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…”
“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
- 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.
Hey guys! Long time, no blog! I have been a little bit more active on my other blog, KimErskine.WordPress.com lately. Feel free to check that out if you get a chance. It has a lot of book reviews if you’re into that kind of thing!
There is one big thing that has happened since I last blogged on here…
I graduated with a Master’s in Writing degree from Rowan University! I technically graduated in December of 2018, but since Rowan only does commencements in the spring I had to wait until this coming semester for commencement. I technically could’ve walked last spring, but it didn’t feel right to me to walk when I still had two more courses to come back and take in the fall, so I waited.
Attending graduation ceremonies with cochlear implants was a very different experience then my graduations prior with just hearing aids, which is what I’ll be focusing on in this blog today.
My commencement ceremonies at Rowan University took place on Saturday, May 11, 2019 and Wednesday, May 15, 2019. The first ceremony was an all-college University ceremony that included literally everyone – all majors, undergraduates, graduates, etc. This was naturally a huge and informal ceremony that took place on the University’s football field. The ceremony on Wednesday was for my department – the College of Communications and Creative Arts – and was the more formal ceremony where my name was called to receive my degree.
The first ceremony was a bit of a disaster. Since I was graduating with my Master’s degree, I wanted to look a bit nicer and get more dressed up than I did for my Bachelor’s degree. This resulted in me making a special appointment to see my hairdresser to get my hair curled before commencement, buying a few new dresses, and a new pair of shoes.
My favorite store to shop at is Burlington. I always get great deals on name brand clothing there and I am kind of obsessed with buying shoes. They have never let me down before, but I guess there’s a first time for everything, right?
I should’ve known better when I saw the label name was Chinese Laundry, but the shoes were cute and actually comfortable which is a rarity for dress shoes, so I shelled out $25 and bought them.
This was my first mistake.
Upon arriving in D-lot at Rowan University I quickly discovered I was not in the right area. I walked all around by the parking lots and football field asking for directions on where to go. Most of the people were a bit less than helpful and said something along the lines of “Somewhere by the engineering building – Masters’ are in the front” or simply “I don’t know”. With so many people around, this took awhile to find.
My shoes unfortunately did not make it for the full journey.
I was walking pretty fast because I wanted to get where I needed to be before everyone started walking in. Right as I just about found the right spot I tumbled down onto the ground, scraping my knee and dropping everything in my hands in the most ungraceful way imaginable.
When I fell, my right cochlear implant processor flew off and my left one on my dominate ear was bumped so the magnet came off. I couldn’t hear and was trying not to panic over losing my cochlears. Fortunately, I was able to find them both rather quickly and to put them on. A girl I never saw before came running to my rescue as several other strangers stared at the scene I was creating. The girl offered me a hair tie for help. Confused, I thanked her and said I was fine.
Then I tried to stand up, only to realize the strap on my shoe was broken. The girl was offering me her hair tie in an attempt to try to “fix” my broken shoe by creating some kind of a band with it. It probably wouldn’t have worked anyway, but was still a nice gesture. Hey, she tried, right?
Embarrassed, I tried to keep my cool and tell myself I could just rip it off and wear my shoes as strap less sandals, no big deal.
But when I looked down I noticed that strap also was broken. The entire shoe has fallen apart in every way imaginable and was completely unwearable.
My mom who went with my dad and boyfriend to find their seats sent me a text to make sure I found where I needed to go. The text read, “Are you okay?”
“No. My shoes broke.” I wrote back as I tried to hold back tears.
Not long after I was reunited with my parents and boyfriend. Mom offered to take me home, saying I didn’t have to go through with the ceremony. It would be starting in just a few minutes so going home and getting a new pair of shoes was not an option. “No, I have to do this. I can’t miss my graduation,” I said.
Then my mom looked down at her feet and took her shoes off. “If you can fit in these they are yours,” she said. She was about two sizes smaller than me so I wasn’t sure if would work, but I was desperate.
Fortunately, I was able to get the shoes on. They were very tight, but better than no shoes. My mom attended the rest of my graduation ceremony barefoot and I think this is the moment I truly realized what a mother’s love was.
I would like to say the rest of the University ceremony was smooth sailing, but that would be a lie.
I was worried about how I was going to wear my cap with my cochlear implants. Hats don’t usually work for me because they knock my cochlears off. I tested it prior to the ceremony and found that I could place the magnets over top of the cap and it would stay in place.
However, as my shoes proved – just because something worked at home didn’t mean it was still going to work at commencement.
My right cochlear was fine but my left one would not stay in place. I spent a majority of the commencement ceremony fidgeting and trying to fix it. Another challenge I had is that I had a ton of bobby pins in my hair to keep my cap in place. Naturally, bobby pins are made of metal which tends to get stuck to the magnet. Even when I had my cochlear positioned correctly it would often still give me trouble by sticking to the bobby pins and limiting my ability to hear.
There were multiple times throughout the ceremony where we were asked to rise then sit down, rise and sit down. At one point our commencement speaker, Shaun T (AKA the guy who created Insanity) asked us to do a bunch of these like dance movements. On a normal day in normal circumstances this would be no big deal. However, the chairs at commencement were so tightly packed together that you literally couldn’t move without touching someone. The people on my sides kept accidentally bumping into me and even the slightest touch caused my cochlear to fall off or get bumped out of place.
By the end of the ceremony I was so annoyed by constantly adjusting my cochlear that I decided to just completely take it off and use my non-dominate right ear to get by.
This solved all problems with the main ceremony then, right?
The main University ceremony ended with a literal bang as confetti was shot at the students from the stage. Confetti is fun and festive, so no big deal right? Wrong again. The problem with the confetti is that it was REALLY LOUD. Think confetti party poppers…it was like that. Since I was graduating with a Master’s degree I sat in the very first row closest to the stage. When the confetti shot out it scared the crap out of me but also physically hurt me.
The thing with cochlear implants is that while it took me from about 0% – 93% total hearing, it is still not natural hearing and it never will be. The way I use sound involves a lot of brain power as my brain needs to process what it is hearing before I hear it. This is why after a loud and noisy day working in the city I often come home so exhausted. The confetti was so incredibly loud and unexpected that my brain struggled to process it and it physically hurt me.
I really wish the University could have some how warned us about the confetti and how loud it would be ahead of time. The way the stage was designed you couldn’t tell there was confetti inside of it ready to be shot out. Had I have known ahead of time I could’ve prepared for it by taking both of my cochlear implant processors off so I wouldn’t hear it and be affected by it.
The University ceremony was a bit of a hot mess and a disaster. I was certainly glad for it to end and to have a drink afterwards. Lord knows I needed it!
The one good thing about all of my troubles with the main University ceremony is that it prepared me for and made me even more excited for my college ceremony that took place a few days later. This one went MUCH more smoothly. I chose to wear my fancy baby pink silver glitter converse sneakers and I packed an extra pair of Converse in the car just in case. I have had dozens of pairs of Converse over the years and they have never failed me. This time fortunately was no different.
The volunteers this time around were generally much more helpful and happier to be there which made me all the more excited and helped me to find where I needed to go more quickly. Given all of the trouble I had with the first ceremony, I decided to redesign my cap for the second one to say “Not today, Satan!”. Many people commented on how much they loved that and asked to take pictures.
My graduating friends were all present for this ceremony as well, so it was a lot more fun and I wasn’t alone. We all had fun catching up and taking pictures with each other prior to the start of the ceremony.
Since I had so much trouble with my cap with the first ceremony, I changed the position and placed my magnets inside of the cap rather than outside of it. My cap fit snuggly and was secured with bobby pins that were away from the magnets. This secured everything in place. I never once had to readjust my cochlears during the ceremony. I was able to just enjoy the ceremony.
I enjoyed Trymaine Lee’s speech far more than Shaun T’s. This could just be because he didn’t make me move and I related more to him being a journalist. Also, the fact that I wasn’t fidgeting with my cochlear implant the entire time certainly helped.
I have no memory of previous graduation speakers. I remember that Steven Sweeney spoke at my last graduation. I remember finding most of my previous graduation ceremonies to be boring because I couldn’t hear them.
Trymaine spoke about his experiences as a journalist and how growing up he was taught to always believe that he was somebody – something he instilled in the minds of the graduates as he had them complete the phrase, “I AM Somebody!” As a deaf individual, growing up and even to this day I was often told that I wouldn’t amount to anything. I always had the support of my parents of course, but my classmates would say things like “You’ll be lucky to be a 7-11 worker.” I never forgot these words and have dedicated my life to proving these individuals wrong and I think that is largely why Trymaine’s speech resonated so much with me.
This ceremony went smoothly all around including at the end. I was prepared for confetti this time around, but very happy that there was none (my ears/brain says “Thank YOU!”, Rowan).
After the ceremony I had the challenge of finding my family and boyfriend in the crowd of people. I actually called my mom to try to find her – something I never could’ve done in the past since I couldn’t hear on the phone!
While my combined graduations had their downs and then ups, it’s an experience I wouldn’t change for the world. I don’t think I would have ever went back to school to get my MA in Writing had it not been for my cochlear implants and I know I couldn’t have succeeded and managed to graduate with a 4.0 if it weren’t for them. God opened my ears to hear and in doing so, he opened many doors to my future, too.
Next step……………………………………………………………………………………………….to be determined.
Hey guys! I’m sorry it took me so long to update this blog. I’ve had a few ideas and have been meaning to post for awhile, but what can I say…life happens.
I spent most of my summer working only one job and not focusing on writing (I probably should’ve focused on it at least a little bit, but I really needed that break!). I wanted to spend as much time with Evan as possible before I had to go back to school. As a result, we grew closer and our love for each other is stronger than ever. He’s such a gem. There’s definitely a few stories about our adventures together in the works – so stay tuned!
What I want to talk about today though is my current cochlear implant book project and the genre I am writing in. As you guys all know I have been working on a memoir about my cochlear implant experience. Writing a memoir has been a no-brainer for me and strongly encouraged by my professors, mentors, and peers. Memoirs are reflective pieces of non-fiction that draw largely on a person’s memories which is exactly what I have been doing with this project – discussing my life before cochlear implants and the memories I have with hearing loss, talking about how my life has and is still changing since being implanted, and reflecting on what it all means.
But am I limited to writing just a memoir, or do I still have other options? That is the question I find myself asking now and I believe the answer may be “No.”
This semester as I finish up the last two classes I need to earn my MA in Writing, I will be working on a special project in my Creative Non-fiction class. I had my first class on Tuesday night where I met with my Professor Joe “Sam” Starkins. I was honest with him and talked to him after class explaining how I already finished my Master’s project (which confused the heck out of him and well honestly it confuses the heck out of the entire department, from what I’ve been hearing) but still want to work on my project since it remains largely unfinished. I explained how it was a memoir about my cochlear implant experience and asked if it would be okay if I continued to work on it and to revise it.
To my surprise, while Professor Starkins did not necessarily say no, he also didn’t exactly say yes. He explained how the class was a workshop and as a workshop would work better if I presented an entirely new project.
“Can I write a book of devotions? I do have an idea for that. I know it’s a kind of weird idea but it’s something I’d really like to explore,” I said.
Surprisingly, he said yes and actually seemed kind of excited about the project.
So, here I am. Initially my idea for the book of devotions was to write using all bible verses that focus on hearing the word of God and listening to what God has to say. Verses like Isaiah 35:5 and Romans 10:17 came to mind.
I took my first stab at the idea of writing a book of devotions when I revised my in-class exercise. The exercise was simply to write a scene in class for 15 minutes without stopping. My memoir came to mind first (I didn’t know at this point in class that I would be discouraged from working on that project) so I had to think back to what parts of my memoir I didn’t already have written and/or what needed the most work. The scene where I met Sherry in Miracle Ear came to mind first, probably because I have been thinking about it a lot lately as it happened almost exactly four years ago to date.
To revise, I had to condense a lot of the scene and focus on only the most important parts and then expand it to at least 500 words. This scene in particular I don’t think quite fit in to the idea I had of focusing the book on verses that relate to hearing God’s word and listening to what he has to say, but it did fit in nicely with trusting the Lord, so I pulled from Proverbs 3:5-6 (my life verse) as the main verse and also referred to Psalm 27:14 and Jeremiah 29:11 for reference.
Whether or not I stick with my initial plan of writing a book of devotions about hearing the word of God and listening to what he says or if this becomes an entirely different book of devotions focused more on hearing loss and my cochlear implant process is to be determined, but I’m super excited about this project and proud of what I’ve done so far. I’d like to share it with all of you, so please see the very first devotion posted below.
I welcome your feedback and critique, but at the same time please keep in mind this is my first time dabbling with this genre. I have read many books of devotions but am still learning what the form/style is (side note – if anyone can recommend a craft book on writing devotions I’m definitely in need of suggestions!) So please read, enjoy, and leave a comment letting me know what you think!
Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all thy heart and lean not onto thy own understanding. In all of your ways acknowledge him and he will make straight thy paths.”
“Is there anything else I can help you with today?” Sherry asked as she handed me back my left hearing aid. She had finished cleaning both of my hearing aids and changing the plastic tubing on them. I placed the old, yellowed ear mold inside of my ear and swung the processor around my ear. I smiled, happy to finally be able to hear some sounds, even if it was limited and even if I didn’t always know exactly what those sounds were.
I looked up at Sherry who was sitting on the other side of the table in her office chair so that I could read her lips and make out what she was asking me. “No. I’m good,” I said.
“Actually, if you don’t mind there’s something I’d like to ask your opinion on,” Mom said. I looked at her, puzzled. Every month or so I visited Miracle Ear to have the plastic tubes changed on my hearing aid since they would get moisture in them and harden and shrink, making it difficult to hear. While this was my first time meeting Sherry and attending the Turnersville Miracle Ear location, the appointment itself was nothing out of the ordinary, just the same tried and true routine.
“Sure,” Sherry said.
“We’ve been saving up for these new super powered hearing aids. Kim has been seeing Mindy at the Cherry Hill location and she says they’re supposed to be great. But back when she was seeing Greg at Deptford he said the same thing about the ones she has now and to be honest I never thought they were that great. What’s your opinion on them? They’re very expensive and I guess I’m just wondering, are they worth the money? Will they really help her?”
I let out a sigh and rolled my eyes, hoping my mom didn’t notice my natural reaction. Dad asked Mindy all about the hearing aids at my last appointment and Mindy told us about them and even let me try on the model they had on hand. I felt like I already knew everything there was to know about these hearing aids. They were not only the best option for me at the time, but my only option. Or so, I thought.
I looked back at Sherry as she inhaled deeply and held her breath for awhile before slowly exhaling.
“You don’t have to say a word, your expression says it all,” Mom said.
“I don’t mean to say the hearing aids aren’t good.” Sherry explained, “But what Kim really needs is clarity which no hearing aid, no matter how good, will ever be able to give her.”
“Okay, so then what do we do?” Mom asked as I listened, unsure of what to expect.
“Have you ever considered getting a cochlear implant?” Sherry asked.
Mom and I both looked at each other before saying no and explaining how we were previously led to believe that cochlear implants were a dangerous form of brain surgery that would likely not work anyway.
“Oh no, not at all. You guys need to go home and do your homework then let me know what you think,” Sherry said.
That night Mom and I began our cochlear implant research process. I turned to social media to look for real cochlear implant recipients and what their experiences were while Mom looked for more academic sources and articles. Together we shared notes and our thoughts. We didn’t know what would happen, but we knew that if we put our faith and trust in the Lord he would walk with us and show us the right path to take.
Psalm 27:14; Jeremiah 29:11
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:
- I am not sick or injured.
- 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
- Get caught in the rain.
- Experience church in a whole new way.
- Watch movies without captions.
- See a movie at the drive-in.
- Hear a flute, bell, violin, and any other instrument I couldn’t hear before.
- See an orchestra.
- See a play.
- See a ballet.
- Listen to Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” in its entirety.
- Talk on the phone.
- Order food out on my own (restaurant and takeout/Dunkin).
- See a concert (preferably Good Charlotte).
- Hear my cat meow.
- Listen to the radio.
- 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.”
“Say the word airplane.”
“Say the word 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.’
“Say the word chair.”
“Say the word sub.”
“Say the word third.”
“Say the word ran.”
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.
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.