Category Archives: deaf culture

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I often times speak out against how frustrating it can be to have people see my cochlear implants and automatically assume that I sign. This is annoying but an easy mistake for people who are not familiar with the difference between lowercase d deaf and capital D Deaf to make. What is infuriating to me is when I tell people that I don’t sign and they don’t listen and insist on trying to sign to me anyway, such as what recently happened to me at Human Village.

I’m realizing more and more as I talk to different hearing adults that they just simply don’t understand why I don’t sign and how I can still communicate with others without sign language. People are especially confused by how I managed to get through school and to survive in a hearing world without sign language. I want to use this blog post to try to clear up some of the confusion.

Here are 5 reasons why I never learned sign language. As you read through my reasons I ask that you remember that I am and have always been mainstreamed. I am lowercase d deaf meaning that I have significant hearing loss but I live in a hearing world. I have never been a part of the capital D Deaf community. I support Deaf culture and sign language and the capital D Deaf community, but this is not my world. My experiences are unique to me just as someone else’s are unique to them. What worked for me isn’t right for everyone and vice versa.

1. It Wasn’t Practical.

I was first introduced to sign language when I was five and in the process of enrolling in kindergarten at Oakview Elementary School. My speech teacher, Mrs. Smeltz, offered to teach me sign language. My parents asked me if I wanted to learn it. They were very supportive of it but ultimately allowed me to make my own decision. I decided against it because it didn’t interest me, mainly because I didn’t know anyone that spoke sign language. It seemed to me at the time that learning it would be a waste of time and not worth the effort because I wouldn’t really have anyone to sign to. My parents would have had to learn sign language in order for me to sign with them and any friends or loved ones or honestly anyone I’d want to communicate with would need to learn how to sign in order to talk to me. It seemed much easier for me to learn how to communicate in spoken English and to learn strategies on how to exist in the hearing world than it was to have everyone I wanted to talk to learn sign language.

2. Nobody Cares About Sign Language (Except the Deaf Community).

If you are capital D Deaf, you care about sign language. It’s very, very, very important to you. Sign language is your world, and I get that and support it.

But I’m not capital D Deaf. I am lowercase d deaf living with hearing loss in a hearing world where most people don’t really care about sign language. Some people might choose to study it for fun or as a hobby, but a lot of people don’t really take it seriously.

Unfortunately, this can make learning it very difficult, especially if you try to learn it later in life like I did.

I tried to take ASL in college as an elective at Rowan University, but at the time I was enrolled in undergraduate studies (September 2010 – December 2012), it wasn’t an option. I remember asking about this before and they said they weren’t offering because they didn’t have the money/funding for it and there wasn’t an interest. This is no longer the case…ASL is seen as being almost trendy now and there are classes (which I’ll get into in a later point), but that was unfortunately not the case when I was an undergraduate student there. One of the biggest problems with how people view sign language is they see it as a hobby rather than as an actual language. This is a problem because people lose interest in hobbies and pass them off to the side to forget about when they get bored. Languages on the other hand are seen as essential communication skills needed to survive in the world. ASL sadly is not viewed in this light by people outside of the capital D Deaf community.

I to enroll in a non-credit course at Gloucester County Community College multiple times to learn ASL. It was always cancelled though due to low enrollment. They couldn’t get enough people to sign up for it as a non-credit class to make enough money to pay the instructor I guess. People will enroll in ASL if they can get college credit. It’s often seen as an “easy” and “fun” class to take for credit. But when people aren’t getting something out of it for themselves (they don’t see learning ASL as being important, especially since many of them don’t know anyone who is capital D Deaf…), they don’t see a point in learning it.

3. Learning Sign Language Was Too Expensive.

I know what you’re thinking.

“This isn’t true.”

“My best friend’s cousin’s dog sitter is fluent in sign language and could teach you for free…”

“There’s YouTube!”

“Blah blah blah insert random noise/nonsense here.”

Okay, first of all when the concept of sign language was first introduced to me back in/around 1995, there was no YouTube.

As stated in my previous point, I didn’t want to learn sign language as a kid and could you blame me? A five year old usually has better things to do or other interests…

As mentioned in my last point, the non-credit courses were constantly cancelled due to low enrollment. These did cost money and at one point my family and I shelled out a few hundred dollars so the whole family could learn it together, but it ended up being refunded to us all after the course was cancelled.

The non-credit courses were about all that I could afford. With Rowan not offering ASL courses for credit my other option would be to take the classes at a local community college for credit but it wouldn’t be covered by my financial aid/loan and I couldn’t afford to spend that kind of money on a class that wouldn’t even count towards my degree.

Another issue with learning sign language for free – while people definitely mean well, the people offering to teach it often are not fluent or experienced in sign language. They may know the basics and a few sentences here and there but not enough to really hold full conversations in sign language, which makes it not entirely practical. Those who are really fluent and certified to teach sign language typically want to be paid for their services so they teach the college classes which I already stated I couldn’t afford to take. This isn’t true for everyone of course, but it is true in a majority of cases.

4. Learning Sign Language Wasn’t Worth the Trouble.

For some unknown reason, learning sign language was designed to be the toughest subject I could ever study or learn. I have been working to teach myself German recently and it has been a much, much, much easier experience than learning sign language which is just ironic.

Here’s a list of some things I think are easier to learn for me than sign language:

  • Mandarin Chinese
  • Amish quilt-making
  • Homemade cheese
  • Calculus
  • Quantum Physics
  • Flying an airplane

I’m serious. This has been made to be impossible for me to learn.

Backing up a bit, remember how I said that Rowan University *did* in fact get an ASL course after I finished my undergraduate studies?

Well, I tried to enroll in it as an elective as a graduate student. I tried to make my case that this course would be perfect for my graduate research since my Master’s thesis was a memoir on my cochlear implant/deaf experiences. The writing department and professors such as Dr. Drew Kopp were so supportive of this and really tried to advocate on my behalf to make this happen.

But it always comes down to one person who has a little bit too much power and is the final decision maker…

I don’t know who that one person is, but if you’re that person and you’re reading this now – just know I’m glaring at you from my computer screen. Yep. Glaring. Mad hard glare.

So here’s the shortened version of what actually happened:

Since I was a graduate student, under Rowan University’s policies I was not permitted to receive graduate level credit for what was an undergraduate class. I would need to do something more to have the work qualify as graduate-level work.

Okay, that makes sense, right? No problem. I was planning to use this course for my research for my MA thesis anyway. I would take the course as a form of an independent study and keep a research journal and check in with Dr. Kopp who would be my adviser of the project. I just finished taking his Core II course where I had to keep a research journal as I conducted research for my MA thesis anyway. This would be essentially a continuation of the work we’ve already started together.

But that one person who I am glaring at through my computer right now said that wasn’t enough.

Instead I needed a detailed description of what exactly I’d be studying and using for my research. I needed to create a very, very, very detailed research proposal about how I’d be studying students. I needed to explain what I’d ask students, who would participate, how their data would be used, and so forth. It was so much more than what I had intended to do. I wanted to learn the language, not how students used their experiences or what they thought of the course or whatever, but if it got me into the classes, I was willing to comply.

But of course it wasn’t that easy. Nothing in life is ever that easy – I had to submit a research proposal to the IRB and have it approved.

It took me several weeks that summer to put together my application for the research proposal. There were so many parts and it needed to be as detailed and specific as possible. I also realized I would need to hire an intern to help me with my research along with a videographer to film students. I would also need permission from the students. There were so many different loopholes and approvals I would need. Dr. Kopp worked with me every step of the way to help me in writing down the steps and just what I would need. We didn’t submit the application until the last minute when we were confident we had covered all of our bases.

I think I worked harder and longer on that application that I did in most of my graduate level courses combined.

And yet, the application was STILL denied for many, many, many different reasons. The overall theme was that they needed more specific information and more approvals from people involved.

I was tired and getting burned out and the class wasn’t even approved yet, let alone started.

After having my application rejected I decided not to move forward and just accept that I wasn’t going to learn ASL that semester (or even study people who would learn it). I accepted my next point…

5. I Wasn’t Meant to Learn Sign Language.

God’s ways are better than mine. Every time I tried to learn sign language he put roadblocks in my path that prevented me from learning it. Sometimes this seemed extreme, as was the case with the hardships I faced trying to take the ASL course in grad school. He simply did not want me to learn it. I will never know exactly why he didn’t want me to learn it until I am face to face with him in heaven and have a chance to actually ask him, but I do have a few theories.

Have I had learned sign language, my life would be very different. I may not have been mainstreamed like I am today and I may not have accomplished all that I have. I know that these is controversial and this statement may infuriate anyone from the capital D Deaf community who may be reading this, but you can’t deny the fact that it’s true:

Not being able to interact in the hearing world will hold you back in society. Is it right? No, it’s not. But it is the truth. 

If I learned sign language from an early age and made it my dominate language and chose to become a part of capital D Deaf culture, I may not have been as prepared for the “real” world because my communication skills may not have been as good. I wouldn’t have had to rely on lipreading as much and I wouldn’t have learned ways to navigate the hearing world because I wouldn’t have had to. I probably wouldn’t have went to mainstream school, let alone college, and wouldn’t have had the same experiences and may not have had as many job opportunities.

I know it’s not right, but the world is designed to operate for people who can hear and while it’s discrimination, employers get away with it. Most employers don’t want to hire someone who can’t hear, especially if they need a lot of accommodations such as sign language interpreters. These things cost money and people don’t want to have to pay for it and if employers aren’t the ones responsible for paying for it (ex – if health insurance or disability services cover it…I admit I’m not entirely sure how this works) it still won’t change the fact that employers will view it as a hassle that they may not want to deal with. Meetings will take longer, phone calls may go on unanswered, and work days may be less productive. Again, I’m not at all saying I agree with this. It’s horrible and it should not be this way, but you can’t deny the fact that this is how the world operates and even anti-discrimination laws can’t change the way people think and feel – that’s something only God can change.

If you want to get ahead in life, you need to be able to sell yourself and adapt to the outside world, knowing that a majority of people exist in a hearing world. This is similar to how a majority of the world speaks English (and most of the US). If immigrants want to get ahead and make a future for themselves in America, it is very wise for them to learn the language. We can and should support them by trying to speak their native language or becoming familiar with it and offer translators, but at the same time it is easy for them (and perhaps more practical) to learn our language then having all of our people try to learn theirs.

Have I had learned sign language, I may not have ever gotten cochlear implants. I know that this isn’t the right path for everyone to take, but it was the right path for me. My cochlear implants have opened a whole new world of opportunity for me and greatly improved my quality of life. If I had sign language then getting cochlear implants wouldn’t have mattered or been a priority for me and I would’ve missed out on so many amazing experiences (not to mention sounds!)

And yes, I did try to learn sign language post-cochlear implants. I am not sure why God still doesn’t want me to learn it, but I even have my theories about that, too. I am still training my brain to hear sounds and I imagine I will for the rest of my life since there’s always something new to hear. My hearing is fantastic now and “almost” perfect, but it will never be natural. I will always need a minute to think about and process what I am hearing. I’m never going to “just hear” – my body is not capable of that. If I would’ve learned and became fluent in sign language I may not have had the need to work so hard at hearing the sounds and training my ears post-cochlear implants. Simply put, I may have gotten lazy with my training and rehab.

Sign language is important and should never go away. I understand the point oralists were trying to make way back when and I agree that being able to communicate in a hearing world without sign language will help the deaf to advance in society. However, sign language is a tool or a strategy that works better for some than for others. For some people they may be the son or daughter of Deaf parents born into the capital D Deaf culture where sign language makes the most sense for them to use. For others like myself, lipreading and cochlear implants are better tools to help prepare us for the hearing world we choose to live in.

There are some people who absolutely need sign language, but I am not one of those people and I shouldn’t be made to feel bad or wrong about my decisions. As a child I was able to get by in school and society through lipreading, sitting in the front of class, reading a lot of books and text to gather messages, and relying on others to lend me their ears when in need. As I got older, cochlear implants gave me nearly perfect hearing. In either case, I managed without sign language and I regret nothing. I was still able to live a happy and fulfilling life and never felt cut off from communication.

Everyone has their own communication preferences, especially those who are living with hearing loss. It is important to remember that no two people are exactly the same and just because some individuals with hearing loss sign, doesn’t mean that they all do and it’s perfectly fine if you choose to sign or not to sign. It’s a personal decision and you should never feel the need to apologize for the way you wish to be spoken to. People should respect your decision and if they don’t understand it, they should take the time to ask questions and educate themselves so that they can learn rather than judging, speaking for or on behalf of someone else, or flat out ignoring someone’s requests or communication preferences.

 

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The purpose for today’s blog is to answer some of the most commonly asked questions about deaf people. These five questions came from the most searched terms related to the keyword “deaf” according to SEMrush. Please note that I am answering based on my own personal experience as a lowercase deaf individual who has profound hearing loss but has never been a part of the Deaf community.

1. Can Deaf People Drive?

Yes, and I just ran over the last person that asked me that question.

But seriously, why wouldn’t a deaf person be able to drive? If you’re deaf-blind then okay I can definitely see why you wouldn’t be able to drive (no pun intended), but this question specifically calls out deaf people, not deaf-blind people. While being able to hear things like sirens would certainly be beneficial for driving, it’s not actually a requirement so long as you can see.

Did you know most deaf people actually have really strong perceptive vision? My boyfriend is always amazed by my ability to spot a car coming from miles away because I can always see the lights out of the corner of my eye. Since deaf people can’t hear, they rely on the eye sight to make up for it. What this means in terms of driving is that deaf people will always be alert and aware of their surroundings and they will be able to see the flashing sirens, even if they can’t hear them. Some may even argue that BECAUSE deaf people can’t hear they will actually be more careful and cautious drivers. That of course is up for debate. I’ll let you know the verdict on that one once I receive my license. 😉

2. What language do deaf people think in?

Seriously? This question is so dumb it makes my brain hurt.

Deaf people think in the same language(s) they speak in. This goes for all deaf people including those who are deaf with a lowercase d, those who are culturally Deaf and use sign language, and those who are non-verbal. Just because you’re deaf does not mean you lose your ability to think or that the way in which you think is any different from that of a hearing person.

Also, those who are non-verbal may still be able to understand spoken and written language and will still very much have a native language (or maybe even more than one). I think that one thing that most people get wrong about deaf people that are non-verbal is that they assume that because they are non-verbal they must be dumb. In actuality, most deaf people that are non-verbal choose not to speak with their voice because they can’t hear themselves speak and it’s a self-conscious thing or not something they feel comfortable with. Some of them may not have had speech therapy, so they may be aware of the fact that their pronunciations may seem strange to someone who is hearing which may make them feel uncomfortable. Others may have limited hearing and not like the sounds of their own voice. Whatever the case may be the important takeaway here is that even non-verbal deaf individuals can be highly intelligent and most often are.

Similarly, some people may be under the wrong impression that culturally Deaf individuals that are fluent in sign language must not be able to think in that language since sign language is a non-verbal language. This assumption is also false. I could be wrong, but I have a hard time imagining deaf people thinking in terms of signs. Rather, I think they think like you and me do in their own native languages.

It’s important to note here that sign language is not a universal language; there’s actually many variations of it. American Sign Language most closely resembles the French written language, but there’s also British Sign Language, South African Sign Language, Afghan Sign Language, and hundreds others even including Jamaican Sign Language! While not a verbal language, they still hold many of the same structures as verbal and written languages do including having verb tenses, parts of speech, subject-verb agreements, etc. When deaf people think I believe that they are thinking in terms of these sentence structures even if they aren’t actually hearing spoken language.

3. Can deaf people talk?

This kind of goes back to what I was saying in my last answer. Generally speaking, the answer is yes nearly all deaf people are CAPABLE of talking. However, some Deaf people may choose not to talk with their voices.

It’s important to note that many Deaf people, and even myself as a lowercase/non-culturally deaf individual hold the belief that you don’t need to use your voice or to speak to communicate. “Talk” means to say something verbally, but “communicate” means to simply share or exchange information, news or, ideas. There are many ways in which a person can communicate. Many Deaf people prefer to use sign language to communicate, but even that isn’t their only option. For me personally I prefer to communicate via social media, E-mail, text messages, and hand-written notes.

4. How do deaf people think?

With our brains, duh.

This bothers me though since so many people think that deaf is synonymous for dumb or learning disabled. Yes, some deaf people have other disabilities including learning disabilities or lower IQs, but as with all things in life, this doesn’t mean ALL deaf people have learning disabilities or low IQs.

In fact, there are many deaf people who are highly intelligent. Some of the smartest deaf people include:

  • Laurent Clerc – The first deaf teacher in America who founded the very first school for the deaf in North America. He was extremely influential in showing that not all deaf people are “deaf and dumb”
  • Thomas Gallaudet – a teacher whom Gallaudet University is named after; he co-founded it with Laurent Clerc
  • Heather Whitestone McCallum – The first, and quite possibly to this day only, deaf Miss America. She is an influential advocate for deaf rights and she also served on the United States’ National Council on Disability in the past.
  • Juliette Low – The founder of Girl Scouts in America
  • Rush Limbaugh – An American talk show host and Republican political commentator
  • Alexander Graham Bell – Inventor of the telephone
  • Vinton Cerf – the “Father of the Internet”
  • Thomas Edison – A famous inventor
  • Helen Keller – The first deaf-blind woman to earn a bachelor’s degree. One of the most famous women in US history.

Deaf people think in the same way that non-deaf people do. I know it may sound strange, but like I said earlier, you use your brain to think…not your ears.

5. How do deaf people date?

Girl meets boy.

Boy meets girl.

Girl likes boy.

Boy likes girl.

Girl asks boy out.

Boy asks girl out.

Girl and boy live happily ever after.

Boy and girl live happily ever after.

But no, seriously. Dating is dating is dating is dating. It really doesn’t matter if you’re deaf or hearing, it’s all the same.

With that being said, some deaf people only date other deaf people. This may be due to them having a lot in common with their hearing loss and being able to relate well to one another. Those who are capital D Deaf may choose to only date others who are either capital d Deaf or even lowercase d deaf because it fits in with their culture. These individuals use sign language as a primary language and likely attend a Deaf school and exist in Deaf world. They may have limited access to mainstream society, so this is probably what they are most comfortable with.

In my own personal experience I’ve only ever dated people who are hearing. It’s not that I am against dating another deaf or even Deaf person, it’s just that I never really met one that I was romantically interested in and now I have found my forever person who happens to be hearing. This is likely because I’ve always been mainstreamed and lived in the hearing world. I do not know any sign language and I am not a part of the Deaf with a capital D culture. Dating a hearing person comes naturally to me and is what I am comfortable with.

Just as non-hearing people have their preferences and likes and dislikes and turn ons/turn offs and deal breakers and makers, so do deaf people.

But when it comes down to actual dating, it’s pretty much the same. Deaf people still like to go out to eat, watch movies, go bowling, go golfing, go shopping, etc.

Some deaf people may prefer to go to places that are quieter so it’s easier for them to hear. Well-lite places may also be helpful so that they can see and read lips or see signs more clearly if they use sign language as a primary means of communication. But for the most part, deaf people are just looking to have a good time the same way hearing people are.

I hope my answers to the five most commonly asked questions on being deaf helped to shed light on what it’s really like to live without hearing. The most important thing I hope you take from today’s blog post is that the deaf can do anything the hearing can do except hear. We all want to be treated the same as a hearing person would be treated because we *are* the same. Our ears don’t work but we still have the same needs, desires, passions, interests, and lifestyles for the most part.


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Hey guys, so the name of this blog is Confessions of a Def Deaf Girl, right? Well, I have a confession for you all today:

I never went to my high school prom.

Overall, I have no regrets. I didn’t want to go to my prom back in high school because junior year none of my friends went and my senior year prom was being held in my former hometown that I wanted no parts of. I thought it was a waste of money to spend hundreds of dollars going back to the town I lived in for nearly a decade and didn’t enjoy, so I didn’t go.

I don’t care much about skipping my prom, but sometimes I do still wish I would’ve had a chance to get all dressed up and go dancing. Needless to say, when I saw that Human Village Brewery was hosting their first ever “beer prom” where attendees were strongly encouraged to dress up in prom attire, I jumped at the opportunity to go.

So I grabbed my prom date, Evan, and we both donned some of our formal attire (nothing too crazy – we were worried no one else would go through with it!) and headed to the brewery!

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Me with my amazing prom date and forever love, Evan. 

Human Village put on such a great event. They closed the brewery early that night to prepare for the prom (which took place during what is normally their after-hours/closing time). They went with a beach/nautical theme and decorated the walls with pool floats such as blow up dolphins, whales, beach lizards, beach balls, etc. The owners all got dressed up in prom attire as well. They offered the first round of drinks for free with the purchase of a ticket and also had free snacks such as Chick Fil A chicken nuggets (with their famous sauce!), Philly soft pretzels, a veggie tray, popular prom appetizers like cocktail hotdogs, and more.

decorations

Human Village did a great job decorating the place with a beach/nautical theme!

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Beer flights – because everything tastes good and decisions are hard.

Evan and I’s friend, Ian Goode’s band, The Collective Force, performed all night long minus about an hour where some crabby old person (or at least that’s what I assume) tried to call the cops on the event due to noise. They played some popular prom and beach themed songs along with popular radio hits that everyone recognized. At one point everyone at the prom even joined together to form a love train going all around the Brewery!

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The Collective Force Performs at Human Village’s first ever Beer Prom 6/01/2019

Evan and I danced to a handful of fast songs and just about all of the slow songs. We are always looking for opportunities to go slow dancing together, so we finally had our chance at the prom and he made waiting 29 years to go to prom worth it. He’ll always be prom king in my heart!

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Sharing a passionate kiss with my prom date and forever love. Fun fact: in addition to it being prom, it was also our 20 month anniversary!

Towards the end of the night, however, Evan left for about 10 minutes to use the bathroom and I waited at our table by myself. During this time two girls approached me and asked me to dance with them. I felt a little strange about it since I didn’t know them, but there was a family-feel to this event with everyone dancing with everyone all night long and I assumed they just didn’t want me to be by myself at the table so I joined them and kept thinking in the back of my head Evan, please hurry up and rescue me.” 

A few minutes in they asked me if I was deaf. I told them that I was. The rest of the conversation went like this:

Girl #1: *Points to Girl #2* We both study ASL at Camden County College.

Me: Oh, that’s cool. I don’t sign.

At this moment Evan finally came back from the bathroom and hugged me from behind, which naturally scared the crap out of me since I never saw him and the girls laughed and introduced themselves to him as well.

Shortly after Evan and I were reunited, the conversation with the two girls resumed.

Girl #2: So, like, you can’t hear any of this music playing, right?

Evan: She has cochlear implants.

Me: Yes, I can probably hear better than you can right now. I can hear everything. I have about 97% total hearing with my cochlear implants. I just can’t hear when I take them off.

Girl #1: Do you ever take them off when you don’t want to hear?

Me: Oh, yeah. All the time. Especially when reading. 

Girl #2: That sounds useful. I wish I could do that!

Me: Yeah, it definitely comes in useful. It helps me to focus and concentrate more on what I’m reading.

The conversation then died down with them a bit as Evan and I went our separate way and had our own conversation. It was getting towards the end of the night and things were wrapping up. We were saying our good byes to Ian and talking to the owners about some of our favorite craft beers and asking about what some of there upcoming releases would be.

As we were leaving the two girls said goodbye to us and then thanked me for talking to them about my experience with cochlear implants and being deaf.

There was just one problem…

They were signing to me. Instead of actually saying “Thank you” they signed it to me. Fortunately I knew what this sign meant, but I still couldn’t help but be annoyed since I literally just explained to them how I didn’t sign.

This is one of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to people wanting to know more about the deaf/Deaf communities – people who aren’t from either community (meaning they have no hearing loss or real experience with those who do). People take ASL and automatically think it gives them a right to enter these communities or they think they know everything about what it’s like to be deaf/Deaf. But they have no idea.

Not everyone with hearing loss is a part of the Deaf with a capital D community. Not everyone with hearing loss knows sign language. I for example know hardly any sign language at all. Signing to me is highly ineffective as I won’t know what you’re saying. My preferred method of communication is verbal or text. In this scenario I could hear the two girls perfectly fine. I never once had to ask them to repeat themselves and I explained to them very thoroughly and clearly that I could hear everything perfectly fine – conversations, music, etc.

What bothered me the most wasn’t at all the fact that they tried to sign to me, it was the fact that they didn’t listen to me. Half of the problems in the world I think stem from people not taking the time to truly listen to one another. This causes miscommunication, confusion, and disconnects in how we converse with one another.

For those of you who are reading this in hopes of gaining a better understand of what it’s like to be deaf/Deaf or hard of hearing…for those of you who want to learn communication strategies for how you can best talk to those who are deaf/Deaf/hard of hearing my advice to you is short, sweet, and simple:

LISTEN.

Don’t just assume that every deaf/Dead/hard of hearing person you know automatically knows and prefers to use ASL.

Don’t assume that they are all verbal.

Don’t assume that because someone has cochlear implants they can hear perfectly fine (this is true in my case, but not true for everyone).

Assume nothing.

Ask everything.

Most deaf/Deaf/hard of hearing people will be more than happy to explain their communication preferences to you and to have a conversation and to educate you on their world, but if you choose our communication preferences for us and assume you already know everything, you’ll miss out on these opportunities to really get to know us and engage with us (and you may be completely rejected by us anyway if we can’t effectively communicate with you).

There is nothing wrong with being hearing and wanting to talk to someone who cannot hear, but there is everything wrong with choosing for someone else how to communicate with them and not listening to their needs or preferences. We have our own unique voices and HATE being silenced, so give us a chance to use our voices and sit back and listen to us before you speak for us.

 

 


I’ve written in the past about how my cochlear implants have improved my career and what it was like to have a job interview with them, but I don’t think I ever really discussed what it’s like to work in a busy, noisy city with cochlear implants. I have been working for Penn Medicine for almost exactly three years now and it’s definitely a big change from the smaller offices I worked for in the past, especially since my office moved from 3600 Market Street to 3600 (we sure do like the number 3600, don’t we?) Civic Center Boulevard, which is much closer to the hospitals.

The first thing that comes to mind when I think about working in a busy city is this:

1. It’s Always Extremely LOUD!

One of the first things I ever “heard” with my cochlear implants was the sound of sirens coming from both police cars and ambulances. I was, after all, activated at Jefferson University Hospital which is located right outside of Center City and being a hospital has ambulances coming and going constantly. However, it took me awhile to really learn how to hear the sound of siren. At first my brain couldn’t recognize this sound because it was so high-pitched. When I heard it after being activated on day 1 my brain couldn’t process it at all and I didn’t even know it was a siren I was hearing.

Since receiving my first cochlear implant in 2014 (and the second a year later in 2015), I must have heard sirens a few hundred times. I live almost directly across the street from what was formerly known as Kennedy Memorial Hospital (which, ironically has since been brought out by Jefferson and is now known as such…) and my office is located right outside of several major hospitals — The Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania (CHOP), the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP), the Abramson Cancer Center (ACC), the Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine (PCAM), and I am sure I am missing a few. Needless to say, that results in A LOT of ambulances crossing my paths and a LOT of sirens.

Unfortunately, sirens have become one of my least favorite sounds to hear because they are SO LOUD. Prior to receiving cochlear implants, I never understood how or why people would cover their ears when the ambulances would come by. I know people would say it hurt their ears, but this never really made sense to me because it never seemed loud enough to me to do any damage. Back when I had hearing aids it was the equivalent of hearing from a straw. Even if I was standing directly next to an ambulance with its sirens on, I could only hear enough sound being produced by it to give me the impression that the ambulance was about 5 miles away or so. The sound didn’t both me at all.

Now that my cochlear implants have given me almost normal hearing, it’s a whole different story. I am very fortunate to have been blessed with so much hearing especially after living so many years of my life in silence. However, no matter how good my hearing may now be it doesn’t change the fact that it’s not natural hearing. Every time I hear something, my brain needs to stop to process it. I have noticed lately that the louder the sounds are, the more difficult it seems to be for my brain to process it. My brain simply feels overwhelmed by loud noises, especially sirens. In my last blog post about graduation I explained how hearing the confetti poppers physically hurt me. Sirens are no different. In fact, especially when they go directly past me, they may be even worse. This leads me to my next point:

2.     It Increases My Anxiety.

I’m fortunate to have the ability to work in one of the safest parts of Philadelphia, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still Philadelphia and I need to be alert and aware of my surroundings.

Growing up deaf, I learned to rely on my other senses more to make up for my deafness. This especially included my eyesight. While I don’t have 20/20 vision (I always have to wear either glasses or contacts), I still have good perception and can sense something coming from miles away and I am also very sensitive to light. However, Philadelphia is still a whole different ballgame.

I have quite the commute some days to work, depending on which office I am working at (I work at 3600 Civic Center Boulevard on some days and 3930 Chestnut on other days given my unique role). On the days when I have to work at 3600 Civic Center Boulevard, my anxiety is usually the highest because there is SO MUCH going on. Most professionals these days would describe my experience as being a sensory overload. I am not sure if I am comfortable defining it as such, but I will say this: it is stressful, overwhelming, and anxiety inducing.

My day starts with a car ride of 20-30 minutes depending on traffic to the train station which is no big deal. The first train station in Patco in NJ and I take that from Woodcrest to 8th and Market. Again, no big deal. Then I switch over to Septa and take that to 34th street. Sometimes on the way there I grab a Lucy which isn’t too bad, but if I can’t take a Lucy then I walk the 15-20 minutes to 3600 Civic Center Boulevard. I also take the walk back home rather than the Lucy.

This walk is where the stress comes in. People say that NJ drivers are bad, well they must have never seen a Philly driver because I promise you this:

The. Cars. Never. Stop.

It doesn’t matter if you have right of way or not. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the cross walk. It doesn’t matter if the sign with that white man lights up. It doesn’t matter if the light is red, green, or yellow.

The. Cars. Stop. For. Nobody.

So being alert is now crucial. Because you have at least four places to look for the cars, which as we established, never stop for anyone no matter what. You have to make sure you won’t get hit by a car. The cars are also super loud as everyone is always in a giant rush and everyone is always very angry and constantly beeping their horn. It is difficult to determine why they are beeping their horns. My anxiety usually convinces me it’s all my fault and they are beeping at me, which further drives up my anxiety and causes my heart to race at the thought that I am in the wrong.

On top of being alert and on the lookout for cars, you also need to pay attention to your surroundings and the people around you. Keep a close ear on your surroundings. Don’t look anyone in the eye. Don’t talk to anyone. Don’t do anything that could increase your chances of getting murdered, raped, robbed, or jumped. Just because it’s a good part of Philadelphia doesn’t change the fact that it’s still Philadelphia.

Oh, and the ambulances are also never going to stop because it’s University City AKA Hospital City and you work for the healthcare system so you should come to expect that.

So you have the cars beeping at you, the ambulance sirens, the people being people.

And did I mention the lights?

I already mentioned how the cars don’t pay mind to the lights, but it goes much deeper than that.

Trying to determine when to or not to cross the street has absolutely nothing to do with the lights. Because when you have what you think might be the right of the way, given that the light just changed for you, there may be a traffic cop directing you not to go or they may tell you to go when you’re not supposed to go under normal circumstances.

Even though I can hear now, I still rely on my eyes for safety and guidance more than my other senses and probably always will. Have so many things thrown at me to look at and not being able to receive a clear signal or message or direction from any of the various things in my sight of vision just further overwhelms me.

By the time I get through all of the traffic to and from work I often feel completely exhausted and defeated and ready to end my day even if it’s technically only just begun. This in a way is similar to my next point:

3. It’s Hard to Focus.

This one is a little more for the actual office environment. We’ve recently switched to more of an open-office environment since we moved from Market Street to Civic Center Boulevard. This has more people closer together, which unfortunately has created more noise.

One of the things I have been struggling with the most since getting my cochlear implants is filtering out background noise and being able to separate it from other sounds or ignore side conversations. I do have settings on my cochlear implants to filter background noise which is helpful, but doesn’t always work especially if someone is having a conversation right alongside of me (but not with me).

Now that I am able to hear my brain is trained to pick up on everything it hears and to process it as sound. I hear everything, but I don’t always want to or need to hear everything. Unfortunately, I am not always able to pick and choose what I do or don’t hear.

This can make it difficult to focus at times. It is hard to read and concentrate on what I am reading when I keep hearing other conversations or especially if people are on the phone. I will often take my magnets off so I can better focus and concentrate when reading. This is an overall effective solution, but it doesn’t work for everything.

For example, with my work in social media sometimes I need to watch videos to work on YouTube or video marketing strategies. Other times I may be the one on the phone and struggling to separate outside conversations/background noise with the conversation I am trying to hear. My brain has to work extra hard to focus in on what it’s supposed to be hearing and separating it from the other sounds, which naturally causes me to feel exhausted by the end of the day. This leads me to my fourth and final point:

4.  It Makes Me Appreciate Being deaf.

This one might be a little confusing for some people who see my cochlear implants as a “cure” for deafness.

News flash: there is no “cure” for deafness; merely tools to help us to hear or better manage our deafness.

My cochlear implants are an incredible tool that I am very blessed and fortunate to have. With them, I can hear. But that’s exactly it:

With cochlear implants I can hear.

With my cochlear implants I go back to being almost completely deaf again, and at the end of the day, I am very fortunate to have that ability.

Hearing is exhausting, especially after working in a busy, noisy city all day long. I look forward to being able to come home and take my cochlear implants off and not have to hear anything. This is my way to unplug and unwind and to give myself “deaf time” where my brain doesn’t have to continue to work to process sounds.

I also like to have the option between hearing and not hearing. I can take my magnets off at any time in the day to unplug and to not hear. This, as previously mentioned, is one strategy I use while at work to help me to better focus and concentrate, and is a strategy that many have told me they are envious of.

All in all, working in a busy, noisy city is challenging and exhausting, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. I am beyond blessed that I can do this now, because prior to getting cochlear implants I don’t think I would’ve been able to successfully navigate the city and the train systems and everything else I have become so dependent on. While it’s true that the constant noise causes me to be more anxious, not being able to hear and being conscious of my inability to hear would’ve been even worst for my anxiety.

God has given me these challenges for a reason – perhaps to keep my mind active and to help me to not become lazy with my hearing progress. For this I am grateful and determined to keep working through the challenges and to come out on top.

Or, at the very least, to make sure I don’t get hit by a car (That. Never. Stops!!!) in Philly….


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Image Credits: Vox on YouTube

Hey guys! Hope all of my East-coast friends are staying warm and dry in this crazy snow storm!

I don’t know if it’s the snow or what, but I received an incredible surge of inspiration and had a major Eureka moment in regards to the opening chapter of my memoir. I thought a better opening would be something more reflective in which I show what is going through my mind moments before I received my first cochlear implant tied in with flashbacks on my life before I was implanted and the time when I was first diagnosed with profound hearing loss (the yellow brick road chapter).

This needs A LOT of work still, obviously, but I’m pretty happy with the first 1,000 which are the new words that I added today. I am also in the process of interviewing my mom for more details with the original yellow brick road chapter. She said she’d need some time to think about many of the questions I had as she tries to remember, but I’m hoping to get some answers from her soon to better flesh out that chapter/add more details.

Regardless, I hope you enjoy the revised opening chapter. Feel free to leave a comment on this post letting me know what you think!

Entering Into a Technicolor World of Hearing

I’m lying in a hospital bed at Jefferson University hospital in Philadelphia. There is an IV inserted in my right arm and Mom is standing to my left. Dad, who has never been a fan of hospitals, is outside in the waiting room. Everything looks like your typical hospital setting except for two things:

  1. I am not sick or injured.
  2. I cannot stop smiling.

My journey begins now. Today I will receive my first cochlear implant, and if all goes well with the surgery and recovery, next month I will be activated and Lord-willing, hear, like a normal hearing person, for the first time in my life.

If this works, my black and white and sometimes sepia world will become technicolor and I will not just hear the sounds I’ve always heard, but I will be able to understand what those sounds are and hear them the way they are supposed to sound. Conversations will sound like actual conversations (without me needing to exhaust myself by practicing heavy lipreading). I’ll know when music is playing, and it will sound like actual music. I may even be able to hear what a flute sounds like. I’ll be able to go to the movies without having to awkwardly ask for a pair of caption glasses which A. The ticket salesman won’t understand, or B. won’t work anyway. After the movies, I may be able to go out to dinner with my friends or a date and order my own food without awkwardly staring at another person as if to say, “Please lend me your ears, I can’t hear a thing the waiter is saying.”

If this works, my world will forever change, hopefully for the better.

If this doesn’t work, I risk losing the approximately 7% total residual or natural hearing I have left in my left ear. This residual hearing is currently being amplified by hearing aids.

Amplify [am-pluh-fahy]. Verb. – Increase the volume of (sound).

Notice how it doesn’t say anything about clarity or being able to understand or comprehend what those sounds are. That’s what’s missing. Hearing aids amplify sound, but they don’t give me any clarity. My cochlear implant is supposed to fix that. But if it doesn’t work, I’ll lose my ability to even amplify sounds. I’ll be left with absolutely nothing in my left ear — silence.

I made a list of the things I want to do post-cochlear implant activation, should this work. It looks like this:

THINGS TO DO POST-COCHLEAR IMPLANT ACTIVATION

  1. Get caught in the rain.
  2. Experience church in a whole new way.
  3. Watch movies without captions.
  4. See a movie at the drive-in.
  5. Hear a flute, bell, violin, and any other instrument I couldn’t hear before.
  6. See an orchestra.
  7. See a play.
  8. See a ballet.
  9. Listen to Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” in its entirety.
  10. Talk on the phone.
  11. Order food out on my own (restaurant and takeout/Dunkin).
  12. See a concert (preferably Good Charlotte).
  13. Hear my cat meow.
  14. Listen to the radio.
  15. Hear a cricket chirp.

I didn’t even want to think about what my life would look like if the cochlear implant didn’t work. Would I be forced to learn ASL? Would I join the Deaf community? Could I manage to get by with the remaining, un-implanted ear? Thinking about what would happen if the cochlear implant worked was fun but thinking about the alternatives was terrifying.

I had faith and trust in God that the cochlear implant would work. I prayed constantly and attended church as much as three times in a single day. For the weeks leading up to this day I had both Gloucester County Community Church and Washington Baptist Church praying for and with me and even met with the deacons and deaconesses at both churches.

“God is going to give you an incredible gift. Now it’s your job to figure out how you can use it to serve the Lord,” the deaconess at whose name I cannot recall told me as I met with her in the chapel at GCCC.

I was so excited to begin my new life as a hearing person that as the date of my surgery came closer, sleep became more and more difficult. I’d stay up for 20 or more hours at a time, keeping myself busy by binge watching all 9 seasons of How I Met Your Mother and when I got bored of that, I’d clean everything in sight. I no longer had any concept of time.

“Do you really have to clean your toilet at 3 in the morning? I’m trying to sleep and all I can hear is your toilet flushing,” Mom complained.

“No more cleaning. I don’t wish to smell all of your chemicals first thing in the morning,” Dad pleaded.

Last night, I could hardly sleep at all. The Patriots played the late night 8:15pm game against the Colts.

“Don’t stay up too late, you have a big day tomorrow. You know the Patriots are going to win anyway,” Mom warned.

“Oh, let her stay up. She’s just going to sleep through the surgery anyway. Does it matter if she’s tired?” Dad said.

I stayed up for the whole game and then spent most of the rest of the night in bed, browsing Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram on my phone. By 5:30 AM, I was wide awake, dressed in my brand-new button down fleece pajamas (mom said there was no sense in wearing real clothes, I’d be better off being comfortable and I’d need to wear button downs to avoid pulling shirts over my head post-surgery anyway), and ready, a full two and a half hours before I was scheduled for surgery.

Now the day is finally here. Dr. Wilcox just came in to tell me everything would be okay and to instruct the anesthesia team to begin. I have a plastic mask on my face, covering my mouth and nose. I can hardly keep my eyes open anymore as I feel my body surrender itself to the anesthesia.

When I wake up, I’ll be a cyborg.

In another month, I’ll be activated, and I’ll finally be able to hear, Lord-willing.

If this works, I’ll be able to hear for the first time in my life, or at least, the first time since my mother discovered I was deaf at the mere age of two.

When I was two, Mom would call out my name, but I never responded. When she mentioned it to my pediatrician  during my next checkup, the pediatrician thought it was just a phase or a case of the “terrible twos”.

“No, I know my daughter. She can’t hear me,” Mom would argue.

When my mom clapped behind my back and I didn’t flinch, she knew something was wrong. Against my pediatrician’s advice, my mom took me to see Miss Terri, an audiologist at Cooper Hospital in Camden, New Jersey.

After performing a series of hearing test,  Miss Terri confirmed what we already knew: I had hearing loss. What we didn’t realize was how severe my hearing loss was. Miss Terri explained that my hearing loss was profound, meaning the only sounds I could hear were those that were at a volume of 90db or higher such as airplanes, helicopters, firetrucks, and possibly a lawn mower. Hearing aids were recommended to amplify these sounds, but my ability to hear and comprehend sounds, even when amplified, would always be a challenge.

***

 After being diagnosed with profound hearing loss, I made the journey to Camden once every two weeks for speech therapy lessons. Mom and I would drive from our small condo in Washington Township to the big city every other week. On our way in, we’d pass endless food and street vendors selling everything from hot dogs to pretzels and even random t-shirts. It amazed me how at 9 o’clock in the morning people would still be out selling lunch foods. Everyone always had a smile on their face and seemed happy to be working.

“Mom, I want to live here one day. I love the city,” I said on our way in for my appointment.

“That’s because you don’t understand what this city is really like. It’s not safe,” Mom explained. I’d understand it more when I got older and would see individuals hauled off by police for God knows why on more than one occasion. But as a child, it was a magical place with audiologists and speech therapists that thought the world of me and were helping me to hear and speak well.

Cooper Hospital had many departments and was easy to get lost in. Fortunately, they developed a system to help speech and audiology patients find their way around. By placing strips of yellow tape on the floor, patients could simply “follow the yellow brick road” to their appointment. Every time I had an appointment I knew to look down at the floor for that yellow tape and I’d sing along and skip to the tune of, “Follow, follow, follow follow follow the yellow brick road!”

Since speech and hearing worked so closely together, my appointments were run by both my audiologist, Miss Terri, and my speech therapist, Miss Vicki.

Miss Terri would always start my appointments by testing my hearing. She would lead me into a gray, audiology testing booth that was no more than 50 feet wide while my mom waited and watched outside in the hall. Miss Terri would then crookedly place a special pair of headphones over my ears and hook some wires up to my hearing aids and hand me a button.

“First we’re going to test the beeps. Push the button whenever you hear a beep. We’ll start with your left ear first before moving to the right,” Miss Terri explained.

I’d smile and nod and occasionally give a thumbs up to let her know I understood. I loved pressing that button. It felt like I was playing a video game where hitting the button was the equivalent of shooting the monsters and bad guys and freeing the victims. I never even noticed that the button didn’t get pushed half as often as it should have.

Once that portion of my hearing test was completed, I would be given a series of words that I’d have to say back.

“Say the word hot dog,” Miss Terri said.

“Hot dog,” I answered.

“Say the word baseball.”

“Baseball.”

“Say the word airplane.”

“Airplane.”

“Say the word ice cream.”

“Ice cream.”

“Terri, I’m sorry but I have to stop you,” mom interrupted.

Miss Terri and I both looked up. I was doing so well with the words, what could possibly be wrong?

“She’s not actually hearing you – she’s reading your lips,” said mom.

“I can fix that,” Terri said as she grabbed the sheet of paper with her word list.

“I’m going to cover my lips now. I want you to focus on what you hear, not on me.” Miss Terri said. I was nervous, but knew I had no choice but to try my best. I nodded in agreement.

“Say the word kite.’

“Height.”

“Say the word chair.”

“Stare.”

“Say the word sub.”

“The.”

“Say the word third.”

“The.”

“Say the word ran.”

“Than.”

I didn’t know what Miss Terri was saying, I could only guess, but I knew I was wrong.

When Miss Terri finished with the hearing test, it was on to either Miss Vicki for speech therapy where we would do different activities. One of my favorites involved using what I liked to refer to as the “magic mirror”. It was a long, oval-shaped mirror that rested in a tan wooden frame on wheels. There was nothing actually magical about it; it was just a regular mirror that I was allowed to draw on with magic markers, but I always loved this activity. I was never allowed to draw on the mirrors at home. I thought that this mirror was special since I could draw on it and the markers would wipe right off when I was done. As a two-year-old, the only logical explanation for how this could work was that it must have been magic.

Before I could draw on the mirror, Miss Vicki put me to work by having me practice my speech.

“Okay. Let’s practice our “Sh” and “Ch” sounds,” she’d say. “We’ll start wi“Sh!” I said. It was easy for me to think of the sound as a syllable, as if Miss Vicki was the teacher and I the student, getting yelled at for talking.

“Very good!” she said. “Now, I’m going to give you a word. Can you say “choose”?

“Shoes!” I said.

“No, not shoes like on your feet. Choose like when you choose something to eat,” she said.

“Shoes!” I said.

“No, look in the mirror. You want to move your tongue up a little bit and touch your teeth,” she said.

“Tooze,” I said.

“Try again. Remember, you only want to touch your teeth a little bit, not a lot.”

“Choose?” I said.

“Yes, that’s right! Very good! Want to take a break and draw on the magic mirror?” she asked.

I nodded yes and reached for the bucket of magic markers, choosing the pink one first, my favorite color. I drew a big heart on the mirror with several smaller hearts for arms, legs, and even eyes. My little heart person, my favorite thing to draw.

When I finished my masterpiece, Miss Vicki would continue with our lesson.

“Okay, Kimmy. We’re going to play a game now,” Vicki said.

“You’re going to take this ball and throw into the trashcan across the room. But as you throw the ball, I’m going to give you a word to say and I want you to imagine your voice going with that ball. As you throw the ball you’ll want your voice to get louder. Got it?” she said.

I nodded. I wasn’t sure if I really understood, but the idea of throwing a playing a game sounded like fun. The game sounded like basketball, a game I’ve always enjoyed watching my dad play.

“Okay. Your first word is suitcase,” she said.

“Suitcase,” I whispered as I threw the ball.

Vicki threw the ball back to me. “Try again,” She said. “Remember, Mr. Loud Mouth. Your voice travels with the ball.”

I took the ball back from her and paused as I remembered Mr. Loud Mouth. “SUIT CASE,” I said.

“Very nice! You got it!” she said.

Being a toddler with profound hearing loss was easy. Nobody asked any questions about my hearing loss or questioned anything that I did or didn’t do. My parents couldn’t have been more supportive and understanding of my hearing loss. My sister paid no mind to it. And my audiologist and speech therapists couldn’t help me enough. I was a toddler without a care in the world. The only thing that made me different from any other toddler in the world was the fact that I couldn’t hear. I was able to live my life in black and white or sometimes sepia. My world was full, but not always beautiful or complete. The older I got the more I realized that living as a deaf girl in a hearing world was a lot like living in a world without color.

 


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Image Credits: Pinterest 

SPOILER ALERT:

This post has nothing to do with drugs or anything you’d expect from Camden, so sorry to burst your bubble if that’s what you were looking for.

This post does still have a very special story about Camden though. I present to you, the newly revised (and most difficult chapter to write) of my novel, “Follow the Yellow Brick Road”.

Chapter 1: Follow the Yellow Brick Road

            Loss. It’s one word with a multitude of feelings attached to it including despair, emptiness, and hopelessness. For some people, loss means nothing. You can’t lose something if you’ve never had it to begin with, right?

That’s how hearing loss worked for me. My mother, on the other hand, can remember the exact moment when she discovered my hearing loss.

I was two years old and my mother would call out my name, but I never responded. The doctors thought it was just a phase or a case of the “terrible twos”.

“No, I know my daughter. She can’t hear me,” Mom would argue.

When my mom banged a handful of pots and pans together behind my back and I didn’t flinch, she knew something was wrong. Defying the doctors, my mom took me to see Miss Terri, an audiologist at Cooper Hospital in Camden, New Jersey.

After performing a series of hearing test, Miss Terri confirmed what we already knew: I had profound hearing loss.

The best way to treat it — or at the time, the only way to treat it — was with hearing aids. I needed them in both ears.

***

 After being diagnosed with profound hearing loss, I made the journey to Camden once every two weeks for speech therapy lessons. My mom and I would drive from our small condo in Washington Township to the big city every other week. On our way in, we’d pass endless food and street vendors selling everything from hot dogs to pretzels and even random t-shirts. It amazed me how at 9 o’clock in the morning people would still be out selling lunch foods. Everyone always had a smile on their face and seemed happy to be working.

“Mom, I want to live here one day. I love the city,” I said on our way in for my appointment.

“That’s because you don’t understand what this city is really like. It’s not safe.,” Mom explained. I’d understand it more when I got older and would see individuals hauled off by police for God knows why on more than one occasion. But as a child, it was a magical place with audiologists and speech therapists that thought the world of me and were helping me to hear and speak well.

Cooper Hospital had many departments and was easy to get lost in. Fortunately, they developed a system to help speech and audiology patients find their way around. By placing strips of yellow tape on the floor, patients could simply “follow the yellow brick road” to their appointment. Every time I had an appointment I knew to look down at the floor for that yellow tape and I’d sing along and skip to the tune of, “Follow, follow, follow follow follow the yellow brick road!”

Since speech and hearing worked so closely together, my appointments were run by both my audiologist, Miss Terri, and my speech therapist, Miss Vicki.

Miss Terri would always start my appointments by testing my hearing. She would lead me into a gray, audiology testing booth that was no more than 50 feet wide while my mom waited and watched outside in the hall. Miss Terri would then crookedly place a special pair of headphones over my ears and hook some wires up to my hearing aids and hand me a button.

“First we’re going to test the beeps. Push the button whenever you hear a beep. We’ll start with your left ear first before moving to the right,” Miss Terri explained.

I’d smile and nod and occasionally give a thumbs up to let her know I understood. I loved pressing that button. It felt like I was playing a video game where hitting the button was the equivalent of shooting the monsters and bad guys and freeing the victims. I never even noticed that the button didn’t get pushed half as often as it should have.

Once that portion of my hearing test was completed, I would be given a series of words that I’d have to say back.

“Say the word hot dog,” Miss Terri said.

“Hot dog,” I answered.

“Say the word baseball.”

“Baseball.”

“Say the word airplane.”

“Airplane.”

“Say the word ice cream.”

“Ice cream.”

“Terri, I’m sorry but I have to stop you,” my mom interrupted.

Miss Terri and I both looked up. I was doing so well with the words, what could possibly be wrong?

“She’s not actually hearing you – she’s reading your lips,” my mom said.

“I can fix that,” Terri said as she grabbed the sheet of paper with her word list.

“I’m going to cover my lips now. I want you to focus on what you hear, not on me.” Miss Terri said. I was nervous, but knew I had no choice but to try my best. I nodded in agreement.

“Say the word kite.’

“Height.”

“Say the word chair.”

“Stare.”

“Say the word sub.”

“The.”

“Say the word third.”

“The.”

“Say the word ran.”

“Than.”

I didn’t know what Miss Terri was saying, I could only guess, but I knew I was wrong. Thanks a lot, Mom. I thought.

When Miss Terri finished with the hearing test, it was on to either Miss Vicki for speech therapy where we would do different activities. One of my favorites involved using what I liked to refer to as the “magic mirror”. It was a long, oval-shaped mirror that rested in a tan wooden frame on wheels.

“Ready to use the magic mirror?” Miss Vicki asked.

“Yes!” I would exclaim.

“Okay. Let’s practice our “Sh” and “Ch” sounds,” they’d say. “We’ll start with ‘sh’ first.”

“Sh!” I said. It was easy for me to think of the sound as a syllable, as if Miss Vicki was the teacher and I the student, getting yelled at for talking.

“Very good!” she said. “Now, I’m going to give you a word. Can you say “choose”?

“Shoes!” I said.

“No, not shoes like on your feet. Choose like when you choose something to eat,” she said.

“Shoes!” I said.

“No, look in the mirror. You want to move your tongue up a little bit and touch your teeth,” she said.

“Tooze,” I said.

“Try again. Remember, you only want to touch your teeth a little bit, not a lot.”

“Choose?” I said.

“Yes, that’s right! Very good! Want to take a break and draw on the magic mirror?” she asked.

I nodded yes and reached for the bucket of magic markers, choosing the pink one first, my favorite color. I drew a big heart on the mirror with several smaller hearts for arms, legs, and even eyes. My little heart person, my favorite thing to draw.

When I finished my masterpiece, Miss Vicki would continue with our lesson.

“Okay, Kimmy. We’re going to play a game now,” Vicki said. I didn’t have the heart to tell her I hated being called “Kimmy”.

“You’re going to take this ball and throw into the trashcan across the room. But as you throw the ball, I’m going to give you a word to say and I want you to imagine your voice going with that ball. As you throw the ball you’ll want your voice to get louder. Got it?” she said.

I nodded. I wasn’t sure if I really understood, but the idea of throwing a playing a game sounded like fun. The game sounded like basketball, a game I’ve always enjoyed watching my dad play.

“Okay. Your first word is suitcase,” she said.

“suit case,” I whispered as I threw the ball.

Vicki threw the ball back to me. “Try again,” She said.“Remember, Mr. Loud Mouth. Your voice travels with the ball.”

I took the ball back from her and paused as I remembered Mr. Loud Mouth. “SUIT CASE,” I said.

“Very nice! You got it!” she said.

Being a toddler with profound hearing loss was easy. Nobody asked any questions about my hearing loss or questioned anything that I did or didn’t do. My parents couldn’t have been more supportive and understanding of my hearing loss. My sister paid no mind to it. And my audiologist and speech therapists couldn’t help me enough. I was a toddler without a care in the world. The only thing that made me different from any other toddler in the world was the fact that I couldn’t hear. As far as I could see, I was one in the same with the rest of the hearing world. Unfortunately, as I’d learn in my grade school years, not everyone saw things that way.

 

 

 

 


 

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…