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! 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.
Hey guys! It’s been awhile. Thanks to being sick with a really weird ear infection (the inner corner of my ear is blistered/inflamed…) I’ve been home bound with a lot of free time this week, so I figured I’d give you all an update.
My MA project is…going. It’s crazy how soon symposium is coming up. I feel so not ready for that, but it’s a month and a half away whether I’m ready or not. It’s definitely crunch time and that means making some hard decisions, too. Among the hardest of decisions was the decision to fire my original second reader. I’d rather not go into details about that decision other than to say it simply wasn’t working for me and I needed more. Fortunately, Professor Block assigned me Katie Budris as a new second reader and everything’s been going much better ever since then, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.
My main focus has been on my travel chapters lately. Travel is something that was difficult if not impossible pre-cochlear implants, but since getting implants I’ve been to Disney, Nashville, Chicago, Langhorne, and will very likely be traveling to St. Louis in May. Travel has definitely become very important to me since getting my implants so I really wanted to highlight that in my memoir. However, it’s been a challenge to figure out the best way to approach this topic. I initially only had one chapter on Nashville, but it felt really out of place. Then I tried to write two chapters on Disney…one before cochlear implants and one after cochlear implants. That felt redundant and Professor Block didn’t think I needed the post-cochlear implant Disney chapter at all since he felt it didn’t really add anything to the story.
In my most recent revision which is below for your reading pleasure, I combined both Disney chapters together and re-wrote 90% of the Nashville chapter and combined that in here as well.
Please note this is very much still a rough draft. Some things I want to work on with my next few drafts include my shift in time periods/tenses and transitions between pre-post cochlear implant stories.
As always, I hope you enjoy reading my story and I welcome your feedback!
Traveling Through the Sound Waves of Life
I didn’t sleep at all the night before my high school senior trip to Disney World because I was too excited. I never really been anywhere without my parents before, unless you count sleeping over my Aunt Christ and Uncle Don’s house in Riverside when I was a child (which I don’t). Sure, I wouldn’t really be alone, but just the idea of being away from my parent’s control and in a new city and even taking a flight was cause enough for excitement. Plus, I never been to Florida before.
I never quite understood why so many people hated flying or were afraid of it. I never been on a plane before, but the idea of being up thousands of miles high above the sky thrilled me. I was a little nervous about going through airport security. After all, this was post 9/11 and I heard horror stories on how crazy airport security could be, but even that I was able to brush off as not being a very big deal.
Woodbury High School always did a fantastic job with working with me and my hearing loss. Everyone always knew to speak loudly and to let me see them, so I could read their lips. My mom also instructed me to make sure I always stayed with someone at all times, so they could be my ears, she meant.
“Everyone get out your ID and have them in your hand along with your plane tickets. Everyone must have both in their hands to go through the luggage check. I should not see anyone struggling to find either item and holding up the line at the luggage check,” Mr. Shivers commanded.
I grabbed out both items from my wallet as instructed and clenched them in my fist and allowed my eyes to gaze back and forth between our three main chaperones: Mr. Shivers, Mrs. DiRenzio, and Mr. Cannulli. I kept my eyes fixated on the three of them, fearing that if I so much as blinked I’d miss important instructions which would cause me to miss my flight and the trip at whole.
“Okay, everyone make sure you have your IDs and plane tickets ready and follow me!” Mrs. DiRenzio instructed in a much more pleasant tone than Mr. Shivers.
I followed her behind the rest of my classmates as instructed. I examined each student in front of me as they displayed their IDs to the luggage check attendants along with their plane tickets. I watched them as they lifted their luggage up on a scale, tagged it, and then placed it on the conveyor belt.
Okay. Display ID, place luggage on scale, tag it, and place on the conveyor belt. I got this, I told myself.
Getting through the luggage check was easy enough. I figured that the rest of the airport would be just as easy. Maybe this isn’t as bad as everyone makes it out to be after all, I thought.
I looked for Mrs. DiRenzio in the sea of faces and followed her along with the rest of my classmates as she helped to lead everyone upstairs to the security line. I watched as the people in front of me held out their IDs and plane tickets. I watched as people took off their shoes, belts, and jewelry. I found it strange that people had to remove their shoes. It seemed impossible to me that anyone could hide a bomb in such a small place, but apparently, it’s already happened before.
“EVERYONE TAKE OFF YOUR SHOES AND KEEP YOUR ID AND PLANE TICKET IN YOUR HANDS. REMOVE BELTS AND JEWELRY. DON’T HOLD UP THE LINE. KEEP MOVING,” Mr. Shivers yelled to the crowd of students. I’ve been concentrating so much on Mrs. DiRenzio that I didn’t even notice that he was already upstairs. Mr. Cannuli must be the only one left downstairs, I thought.
I already had my ID and plane ticket in my hand along with my carry-on strapped to my back. I didn’t have on a belt or any jewelry, so I assumed I was safe as far as metal items were concerned. I untied my shoes and took them off and carried them in my hands and moved forward in line, waiting for my turn.
As the line moved closer to the security check point, I could see the people in front of me grabbing bins to place their shoes and belongings in. As soon as the bins were within reach I grabbed one to place my shoes, cell phone, and, carry on in.
Nice and easy. I’m almost done. This isn’t bad at all, I thought.
I was wrong. Very very very wrong.
Once I walked through the body scanner, the alarm sounded. Metal.
Except, I couldn’t hear the metal detector go off. It made a high-pitched beeping sound that was out of the range of my hearing capabilities.
“I need you to stand over here,” the security guard said as she pointed away from the line.
“Wait — what’s happening?” I said as I felt my face get hot. All of my classmates and everyone else still in line was staring at me.
“Point out your items,” she said. Except I couldn’t hear her. Puh. Items.”
“What? I’m sorry, I can’t hear you,” I explained.
“Puh,” she repeated.
“I’m sorry I’m hearing impaired,” I said.
Mrs. Direnzio came to my rescue to see what was going on. I was about ready to burst into tears. What was that woman saying? Why was everyone staring at me as if I was some sort of a criminal?
“Kim, do you have on a belt, any jewelry, or anything metal?” she asked. She pointed to her waist and her wrist as make-shift signs, so I’d be able to understand what she meant.
“No, I don’t have anything on,” I said.
I saw her ask the security guard a question that I can only assume was something along the lines of, “What do you need her to do?”
The security guard relayed a message back to Mrs. DiRenzio and she repeated it to me. “Kim, she needs you to point out your things. Which items on the conveyor belt are yours?”
“Okay, is that everything?” she asked.
“Kim, you set off the metal detector, but don’t worry it’s okay. It happens. You’re not in trouble. They just need to do a pat down and move their wand over your body,” she explained.
I nodded. I didn’t hear all of what she said, but it looked like she was signaling that they had to search me for something. Did they think I had a weapon? I was scared.
The female security guard explained to me that she would be patting down my entire body including my breasts, buttocks, and in between my legs. She asked me if I understood, so I nodded. I’m not entirely sure what is going on, but I just want to go to Disney, I thought.
The next thing I knew the woman was groping every inch of my body. She did exactly what she told me she was going to do, but it still felt so wrong. I felt as if she was violating me, even though I knew in the back of my head she was only doing her job. My classmates stood by and watched. I was humiliated.
After she finished patting me down, she ran a hand scanner over my body again. It was still going off, but I could not hear it. I watched as the lights flashed on the scanner. Something was wrong.
She ran it through again, this time more slowly. She stopped when she reached my head.
“Are you wearing any earrings or jewelry?” she asked.
“No,” I said.
“She has hearing aids, could that be it?” Mrs. DiRenzio asked.
“Possibly,” the security guard said.
“Do your hearing aids contain any metal? Mrs. DiRenzio asked.
“Nnnn-ot really. But they take batteries which have metal.” I said, my voice trembling in fear.
“Can you take those off for me?” the security guard asked.
I nodded and pulled both hearing aids out of my ears. I looked at Mrs. DiRenzio for approval.
“You can sit them down here for a minute,” she said as she pointed to a small counter.
I placed my hearing aids on the counter and then spread out my legs and arms as instructed. The security guard once again waved her hand scanner across my body. Except this time, it never flashed or set off any alarms.
“That must be it. Okay you’re good to go,” she said.
Mrs. DiRenzio lead me to where my items were and I put my shoes back on and gathered my things. I apologized to my classmates for the delay.
“Don’t worry about it,” Mrs. DiRenzio said. “Are you okay?”
I nodded, although I still wanted to cry out of humiliation. This has been the worst experience of my life.
“Don’t worry. You’ll be in Disney soon. The worst is over!” she said.
I smiled. She’s right. Soon I’ll be in Disney, the most magical place on Earth, I thought.
But it turns out, the trouble was only just beginning.
I tried my best to just stay with my group and my roommate Sam. I figured so long as I followed them I’d be fine.
This philosophy worked well at first. We went exploring in Magic Kingdom and took a bunch of photos at Cinderella’s castle together. We also enjoyed the spinning tea cups, Space Mountain, and Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin. It was an estimated 100 degrees in Florida that day, so the parks weren’t at all crowded and the lines were short except for the more popular attractions like Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, but even that wasn’t too long of a wait.
When my group decided that they wanted to go on the Dumbo the Flying Elephant ride, I decided to pass. I’ve never been much a fan of rides that spin like that, probably due to my fear of heights, so I decided to wait for them. Besides, I spotted a souvenir stand that was selling unique black and white baseball hats featuring Walt Disney with Mickey Mouse. I thought it would make the perfect gift to bring back home to my dad.
I walked up to the stand and took a closer look at the baseball hats and made a purchase. Then I began to walk back to the Dumbo the Flying Elephant ride in search of my group. I figured the ride should be over by that point.
I looked all around, but I didn’t recognize any of the faces. I walked around and around and around the ride, but I had no luck.
Why didn’t they wait for me? They were supposed to wait for me. I thought.
I grabbed out my phone to check the time. It was nearing 12:30 and we were supposed to meet back at the gate for check in by 1. Well, I better get going back anyway. I thought before making my way back.
There was just one major problem:
I couldn’t remember my way back.
Was I supposed to move forward? Go backwards? Left? Right? I had no idea. I remembered seeing the different characters carved out of bushes and shrubs by the entrance. If I could find them again, I’d be in the right area. I looked around me…nope, no shrubs or bushes or characters in sight.
I decided to just go back. Going back rather than forward sounded right. After all, it would be going backwards from where we came, right?
I walked and I walked and I walked. My feet were achy and blistered and I was soaked in sweat and beginning to dehydrate. The 100 degree Florida weather and the hot Florida sun rays were really beginning to take their toll on me, but I needed to get back to the entrance for check in, so I kept walking.
I looked down at my phone again. It was now 1:03. I was already late. Time to ask for help.
I stopped at a souvenir stand, similar to the one that sold the Mickey Mouse hats that got me into this whole mess and I asked the man, “Excuse me. Excuse me sir, can you tell me how I can get back to the main gate?”
The man was not American; I’d guess and say he was either Mexican or Indian and he spoke broken English. That mixed with my deafness meant that I couldn’t understand a word he said. Still, I thanked him for his time and pretended I knew exactly where to go.
I kept walking until I found another souvenir stand to ask for help, but it was just the same experience all over again. Finally, I pulled out my cellphone and called my mom’s work. I didn’t know how she would help being that I was in Florida and she was back home in New Jersey, but I also knew that she was Mom and Mom could do anything.
Before she even said, “Hi” she asked me, “What’s wrong?”
I began to sob. I told her how I was lost and I was missing check in but only because I couldn’t find the gate and how I got lost because my group didn’t wait for me after riding Dumbo the Flying Elephant. I cried about how I was afraid I’d get in trouble and not be allowed out tomorrow or worse – that I’d be sent home for missing check in. I was so scared, and I just let all of my emotions pour out.
“Relax. Ask someone for help,” she said.
“I tried and I can’t hear them,” I cried.
“Kim I’m in NJ. I can’t help you. Where are you at now?” she asked.
“I don’t know. By a stand or something,” I said.
“Okay the doctor is going to look up a map of Magic Kingdom on his work computer and try to help you. We will call you back. Stay where you are.” She said.
A few minutes later I received another phone call from my mom’s boss, Dr. Roth, but I could not hear him.
“Hello? I said. Are you there?” I can’t hear you.
I heard my mom in the background; they must have put the phone on speaker.
“Kim, Dr. Roth is on the phone. He’s trying to help you.”
“Hi Kim, I want you to go.”
“Wait? What? I can’t hear you,” I said.
“I’m sorry, what?”
“Kim, just go.”
I began to cry again. I was so scared. I couldn’t hear a word that anyone was saying, and I was lost in not only a new place, but a whole new state. I felt completely helpless.
I hung up the phone and kept walking, in what felt like circles. I passed Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin for what felt like the hundredth time along with the spinning swings. I lost count of the number of helpless souvenir stands I passed. Why was it that the more I walked, the further away I felt? Still, I kept trying, hoping that even if I didn’t make it to the gate, I’d find someone I recognized that could take me there.
After approximately another twenty minutes, my wish came true and I found Mrs. DiRenzio.
“What happened?” she asked.
“My group wanted to go on a ride and I didn’t want to go on it, so I was waiting for them and as I was waiting I stopped by a souvenir shop and when I came back they were gone and I kept trying to get back, but I couldn’t find my way. I am so so so sorry. I know I missed check in, but I’ve been trying to get back since around 12:30.”
“It’s okay. You’re not in any trouble. Just try to do a better job of staying with and communicating with your group next time,” she said. I nodded to let her know I understood.
When we finally arrived back to the gate I apologized to my classmates for keeping them waiting. Then we took our class photo in front of the bushes that were carved into Mickey and Minnie and the sign welcoming us to Disney before receiving information on our next steps such as when and where to meet up for the next check in and when the buses would arrive to take us back at the hotel. I couldn’t hear anything, so I just nodded and made a mental note to ask someone in my group later, or to just follow everyone else. I knew one thing for certain was that I wouldn’t leave anyone ever again. If they went on a ride, so would I. If they went to a shop, so would I. If they went to the bathroom, even if I didn’t have to go, so would I. I wasn’t going to risk getting lost again.
It’s April 11, 2017. It has been over two years since my first cochlear implant, and one since going bilateral. I am sitting at a table making small talk with Kerry Flynn, the Business Editor at Mashable, while sipping away at a bottle of Coors Light and eating an assortment of southern food in the beautiful and historic Bell Tower located in the heart of Nashville. Our conversation feels forced and she is looking at me weird for asking her whether she knows my old high school classmate, Natalie DiBlasio. I regret asking her this question immediately after it slips from my lips. Of course she doesn’t know Natalie. Natalie’s never worked for Mashable…she works for Wired; Mashable’s top competitor, I think. Still, despite my nerves and awkwardness I am stoked to be talking to someone who works for Mashable, and I even have a photo of us together to bring back home to all of the people who would never believe that this night actually happened.
Kerry isn’t the only important person I’ve met tonight. I also chugged shots of Tennessee whiskey with Leah Schultz, the Social Media Manager at Papa Johns along with Scott Plocharcyk, Director of Business Development and Micah Donahue, Leads Brand Engagement Strategy both at Mechanica. Out of all of the people I’ve met at this conference so far, Leah has been my favorite. She only looks at the most a few years older than me, but she is insanely smart. The key takeaway I’ve gotten from her presentations on social listening has been to HAVE FUN on social media and to not worry so much about politics. Penn could sure learn a thing or two from her, I thought.
Scott and Micah are both very nice to me and seem to be following me everywhere, but I can’t tell how sincere they are. Do they actually like me for who I am, or do they like me because I work for Penn Medicine? I only like Kerry because she works at Mashable, but that’s obvious by our forced conversation. The conversation with Scott and Micah flows naturally, but I can’t help but feel this is only because A. They want me to tell my boss about Mechanica so they can earn a new client, or B. They are fascinated in my cochlear implants because they’ve never seen them before. I decide that it doesn’t matter either way; the fact that I am able to talk to business professionals, let alone drink whiskey with them, in a crowded bar with a cover band playing Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” is pretty amazing in and of itself.
I don’t remember much about what Leah, Scott, Micah, and I talked about that night other than our jobs and responsibilities and my cochlear implants. I blame all of the alcohol on my foggy memory, after all, I’m pretty sure there wasn’t a moment throughout the entire conference when I didn’t have either a beer, glass of champagne, or shot of whiskey in hand (I’m not sure if the purpose of the conference was to teach us about an unenterprised approach to social media marketing or what type of alcohol was the best to drink in Nashville…to this day the topic is still open to debate), but I do remember how proud I was to be holding conversations and networking with so many top business executives and to not have to say “What?” or “I’m sorry, can you repeat yourself?” every .02 seconds. I was proud to be doing this all on my own, without my mother holding my hand or the need to look at a co-worker or manager for approval. As each glass of alcohol ran through my veins I felt myself loosening up more and more and I finally felt free – free to be whoever I wanted to be in a brand new city filled with new people. Free to hear the music that constantly played throughout the capital of country music. Free to be a deaf girl in a hearing world, and free in my knowledge that my deafness no longer mattered one iota.
Originally, Mom and Dad were both hesitant to allow me to go on this trip.
“I think Mom should go with you. She can help you with the airport and everything and keep you safe. I don’t know anything about Nashville, but I heard that Memphis could be a little rough. I don’t think it’s a good idea to go by yourself,” Dad said.
“I’ll be fine,” I said. “I’ll be with a lot of other people – it’s a big conference. Besides, Penn will only pay for my own airfare and Mom can’t get into the conference…what will she do when I’m working?”
“I’ll hang out in the hotel. I’m sure they have a pool or something,” Mom replied.
“You’re going to spend over $1,000 to hang out alone in a hotel and use the pool?” I asked. The entire thing sounded completely ridiculous.
“I’m fine with it. This way I can help you out. I know how much you hate the airport. Remember Disney?” she asked.
“Yeah, but I’m going to have to figure this out for myself at some point. People at Penn travel all the time. You can’t always come with me,” I said.
“What about your schooling? Will they be okay with you skipping class and cancelling your classes?” my mom asked.
That’s when it hit me: I could use my schooling to my advantage. My parents knew that it had been a challenging semester for me as I began the research process for my MA project. I have been reading, analyzing, and examining everything in sight and growing more and more frustrated from it all in the process. I worked constantly and rarely ever slept anymore. I even ended up accidentally overdosing on caffeine two weeks into the semester. It made sense that they’d worry about me missing this class, but I knew exactly how to get around it.
“Actually, this will count as research for my MA project, so Dr. Kopp is fine with me missing class and Dr. Maxson and Dr. Courtney don’t mind. They know I’m not screwing off, that I have a legitimate reason for missing class and cancelling my students’ classes. It’s all for my MA project,” I lied.
“What? How?” my mom asked.
“We’re allowed to use experiences for our research, so I want to write what it’s like to travel alone with cochlear implants and to fly alone and all of that,” I said.
“But it’s not your first trip with your cochlears. You flew to Disney with Larry right after you were implanted. Isn’t that the same thing?” Dad asked.
“No because I had him there to help me and that’s when I only had one cochlear. Now I have two and I’ve never done anything completely by myself before,” I explained.
“Okay. I still think I should go with you, but I understand why you want to do this. But we’ll see.
“I’ll be fine.” I said, “Besides, Penn only pays for my flight anyway.”
“We have the money. That’s not a problem,” mom said. “I could help you, but I understand why you want to do this.”
“I’ll be fine,” I said. The truth was I was a little bit nervous flying on my own for the first time, but I knew I had to do this for myself just to prove I could do it, if for no other reason. The idea of flying alone to a whole new place also thrilled me. It would be a completely new experience where I could become anyone I wanted to be without the fear of what my friends, family, or anyone else would think. I didn’t even have any co-workers traveling with me, so even work wasn’t much of an issue.
As I partied with the fellow business executives and conference attendees at the Bell Tower that night, I couldn’t help but feel proud. I was proud for finally branching out on my own. Proud for finally doing things without my parents or colleagues around dictating my every move. Proud for making it through not one, but two airports on my own without even being on the verge of an emotional breakdown. Proud for my newfound ability to wander around the 526-square mile town of Nashville on my own without getting lost even once. Proud of my ability to make small talk even in noisy environments and to be able to follow and hear every word.
While I may have felt proud, I also knew better than to allow all of my pride to get to my head. There was another word floating around my mind that triumphed any ounce of pride I may have felt. That word was Blessed.
I was blessed to be having this experience right now, that was due in no small part to my newfound gift of hearing. I knew that this experience wouldn’t have been possible just two years prior before I received my first cochlear implant. I remembered how difficult travel was in the past when I only had my hearing aids and very limited modes of technology on hand to help me out. Now that I could hear, I no longer had to depend so heavily on others to “be my extra set of ears”. I could be my own, independent person. I had an entire world in front of me. The only question I had was Where should I travel to next?
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.
Hey guys! Long time, no talk! I can’t believe I haven’t updated this blog since April! Huge apologies for that — I’ve just been so incredibly busy these past few months – mainly with starting my new jobs! Starting a new job with a cochlear implant can be quite a different experience from back when I started new jobs without the ability to hear. This post will explain why.
First off, a little bit of background information. I left my old job at WebiMax at the end of April. I worked there for about 2 years and 7 or 8 months, so really close to 3 years. When I first started working at WebiMax I did not have my cochlear implants yet, so I relied solely on e-mails and instant messages to communicate. After getting my cochlear implant I saw my roles at WebiMax grow and with my new ability to hear on the phone and to hear audio like in YouTube videos, my usual duties became much easier to perform and I was promoted to Assistant Marketing Manager and later Digital Marketing Manager – SMO. I can’t really discuss why I decided to leave my old job other than to say I knew it was time and I needed a change.
Applying for New Jobs With a Cochlear Implant
I started to apply for a new job quickly after recovering from surgery with my 2nd cochlear implant. I think I got really serious about it in January. When I last counted, I sent out over 100 job applications from January – May. So, my ability to hear combined with my skills and experience didn’t make this process any easier. However, when I did interview for positions, I felt that it always went much smoother and I was a lot less anxious than I was three years prior when I interviewed for jobs before getting my cochlear implant. I think I interviewed with about 3 or 4 companies in person and did 2 or 3 phone interviews (that never went further from that) with different companies. I very rarely had to ask anyone to repeat themselves in these interviews which I think helped me a lot. I think sometimes people would look at me weird for my cochlear implants, but they very rarely asked about them (probably because legally they were afraid they couldn’t). I felt like my phone interviews were clumsy since I still didn’t have strong phone skills yet. I always wanted to try to avoid them, but most people wanted a phone interview before bringing me in, so I just kind of had to deal with it. During my first in-person interview with Penn Medicine, whom I accepted a job offer from (more on that later), I opened up about my cochlear implants to the second interviewer and shared my story and how I was writing a book about it. That’s something I normally didn’t do at interviews, but it felt right since I was interviewing to work with a medical company. The interviewer was very intrigued by my story and this helped me to open up more not just about that experience, but all of my work experiences in general.
The first offer…
I accepted my first job offer in the beginning of April to work as an SEO Marketing Strategist. There was a few strange things about working here. First off, I almost didn’t go to the job interview. Becker’s is located in Pennsauken, an area I wasn’t too familiar with – so we got really lost when my dad drove me there and I was frustrated and running late to the interview. I was still waiting to hear from Penn as well, but the job did sound good. The people were incredibly friendly and I loved their advertisements and the tone they used and the way the company was a family business. I initially had a phone interview with HR which went extremely well and then the in-person interview also went well. However, someone else they interviewed had a bit more experience and they decided to hire her instead of me…
But it didn’t work out with the girl they initially hired, and less than 2 weeks after being told I didn’t get the job, I was contacted again and made an offer which I accepted immediately.
Working for Becker’s was pretty good. The people who work there are all some of the nicest people I’ve ever met in my life. Although my time at Becker’s was short, I was able to do many different things. For the first week or two I watched a lot of training videos on Google Analytics and SEO which were provided to us by a marketing partner. These videos were extremely helpful and I didn’t have to worry at all about whether or not they had caption because I could hear them perfectly with no issues.
One thing I had a hard time getting used to or adjusting to was that they didn’t use instant messaging like WebiMax did…everyone had a phone and they called each other if they needed something. My phone used to give me really bad anxiety. I was always afraid my boss would try to call me and I wouldn’t hear it and he’d think I was ignoring him and I’d get in trouble. Sometimes I’d hear one of my co-workers phones go off and think it was mine and try to answer my phone only to realize it wasn’t ever ringing. I had a hard time deciphering between my phone ringing and my co-worker’s phone ringing. Once I even had a panic attack and emailed my boss saying “Hey I’m not ignoring you if you call me and I don’t answer, I just have trouble hearing it”. He was always very understanding.
My co-worker/office mate and I had cubicles right across from each other with a giant wall in between, so sometimes she’d try to talk to me through the wall even though we couldn’t see each other. This was great because I could hear her with no problem – something I never could’ve done prior to getting a cochlear implant. However, sometimes she’d be talking to someone else or on the phone and I’d mess up and answer her because I thought she was talking to me. I had a hard time knowing who she was talking to or when someone was talking to me. When someone was on the phone near me with a client I would also struggle to focus on my work. I’d hear their whole conversation and focus on that instead. Sometimes I wanted to take my cochlears off so I wouldn’t be distracted, but I was afraid that would make me look rude or that I’d end up missing something important when someone did need to talk to me.
In the short couple of months that I worked at Becker’s I was able to join in many meetings with vendors which was always neat. I loved seeing the new products they had to offer us and the people were usually very nice. I also met with some designers and other partners. Once we even took them out to lunch with us. I never had to ask anyone to repeat themselves and I could always hear everything – even when we talked in the restaurant which was kind of dark.
I was much more relaxed working at Becker’s probably than I was working at any other job I’ve ever had. I didn’t have to focus so hard to hear what people were saying. I could perform my job and hear everything just like everyone else.
I left my job at Becker’s in July. It was a very difficult decision to make, but The job at Penn was more in line with my career goals and interests and paid more, plus it would work better with my school schedule when I went back for my MA and taught in the fall.
Transitioning to Penn Medicine
While it was hard for me to leave my job at Becker’s and a bit of a risk (it was a great job with great people and they had to fill the position ASAP, so if things didn’t work out, there would be no turning back), I knew in my heart that I was doing the right thing. SEO was a small part of what I do. The large part of what I do is writing and social media, which I didn’t have the opportunity to do at Becker’s, but it would be my main responsibilities at Penn.
After an offer was made which I gladly accepted after months of working out fine details and waiting, I had a lot of phone calls to make with many different people including my boss, human resources, and the people conducting my background check. Many of these phone calls took place in the car on my way home from working at Becker’s as I finished my final two weeks. Despite the noise of the busy highways and traffic, I never struggled to hear anyone. This was a major accomplishment for me.
Before my first day on the job, I had to attend an all day orientation where there was probably 50 people or more in attendance. I had to do many group activities and ice breaker activities. In the past these would always be really difficult for me to participate in because I’d struggle to hear the person in charge of orientation and all of the people in the group. This was also taken place in a very large conference room where sometimes people speaking would be more than 50 feet away from me, but I could still hear every single word everyone said. It made it so I didn’t feel nervous or anxious at all.
I’ve now been at Penn for slightly more than 2 months and it has been a very fast paced but exciting journey. I know that I definitely made the right decision to leave Becker’s and take on this position. I am so happy where I’m at. I am still afraid of the phone, but it doesn’t matter too much. I’ve only had to use it for Sprinklr trainings and to call in for meetings, but that doesn’t happen too often. We usually just communicate through IM, e-mail, or in person.
I help out a lot with YouTube marketing. I watch the videos and update the titles and descriptions to be more SEO-friendly. I never have to worry about having someone else watch them for me and tell me what they’re about like I used to do when I worked as a social media marketer for WebiMax prior to getting my cochlear implants.
I am confident in my new role and feel really comfortable talking with my boss and my co-workers. I don’t get as anxious as I did at some jobs in the past. Sometimes I felt like my hearing held me back when I worked at WebiMax. Not holding me back career-wise, of course (I was promoted numerous times), but until I got my cochlear implant, I worked for over a year or 2 without being able to hear my co-workers and effectively communicate with them in-person which made me feel like I never knew what was going on and like I never got to know my co-workers too well or befriend them. When I finally did get my cochlear implants, it was like the friendship shipped have sailed – I mean they were people I’ve already know for a long time, just never got to really KNOW and it seemed like it was too late.
I get along really well with my new coworkers. I can be a very serious person and I’m a bit of a workaholic, but I have fun with them sometimes, too. Once in awhile I go out to lunch with one or more of them or go on a run for frozen yogurt or fruit smoothies or just Dunkin Donuts. It’s easier to make friends with them and to talk with them because I don’t have to ask them to repeat themselves a million in one times. I can pretty much always hear them and follow them.
I’ve also been enjoying working in Philly. There’s so many sounds that I am constantly exploring in this busy city. Everyday I’m made more aware of the wonderful gift the Lord has bestowed on me when he granted me my hearing. Commuting to and from work like I do now wouldn’t have been possible before. Every morning I have to buy my patco ticket, septa tokens, and listen to the overhead telling me where I’m at and when I’m at my stop. I order food from food trucks, nearby restaurants, and dunkin and never have any problems (septa being the exception…but my problems aren’t due to my hearing impairment, but that’s another story).
I think having my cochlears has definitely helped to open this door for me and aided in the success I’ve had so far. I’m excited to see where this takes me in the years to come.
What’s Next: Teaching.
Becker’s and now Penn are just the beginning.
Next stop? Teaching. This is so exciting for me. I’ve wanted to be a teacher since I was about 11 or 12 and worked for a summer camp, but I never thought it was a possibility. How could I possibly teach a class when I wouldn’t be able to hear my students and address their concerns and answer any of their questions? Even after receiving my cochlears, it didn’t seem possible. I couldn’t teach elementary school because that would mean going back to school to get teaching certification which would involve student teaching. Student teaching naturally takes place in the day, so I wouldn’t be able to keep my job and student teach. I couldn’t afford to give up my job. I also couldn’t become a professor and teach college level because I’d need to get an MA for that, something I couldn’t afford.
Or so I thought.
In March, I received an email from the Department of Writing Arts at Rowan about the TEP (Teaching Experience Program) available for select MA in Writing Students. Through this program I’d be able to teach as an adjunct professor (and get paid for it) while working towards my MA in Writing. My dream of becoming a teacher was suddenly a very real reality for me. I truly felt like God was calling me to do this.
Long story short, I applied and was accepted.
I attended orientation for the TEP program a month ago for three days. It felt so good to be back on campus again. I got emotional walking past and listening to some of the sermons going on early in the morning before orientation began because it was the first time ever I could actually really hear them.
Orientation went very well and was so much fun. It was my first time ever being in class and being able to hear both the professor and the students in the class. I felt so much more relaxed and less anxious. I got to know my classmates pretty well already and felt very comfortable and open, something I never felt before in the classroom.
I teach my first class on September 2nd and have classes later that week. I’m both excited and completely terrified to begin this next chapter in my life and to experience life as not just a student, but a graduate level student with bilateral cochlear implants.
Stay tuned in the upcoming weeks for a post on what it’s like to be a teacher and a student with cochlear implants!