shy and fearful and not at all familiar with the college experience (they were freshman, after all). I found myself using coping strategies I used back when I was a camp counselor and couldn’t hear what kids were saying to me…I just smiled and said “Yeah” or something of that sort and moved on. Fortunately, this only happened once or twice on the first day.

As the semester went on my students and I quickly came to know each other and built up a strong sense of trust in each other. I would often tell my students they were like my children and I always meant that. I can’t begin to tell you what these kids meant to me. I wanted nothing more to see them succeed and nothing in the world was more heartbreaking to me than seeing a student who was not living up to their potential. By the third day of class I knew everyone’s names. By the 2nd full week I could give a little bit of biography or backstory on each of my students. I knew I was going to like teaching, but never expected to love it as much as I really did. I realized teaching was one of my biggest passions in life.

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As the semester progressed, I became so comfortable with my students and my deafness in the classroom that I even willingly shared this embarrassing photo with all of my students…

I became more comfortable with my deafness in the classroom as well as time went on. My students never questioned my cochlear implants or my deafness. They seemed intrigued by it, but they were very respectful of me and they didn’t seem to mind having a deaf professor at all. They were very accepting. I tried to use my deafness in my lesson plans wherever appropriate. For example, when introducing my students to the concept of Grit for their second project in which they had to join the conversation of Grit and connect it with their own personal lives, I shared my story of overcoming challenges as a deaf student prior to getting a cochlear implant. I explained how statistically most deaf children can’t read or write and how my initial elementary school tried to label me as being special needs even though I was very intelligent simply because I was deaf. I even shared with my students about how I challenged my senior seminar professor and filed a report against him for discrimination my last semester of undergrad. I used these experiences to show how I had grit – the passion and perseverance to overcome great challenges to succeed. This was one of my favorite lesson plans to teach. I don’t think I’ve ever seen my students more focused or attentive than they were that day. While my students didn’t question anything I told them about my personal story that day, it was clear that I had their full and undivided attention. They were hooked.

I want to use my deafness to inspire my students in my classroom. I want them to see that they can do anything they set their minds to, no matter how difficult it may seem. Whenever someone tells them they can’t do something, I want them to work twice as hard to prove that individual wrong.

I also want to teach my students to be loving and accepting of others and their differences. I want them to see my deafness not as a DIS-ability meaning “not abled”, but rather as meaning “differently abled”. I want them to realize that the deaf can do anything the hearing can do except hear. They can still succeed and have the same opportunities for success in life.

Lastly, as a professor I want to make sure I am giving my students every opportunity I can to see them succeed. I know what challenges I faced as a student not being able to hear in class (I didn’t get my cochlear implants until after I already graduated from undergrad). One way that I do this is by making sure I always air closed captioning on any video I play in class (I use videos when I teach a lot in class). I know it sounds like such a small gesture, but it can make a huge difference when it comes to learning. Remember, just because a student doesn’t come to you and tell you they have a hearing impairment doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Also, reading the captioning in addition to listening to the audio of videos can further help students to retain the information presented in the video and further enhance learning.

My first semester teaching Intensive College Composition I has definitely been a challenge, but it has been such a blessing. I had an amazing class of students who always kept me on my toes and I learned so much from each and every one of my students and I hope that they learned equally as much from me. I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to teach them, something that prior to receiving my cochlear implants I never thought would’ve been a possibility. I am so excited to teach again in the spring and to see what my next class has in store for me!


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Image Credits: Matti Frost 

Hey guys! Long time, no talk! I can’t believe I haven’t updated this blog since April! Huge apologies for that — I’ve just been so incredibly busy these past few months – mainly with starting my new jobs! Starting a new job with a cochlear implant can be quite a different experience from back when I started new jobs without the ability to hear. This post will explain why.

First off, a little bit of background information. I left my old job at WebiMax at the end of April. I worked there for about 2 years and 7 or 8 months, so really close to 3 years. When I first started working at WebiMax I did not have my cochlear implants yet, so I relied solely on e-mails and instant messages to communicate. After getting my cochlear implant I saw my roles at WebiMax grow and with my new ability to hear on the phone and to hear audio like in YouTube videos, my usual duties became much easier to perform and I was promoted to Assistant Marketing Manager and later Digital Marketing Manager – SMO. I can’t really discuss why I decided to leave my old job other than to say I knew it was time and I needed a change.

Applying for New Jobs With a Cochlear Implant

I started to apply for a new job quickly after recovering from surgery with my 2nd cochlear implant. I think I got really serious about it in January. When I last counted, I sent out over 100 job applications from January – May. So, my ability to hear combined with my skills and experience didn’t make this process any easier. However, when I did interview for positions, I felt that it always went much smoother and I was a lot less anxious than I was three years prior when I interviewed for jobs before getting my cochlear implant. I think I interviewed with about 3 or 4 companies in person and did 2 or 3 phone interviews (that never went further from that) with different companies. I very rarely had to ask anyone to repeat themselves in these interviews which I think helped me a lot. I think sometimes people would look at me weird for my cochlear implants, but they very rarely asked about them (probably because legally they were afraid they couldn’t). I felt like my phone interviews were clumsy since I still didn’t have strong phone skills yet. I always wanted to try to avoid them, but most people wanted a phone interview before bringing me in, so I just kind of had to deal with it. During my first in-person interview with Penn Medicine, whom I accepted a job offer from (more on that later), I opened up about my cochlear implants to the second interviewer and shared my story and how I was writing a book about it. That’s something I normally didn’t do at interviews, but it felt right since I was interviewing to work with a medical company. The interviewer was very intrigued by my story and this helped me to open up more not just about that experience, but all of my work experiences in general.

 

The first offer…

I accepted my first job offer in the beginning of April to work as an SEO Marketing Strategist. There was a few strange things about working here. First off, I almost didn’t go to the job interview. Becker’s is located in Pennsauken, an area I wasn’t too familiar with – so we got really lost when my dad drove me there and I was frustrated and running late to the interview. I was still waiting to hear from Penn as well,  but the job did sound good. The people were incredibly friendly and I loved their advertisements and the tone they used and the way the company was a family business. I initially had a phone interview with HR which went extremely well and then the in-person interview also went well. However, someone else they interviewed had a bit more experience and they decided to hire her instead of me…

But it didn’t work out with the girl they initially hired, and less than 2 weeks after being told I didn’t get the job, I was contacted again and made an offer which I accepted immediately.

Working for Becker’s was pretty good. The people who work there are all some of the nicest people I’ve ever met in my life. Although my time at Becker’s was short, I was able to do many different things. For the first week or two I watched a lot of training videos on Google Analytics and SEO which were provided to us by a marketing partner. These videos were extremely helpful and I didn’t have to worry at all about whether or not they had caption because I could hear them perfectly with no issues.

One thing I had a hard time getting used to or adjusting to was that they didn’t use instant messaging like WebiMax did…everyone had a phone and they  called each other if they needed something. My phone used to give me really bad anxiety. I was always afraid  my boss would try to call  me and I wouldn’t hear it and he’d think I was ignoring him and I’d get in trouble. Sometimes I’d hear one of my co-workers phones go off and think it was mine and try to answer my phone only to realize it wasn’t ever ringing. I had a hard time deciphering between my phone ringing and my co-worker’s phone ringing. Once I even had a panic attack and emailed my boss saying “Hey I’m not ignoring you if you call me and I don’t answer, I just have trouble hearing it”. He was always very understanding.

My co-worker/office mate and I had cubicles right across from each other with a giant wall in between, so sometimes she’d try to talk to me through the wall even though we couldn’t see each other. This was great because I could hear her with no problem – something I never could’ve done prior to getting a cochlear implant. However, sometimes she’d be talking to someone else or on the phone and I’d mess up and answer her because I thought she was talking to me. I had a hard time knowing who she was talking to or when someone was talking to me. When someone was on the phone near me with a client I would also struggle to focus on my work. I’d hear their whole conversation and focus on that instead. Sometimes I wanted to take my cochlears off so I wouldn’t be distracted, but I was afraid that would make me look rude or that I’d end up missing something important when someone did need to talk to me.

In the short couple of months that I worked at Becker’s I was able to join in many meetings with vendors which was always neat. I loved seeing the new products they had to offer us and the people were usually very nice. I also met with some designers and other partners. Once we even took them out to lunch with us. I never had to ask anyone to repeat themselves and I could always hear everything – even when we talked in the restaurant which was kind of dark.

I was much more relaxed working at Becker’s probably than I was working at any other job I’ve ever had. I didn’t have to focus so hard to hear what people were saying. I could perform my job and hear everything just like everyone else.

I left my job at Becker’s in July. It was a very difficult decision to make, but The job at Penn was more in line with my career goals and interests and paid more, plus it would work better with my school schedule when I went back for my MA and taught in the fall.

 

Transitioning to Penn Medicine

While it was hard for me to leave my job at Becker’s and a bit of a risk (it was a great job with great people and they had to fill the position ASAP, so if things didn’t work out, there would be no turning back), I knew in my heart that I was doing the right thing. SEO was a small part of what I do. The large part of what I do is writing and social media, which I didn’t have the opportunity to do at Becker’s, but it would be my main responsibilities at Penn.

After an offer was made which I gladly accepted after months of working out fine details and waiting, I had a lot of phone calls to make with many different people including my boss, human resources, and the people conducting my background check. Many of these phone calls took place in the car on my way home from working at Becker’s as I finished my  final two weeks. Despite the noise of the busy highways and traffic, I never struggled to hear anyone. This was a major accomplishment for me.

Before my first day on the job, I had to attend an all day orientation where there was probably 50 people or more in attendance. I had to do many group activities and ice breaker activities. In the past these would always be really difficult for me to participate in because I’d struggle to hear the person in charge of orientation and all of the people in the group. This was also taken place in a very large conference room where sometimes people speaking would be more than 50 feet away from me, but I could still hear every single word everyone said. It made it so I didn’t feel nervous or anxious at all.

I’ve now been at Penn for slightly more than 2 months and it has been a very fast paced but exciting journey. I know that I definitely made the right decision to leave Becker’s and take on this position. I am so happy where I’m at. I am still afraid of the phone, but it doesn’t matter too much. I’ve only had to use it for Sprinklr trainings and to call in for meetings, but that doesn’t happen too often. We usually just communicate through IM, e-mail, or in person.

I help out a lot with YouTube marketing. I watch the videos and update the titles and descriptions to be more SEO-friendly. I never have to worry about having someone else watch them for me and tell me what they’re about like I used to do when I worked as a social media marketer for WebiMax prior to getting my cochlear implants.

I am confident in my new role and feel really comfortable talking with my boss and my co-workers. I don’t get as anxious as I did at some jobs in the past. Sometimes I felt like my hearing held me back when I worked at WebiMax. Not holding me back career-wise, of course (I was promoted numerous times), but until I got my cochlear implant, I worked for over a year or 2 without being able to hear my co-workers and effectively communicate with them in-person which made me feel like I never knew what was going on and like I never got to know my co-workers too well or befriend them. When I finally did get my cochlear implants, it was like the friendship shipped have sailed – I mean they were people I’ve already know for a long time, just never got to really KNOW and it seemed like it was too late.

I get along really well with my new coworkers. I can be a very serious person and I’m a bit of a workaholic, but I have fun with them sometimes, too. Once in awhile I go out to lunch with one or more of them or go on a run for frozen yogurt or fruit smoothies or just Dunkin Donuts. It’s easier to make friends with them and to talk with them because I don’t have to ask them to repeat themselves a million in one times. I can pretty much always hear them and follow them.

I’ve also been enjoying working in Philly. There’s so many sounds that I am constantly exploring in this busy city. Everyday I’m made more aware of the wonderful gift the Lord has bestowed on me when he granted me my hearing. Commuting to and from work like I do now wouldn’t have been possible before. Every morning I have to buy my patco ticket, septa tokens, and listen to the overhead telling me where I’m at and when I’m at my stop. I order food from food trucks, nearby restaurants, and dunkin and never have any problems (septa being the exception…but my problems aren’t due to my hearing impairment, but that’s another story).

I think having my cochlears has definitely helped to open this door for me and aided in the success I’ve had so far. I’m excited to see where this takes me in the years to come.

What’s Next: Teaching.

Becker’s and now Penn are just the beginning.

Next stop? Teaching. This is so exciting for me. I’ve wanted to be a teacher since I was about 11 or 12 and worked for a summer camp, but I never thought it was a possibility. How could I possibly teach a class when I wouldn’t be able to hear my students and address their concerns and answer any of their questions? Even after receiving my cochlears, it didn’t seem possible. I couldn’t teach elementary school because that would mean going back to school to get teaching certification which would involve student teaching. Student teaching naturally takes place in the day, so I wouldn’t be able to keep my job and student teach. I couldn’t afford to give up my job. I also couldn’t become a professor and teach college level because I’d need to get an MA for that, something I couldn’t afford.

Or so I thought.

In March, I received an email from the Department of Writing Arts at Rowan about the TEP (Teaching Experience Program) available for select MA in Writing Students. Through this program I’d be able to teach as an adjunct professor (and get paid for it) while working towards my MA in Writing. My dream of becoming a teacher was suddenly a very real reality for me. I truly felt like God was calling me to do  this.

Long story short, I applied and was accepted.

I attended orientation for the TEP program a month ago for three days. It felt so good to be back on campus again. I got emotional walking past and listening to some of the sermons going on early in the morning before orientation began because it was the first time ever I could actually really hear them.

Orientation went very well and was so much fun. It was my first time ever being in class and being able to hear  both the professor and the students in the class. I felt so much more relaxed and less anxious. I got to know my classmates pretty well already and felt very comfortable and open, something I never felt before in the classroom.

I teach my first class on September 2nd and have classes later that week. I’m both excited and completely terrified to begin this next chapter in my life and to experience life as not just a student, but a graduate level student with bilateral cochlear implants.

Stay tuned in the upcoming weeks for a post on what it’s like to be a teacher and a student with cochlear implants!


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Image Credits: My Status 360

Hey guys! I’m back! I apologize for the lack of updates lately. I have been meaning to make this post for a couple of weeks but I’ve been crazy busy with writing my book, God Granted Me Hearing (which yes, is based on this blog and my cochlear implant experience!) :). Also, I haven’t had a whole lot of news lately. My 2nd cochlear implant has been progressing well. I saw Alyssa at Jefferson around a month ago and everything was good but she didn’t test me again so there’s no update on that end.

I do have something else to share with you all today though — what it’s like to get caught in the rain with a cochlear implant. I’ve written in the past about how getting caught in the rain was one of the things I was most looking forward to doing after getting my cochlear implant and I also wrote about what it was like to go swimming with a cochlear implant, but up until a few weeks ago, I never actually seriously got caught in the rain with a cochlear implant.

First let me say this was completely UNPLANNED. I live in Washington Township and I love to take walks. I knew that a thunder storm was on the horizon, but when I first headed out for the day the skies were still clear. It was one of the first days of spring so for once the weather was warm. I didn’t want to walk to the gym like I normally do because I thought it might be too far of a walk and I wasn’t sure if I’d make it back in time to avoid the storm. Instead I decided to take advantage of the fact that all of the basketball courts at the high school I live across were empty. I’ve always loved to play basketball but I don’t get the opportunity to play nearly as much as I’d like. So I grabbed my bag with a couple of bottles of water, my jump rope (don’t ask…), my basketball, and headed out.

I wore my aqua cases for this trip. I didn’t wear the aqua cases just because of the pending storm, but to protect against sweat as well. I made the mistake when I got my first cochlear implant of going to the gym without the aqua case and almost broke it from all of the sweat and moisture I got in it. Ever since that incident I’ve made a point to wear my aqua cases every time I go to the gym, work out, or even go for a walk or do anything that could produce a sweat. I’d rather be safe than sorry.

It took me awhile to cross the street that afternoon. Traffic was busy in Washington Township, as always. When I finally managed to cross the street and make it to the highs school I took out my jump rope and began using it. I’ve had my jump rope for over a year and never used it before. I heard it was good exercise which is precisely why I bought it, but I always shied away from using it fearing I’d look like an idiot, which I totally did, but it was okay because no one was around to laugh at me. I still didn’t have quite enough magnets in my headpiece on the cochlear for my right ear. I think the placement for that one is different than on my left which makes it not stick as well. When I used my jumprope it kept knocking my headpiece off until finally I gave up on it and took it off and put it in my bag.

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I only jumped rope for about 5 minutes or so before switching to basketball. I know it doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you haven’t done it for 20 years, jumping rope is really intense! Plus I noticed the clouds were beginning to look a bit heavy so I wanted to stop and make sure I got plenty of basketball time in before it rained on my parade. I put my cochlear back on for this. It works out better for me than the jump roping did, but it still kept coming off my head whenever I jumped so I ended up taking it off again and putting it in my bag.

I played basketball for about a half hour or so before the rain began. I think this was my first time playing basketball with my cochlear implants. I noticed I was much more relaxed. I didn’t have to worry as much about whether or not any cars were coming by the parking lot or if there were joggers running through or someone trying to talk to me. I was able to hear everything around me (and also there wasn’t many people around anyway). It was very peaceful and fun.

After about a half hour I felt a raindrop hit my head. “Okay, that’s my signal to pack it up”, I said to myself. Within seconds of saying that, I found myself in a torrential downpour. The rain came down at the speed of light. I ran to my bag to check my cochlear and put it back on my head and to check that my phone, which was in my bag, was still working. Everything seemed good. Then I grabbed my bag, my ball, and headed on home.

But I couldn’t simply go home; I had to walk back which meant walking through the torrential downpour and trying to cross the dreaded intersection again. It also meant having to pass a bank and drug store while sporting soaking wet clothes and hair and dribbling a basketball. That’s not something you see everyday…

IT. WAS. FUN. SOOOOO MUCH FUN.

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Image Credits: Daily Motion

This is something I could never do before with my hearing aids. My hearing aids would have broken in seconds and I would’ve been having a major panic/anxiety account over getting caught in a torrential downpour with them. And my mother would want to kill me for destroying my $3,000+ uninsured devices.

But with my aqua cases on, my cochlear implants were 100% waterproof. I had nothing at all to worry about.

I dribbled my ball through the rain until it began to fill with the water and become too heavy to bounce. Then I carried it. I watched the people flee the bank to their cars as if they were afraid the rain might make them melt. As I waited at the crosswalk by the drug store I noticed the people in their cars looked at me like I was some kind of a freak because I was standing at a crosswalk for a busy intersection with soaking wet hair and clothes, a basketball, and the biggest smile on my face.

I didn’t care about being wet. I didn’t care that my clothes felt like they weighed 1,000 pounds from the rain. I didn’t care about my basketball session being cut short. I didn’t care about the fact that I was getting pretty cold. I didn’t even care about the fact that my contacts were getting blurry from being drenched in rain.

I was ecstatic. I was having one of the best days of my life.

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When I got home I didn’t have to worry about anything being broken. I did take my cochlears off and put the aqua case parts and those specific batteries in the dryer just to be on the safe side, but I didn’t really have to. There was no panic attack. I didn’t have to take out the hair dryer to try to air them out and to get them to work or nothing at all.

I simply did what any normal person would do…I changed out of my wet clothes, got a hot bath and made a hot cup of coffee to warm up, and went on with my life.

You don’t realize how much these little things in life like getting caught in the rain can really mean to a person until they get to not just experience them, but ENJOY them without any kind of fear at all, for the first time ever. It’s surreal.

Getting caught in the rain with my cochlear implants may not have been everything I hoped it would be. Larry and I have been broken up for over 6 months now. There’s no one new in my life to give me that Notebook-style kiss in the rain. I didn’t even have anyone there to have a conversation with or to go puddle jumping with.

But you know what? It wasn’t what I wanted it to be because it was BETTER.

It was all my joy for the taking. It was all on me. It was all about me, having my moment. I didn’t need anyone else to be there for me. I just needed that rain and to be off in my own little world.

It was one of the best days of 2016 thus far.

I can’t wait to get caught in the rain again sometime soon.


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Image Credits: Darling Becky

A few weeks ago I went to a cochlear implant support group. I’ve had some mixed experiences with these support groups. After attending my first one, I vowed I’d never come back. However, I since changed my mind and even had some pretty good experiences since then like the time I went to the cochlear implant support group about hearing preservation (and met the incredibly attractive Dr. Pelosi…but that’s another story ;)).

Since they have been getting better, I decided to make an effort to go to them on a more regular basis. The topic for the January 7, 2016 meeting was on training your implanted ear (or in my case, ears). Med-El was sponsoring the meeting and presenting and discussing their new training cds and books. Since I was just recently implanted with  my second cochlear implant, I thought this would be a great meeting for me to attend.

I’ve always been a little skeptical of Med-EL to be completely honest. When it came to choosing a cochlear implant brand I narrowed my choices between Cochlear and Advanced Bionics. Med-EL was the only brand I was sure I DID NOT want because I felt they were too outdated. I always leaned more towards Advanced Bionics. Jefferson didn’t give me a choice so I was glad they chose Advanced Bionics for me, naturally, as it’s what I would’ve chosen anyway.

I had some faith in Med-El for this meeting though. I mean, aren’t all speech therapy training supplies essentially the same? How could you mess that up?

The presentation was given by a woman who worked for Med-El and who I believe was also a licensed audiologist at John Hopkins. She had one of her patients with her who was upgraded to a new processor and/or had a new mapping done that morning. They went through some words and she tried to demonstrate how the cochlear implant is a process and it’s not perfect, he might still mess up. It was a nice presentation, pretty accurate.

She also took some time to go over the new Med-El training book, cds, and online resources. She had a copy of the book. It was very expensive to buy (like $70) but said she’d leave a copy with the group and that we could make copies if we wanted, which my mom and I ultimately did. The book has been incredibly helpful/beneficial for us. That alone made going to this meeting worth it.

Towards the end of the meeting she went back to her earlier point on how cochlear implants help deaf individuals, but it’s not a miracle cure. We’re still deaf. She then used one single word to refer to us all that ruined her entire presentation for me:

Handicapped.

She told us we were all handicapped.

I was enraged. We are DEAF but DEAFinitely NOT Handicapped!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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I didn’t just let this go, either. I made sure to talk to her at the end of the presentation to let her know I didn’t like that she told us we were handicapped. She apologized and said she knew and that she was really referring to children with multiple disabilities like those who are deaf-blind, deaf and autistic, etc.

It was a nice try, but I didn’t buy it because there wasn’t a single kid there and 90% of the adults lost their hearing later in life. I’m pretty sure none of us had multiple disabilities…it was just her cover.

There are few things in life that infuriate me more than being referred to as being handicapped because I am far from being handicapped. Most of us deaf individuals are always labeled as being handicapped and for most of us that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Deaf individuals like myself face a lot of hardships and much discrimination. We have to fight on a daily basis to have our voices heard and to be viewed as being equal to our hearing counterparts. We get denied employment, entrance into public schools and universities, and most of society tries to exclude us on the grounds that we are “deaf and dumb”.

I am a lot of things in life. I am far from perfect. I have done dumb things in life, but I am not a dumb person and I am far from being handicapped. I have NEVER once allowed my hearing loss to get in the way of my success in life.

I’m really not that much different from a hearing person. I don’t know ASL. I used to lipread (I still do, but I don’t HAVE to anymore). I speak pretty clearly. While I did attend speech therapy as a kid, my speech has never been that bad to begin with. I went to public schools growing up (which my parents and I had to fight very hard for as the school thought I was handicapped when in reality I simply couldn’t hear…). I played on many sports teams and was involved in many clubs. I attended a public university and earned an associate’s degree and later two bachelor’s degrees. Now I am employed for a digital marketing agency as a manager. I have had this job for 2 and a half years. I speak on the phone on a regular basis for work. I have no interpreters or special accommodations. I am really no different from a hearing person.

Society is constantly trying to put a label on deaf individuals and make us feel like we are broken or flawed or not worthy of the same opportunities as hearing individuals. “Handicapped” is far from being an innocent mistake or simply “just a word” used to describe us; it’s become a nice way of telling us that we’re “not worthy”, “not normal”, or “not good enough”.

Deaf individuals fight the stigma and the misinformation and all of these stereotypes on a daily basis. It’s rarely an easy fight. And one thing we absolutely don’t need is audiologists and representatives from cochlear implant and/or hearing aid companies fighting against us and feeding into the stigmas and stereotypes.

These individuals should be fighting alongside of us. They should understand us more than anyone and want to work to show people how the deaf really aren’t that different than the hearing.

Also, as is the case for this woman from Med-El, if you’re trying to sell us cochlear implants,  you should speak in a way that gives us hope. Training your cochlear implant and your ear to hear is no easy task, as you’ve seen in my last blog post. It can be frustrating and discouraging. Labeling us as handicapped isn’t going to help matters at all, but it could make things worst. When you call us handicapped you remind us that we’re different, but if we have a cochlear implant it’s most likely because we want to hear and be like those that can hear, at least to an extent. Calling us handicapped can put a damper on all of that because you’re saying we’re different, we’re not able of doing something the hearing can do — we can’t hear. But the goal of the cochlear implant is to gives us what we don’t have that they do have — the ability to hear! Calling us handicapped is basically a nice way of telling us to not work hard and to just give up because we’ll never be like them anyway.

The idea that the deaf are handicapped is a lie. It’s a myth. It’s a diversion of the truth. It is not at all right.

To quote King Jordan, the former president of the famous deaf university, Gallaudet, “The Deaf  can do anything but hear.”

We’re deaf, yes, but DEAFinitely NOT handicapped.

Got that, Med-El? Good.