A few weeks ago I went to a cochlear implant support group. I’ve had some mixed experiences with these support groups. After attending my first one, I vowed I’d never come back. However, I since changed my mind and even had some pretty good experiences since then like the time I went to the cochlear implant support group about hearing preservation (and met the incredibly attractive Dr. Pelosi…but that’s another story ;)).
Since they have been getting better, I decided to make an effort to go to them on a more regular basis. The topic for the January 7, 2016 meeting was on training your implanted ear (or in my case, ears). Med-El was sponsoring the meeting and presenting and discussing their new training cds and books. Since I was just recently implanted with my second cochlear implant, I thought this would be a great meeting for me to attend.
I’ve always been a little skeptical of Med-EL to be completely honest. When it came to choosing a cochlear implant brand I narrowed my choices between Cochlear and Advanced Bionics. Med-EL was the only brand I was sure I DID NOT want because I felt they were too outdated. I always leaned more towards Advanced Bionics. Jefferson didn’t give me a choice so I was glad they chose Advanced Bionics for me, naturally, as it’s what I would’ve chosen anyway.
I had some faith in Med-El for this meeting though. I mean, aren’t all speech therapy training supplies essentially the same? How could you mess that up?
The presentation was given by a woman who worked for Med-El and who I believe was also a licensed audiologist at John Hopkins. She had one of her patients with her who was upgraded to a new processor and/or had a new mapping done that morning. They went through some words and she tried to demonstrate how the cochlear implant is a process and it’s not perfect, he might still mess up. It was a nice presentation, pretty accurate.
She also took some time to go over the new Med-El training book, cds, and online resources. She had a copy of the book. It was very expensive to buy (like $70) but said she’d leave a copy with the group and that we could make copies if we wanted, which my mom and I ultimately did. The book has been incredibly helpful/beneficial for us. That alone made going to this meeting worth it.
Towards the end of the meeting she went back to her earlier point on how cochlear implants help deaf individuals, but it’s not a miracle cure. We’re still deaf. She then used one single word to refer to us all that ruined her entire presentation for me:
She told us we were all handicapped.
I was enraged. We are DEAF but DEAFinitely NOT Handicapped!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I didn’t just let this go, either. I made sure to talk to her at the end of the presentation to let her know I didn’t like that she told us we were handicapped. She apologized and said she knew and that she was really referring to children with multiple disabilities like those who are deaf-blind, deaf and autistic, etc.
It was a nice try, but I didn’t buy it because there wasn’t a single kid there and 90% of the adults lost their hearing later in life. I’m pretty sure none of us had multiple disabilities…it was just her cover.
There are few things in life that infuriate me more than being referred to as being handicapped because I am far from being handicapped. Most of us deaf individuals are always labeled as being handicapped and for most of us that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Deaf individuals like myself face a lot of hardships and much discrimination. We have to fight on a daily basis to have our voices heard and to be viewed as being equal to our hearing counterparts. We get denied employment, entrance into public schools and universities, and most of society tries to exclude us on the grounds that we are “deaf and dumb”.
I am a lot of things in life. I am far from perfect. I have done dumb things in life, but I am not a dumb person and I am far from being handicapped. I have NEVER once allowed my hearing loss to get in the way of my success in life.
I’m really not that much different from a hearing person. I don’t know ASL. I used to lipread (I still do, but I don’t HAVE to anymore). I speak pretty clearly. While I did attend speech therapy as a kid, my speech has never been that bad to begin with. I went to public schools growing up (which my parents and I had to fight very hard for as the school thought I was handicapped when in reality I simply couldn’t hear…). I played on many sports teams and was involved in many clubs. I attended a public university and earned an associate’s degree and later two bachelor’s degrees. Now I am employed for a digital marketing agency as a manager. I have had this job for 2 and a half years. I speak on the phone on a regular basis for work. I have no interpreters or special accommodations. I am really no different from a hearing person.
Society is constantly trying to put a label on deaf individuals and make us feel like we are broken or flawed or not worthy of the same opportunities as hearing individuals. “Handicapped” is far from being an innocent mistake or simply “just a word” used to describe us; it’s become a nice way of telling us that we’re “not worthy”, “not normal”, or “not good enough”.
Deaf individuals fight the stigma and the misinformation and all of these stereotypes on a daily basis. It’s rarely an easy fight. And one thing we absolutely don’t need is audiologists and representatives from cochlear implant and/or hearing aid companies fighting against us and feeding into the stigmas and stereotypes.
These individuals should be fighting alongside of us. They should understand us more than anyone and want to work to show people how the deaf really aren’t that different than the hearing.
Also, as is the case for this woman from Med-El, if you’re trying to sell us cochlear implants, you should speak in a way that gives us hope. Training your cochlear implant and your ear to hear is no easy task, as you’ve seen in my last blog post. It can be frustrating and discouraging. Labeling us as handicapped isn’t going to help matters at all, but it could make things worst. When you call us handicapped you remind us that we’re different, but if we have a cochlear implant it’s most likely because we want to hear and be like those that can hear, at least to an extent. Calling us handicapped can put a damper on all of that because you’re saying we’re different, we’re not able of doing something the hearing can do — we can’t hear. But the goal of the cochlear implant is to gives us what we don’t have that they do have — the ability to hear! Calling us handicapped is basically a nice way of telling us to not work hard and to just give up because we’ll never be like them anyway.
The idea that the deaf are handicapped is a lie. It’s a myth. It’s a diversion of the truth. It is not at all right.
To quote King Jordan, the former president of the famous deaf university, Gallaudet, “The Deaf can do anything but hear.”
We’re deaf, yes, but DEAFinitely NOT handicapped.
Got that, Med-El? Good.
Here are 8 words I never thought I’d say together:
‘So I Want To Be A Motivational Speaker…”
Growing up, I hated public speaking. I used to get terribly nervous getting up in front of the class and speaking. I’d stumble on my words. I’d forget everything I was supposed to say. And the worst part was I’d quiver and shake like nobody’s business.
I always had an interest in acting when I was kid. It always seemed like so much fun to be the star of the school play, or even the church play. But I could never get past my nerves. I used to do okay in church plays until I was about 10-12 years old. Then it’s like a light switch would go off inside of me that made me aware of the fact that there was tons of people watching me. Despite knowing all of my lines by heart for the last two months, when it came time to actually speak I’d freeze up and completely forget everything. I think at that point you could have asked me what my name was and I’d tell you I’ve forgotten that too.
Fortunately, this is something I began to overcome a bit as I got older, mainly because I didn’t have a choice. As part of my general education requirements as a student at Gloucester County College (now known as Rowan College at Gloucester County) I was forced to take a class in Public Speaking. At the time I thought this was cruel and unusual punishment and I dreaded it. I was fairly confident I’d freeze up and make an ass out of myself in front of all of my classmates every time I had to give a presentation.
However, that didn’t happen at all. Actually, being forced against my will to take a public speaking class at Gloucester County College may have been one of the best things to ever happen to me. Unlike most of my classmates, I actually read my book insteading of just trying to wing the class. The book combined with my professor’s lectures were extremely helpful. They gave me advice and strategies to help me prepare myself for my presentations and deliver them without getting too nervous and to have a safety net to fall back on so I wouldn’t have to worry about forgetting things so much.
One of the most important strategies I learned was to create an outline of my speech to always have with me. This outline was just that — an outline. It would include brief keywords or topics in order to help keep me on track and help me to stay focused in the event that I became nervous and began to forget what I was supposed to say. However, it wouldn’t have so much information that I’d resort to reading my speech and boring my classmates to tears. Another thing I learned to include in my speech that was very helpful was the word “pause” or “look up”. This kept me from talking too fast and not making eye contact with my audience.
Two other important lessons I learned in class was to speak about an interesting topic and to make it fun. My favorite speech that I gave during that class was my commemorative speech. It could have been on anything it just had to fit the commemorative style. I chose to do my speech on Barbie since it was the 50th anniversary of Barbie that year. My speech was interesting and informative and I kept my classmates attention by using many visuals that showed barbie throughout the years and starting my presentation by playing the song “Barbie Girl” by Aqua.
I actually got very good at the public speaking thing by the end of my class. I was known as one of the best speakers in my class and it actually became fun for me. I learned that public speaking is a very great way to let people know you have a voice, you have a story, or something important to say. When done properly, you can speak, and people will listen.
I didn’t have much of a story back then. I didn’t have many important things to say. I was just a kid speaking about Barbie and fighting against school uniforms in order to get an A in a mandatory class I never wanted to take. But things are different now.
I have a cochlear implant. It changed my life. I have had quite a journey with it. I went from never being able to hear, to being able to hear everything. But even during those days when I couldn’t hear, I pushed myself to succeed. I did the things people said I could never do. And now that I can hear, that is especially true.
I was told by a woman at my mom’s church shortly before I was activated “God is giving you a gift by allowing you to hear now. He is doing it for a reason and now you need to find out what that reason is.” And I think this may be it. God wants me to use my hearing to share my story with others. He wants me to help serve as a voice to others in the deaf/hoh community or others who have been told they can’t do things because of a disability. He wants me to talk to them and show them that they can do anything they put their minds to.
One of my idols is Sean Forbes. Sean Forbes is a deaf rapper and he works to make music accessible to everyone. He is also a motivational speaker and he frequently visits schools to tell kids his story and to encourage them not to give up on their dreams, especially if people tell them they can’t do something. Sean has always been an inspiration to me, and I want to be like him now. I want to do what he does. I want to be a motivational speaker.
I was lucky enough to meet Sean back in 2013 following one of the shows he did at The University of Pennsylvania. He was one of the nicest, coolest guys I ever met.
I admit that I am a bit nervous and scared about this. Unless you count the presentations I’ve given at work, I haven’t done public speaking in quite some time. I don’t know how many people I’ll be speaking to, but chances are it will be a great deal more than my co-workers and the former classmates I’ve spoken to in the past. I’m still learning how this all works (if anyone knows anything or has any tips, feel free to leave a comment. It will all be greatly appreciated!). But I know I want to do this.
My first instinct for now is to look into the connections I already have and reach out to people. The first thing that comes to mind is trying to get involved with Rowan’s disability awareness week that takes place every October. I’ve meet the people in charge of that and worked with them for this event in the past, so I’m sure they’d be more than willing to work with me this time. Once I think it over more and decide more on what exactly I’d like to say, I may contact them about my idea and that may very well be one of my first speaking engagements.
I’d also like to look into reaching out to churches, my past high schools, my old community college, cochlear implant support groups, organizations or schools for the deaf and/or people with disabilities. There are so many possibilities.
It would be great to get paid to speak in time, but for now I am more focused on just sharing my story and connecting with others to inspire them, encourage them, and let them know that there’s nothing they can’t do. It would be pretty awesome to help encourage someone else who is in the same position I once was in to go forward with getting a cochlear implant, too.
I have a voice. I have a gift. I have a story. Now it’s time to share it.
Larry and I in front of Cinderella’s Castle on our first day in Disney
You may have read my recent blog post on how airport security can be a traumatizing experience for cochlear implant recipients. That was a bit of a preview for this post, since I was traveling to Disney, after all.
You may also be wondering how Disney World compares to Six Flags, which I also recently wrote about, in terms of deaf-friendliness. To say it simply: it’s awesome. It’s so awesome. I liked Six Flags, but Disney was so much better.
I went to Disney World 7 years ago on my high school senior trip. However, the trip wasn’t very enjoyable since it was over 100 degrees every day of the trip. I got very overheated, dehydrated, and down-right sick. I also didn’t have my cochlear implant at the time. This trip was totally different, and I mean that in the best way possible.
My first day in Disney on my senior trip 7 years ago before I go thoroughly sick. Can you find me?
I went on the trip with my boyfriend and his family. I’ve been with my boyfriend for 8 months now. You guys have heard quite a bit about him. He’s been amazing to me and very supportive of both my general hearing loss and my cochlear implant. He’s also a truck driver so he’s on the road a lot. Having an entire a week together is more time for us together than we usually get in 2 months. It was a very exciting time for us. Also, my 25th birthday also fell during the trip, so it was a very exciting time for us.
Disney is very deaf-friendly. It’s very friendly, period. And there is SO MUCH stuff to hear. In Magic Kingdom, there is always some kind of a parade going on. With a lot of music. Which I could actually hear and understand. Other parks like Epcot had a lot of bands that would play music out in the street/sidewalks. Larry and I were constantly humming/singing along, and snapping our fingers and even dancing along to the music. It was so much fun especially for me since I knew it was something I never could’ve done prior to getting my cochlear.
Minnie Mouse and King Louie from one of the first parades we saw in Magic Kingdom on our first day at Disney. Minutes later we were greeted by a cast member who sang/danced with us and gave us all special pins. I got a birthday pin, Larry got a celebration/first visit pin, and Alyssa and Brayerton got engagement pins.
There were also many shows that we went to. We went to everything from The Lion King Festival of Life:
To a dolphin show at Epcot:
To shows about The Little Mermaid, Finding Nemo, Rio, a comedy show from the characters of Monsters, Inc., and everything in between. I did see a few shows when I went on my senior trip 7 years ago, but not nearly as many and I really couldn’t hear or understand a word that was said. Now with my cochlear I was able to hear and understand just about every single word! Certainly made for more enjoyable shows for me!
Larry and I in Animal Kingdom
Another thing that was cool that we did on this trip that we didn’t do on my senior trip is go to Animal Kingdom. Ever since I got my implant I really wanted to go to the zoo to hear all of the animals. This is something that Larry and I wanted to do for like our third date going back to September, but it never actually happened. Well, we didn’t go to the zoo exactly, but we did go on Animal safari, so close enough right?
A real-life version of Pumba
I can never remember what these things are called…
Real-life version of Dumbo
Unfortunately, the animals didn’t make as much noise as I thought they would. There wasn’t much to hear from them except for the birds. Some of them got loud but it was less annoying than usual since I heard the noise they really make, which sounds much better than they distorted sounds I heard prior to getting my cochlear.
Another thing I really liked about Disney is that I was able to keep my cochlear on for about 90% of the rides. This definitely made it more enjoyable since so many of the rides are interactive. I was able to hear what was being said or what was happening on most of the rides and still converse with my boyfriend.
This was one of my favorite rides when I went on my senior trip 7 years ago. I don’t remember what it’s called, but it has Buzz Lightyear and you get a gun to shoot at things. I loved it much more this time around since I was able to hear everything!
This is from the Mexican boat ride in Epcot. It was one of my favorite rides since it was so romantic. They played a bit of music and since I had my cochlear and was able to keep it on, I was able to hear it!
On my birthday we took the ferry to get from Epcot to Magic Kingdom. Upon seeing my birthday pin, a guy went on the loud speaker and said “Happy Birthday, Kimberly!” it was so cool! I never would’ve been able to hear it prior to getting my cochlear.
There were a few rides that I had to take my cochlear off for, but even then it wasn’t too bad. I didn’t have to worry about needing a locker or leaving my cochlear/hearing aid with someone else who wasn’t going on the ride. All I had to do was put them all in the case, put the case in my bag, and keep my bag on the floor of the ride. Way easier than Six Flags, that’s for sure. It made it so that Larry and I could still talk while waiting in line. Some of those conversations while we were waiting in line ended up being my favorite part of the trip!
Sometimes we talked while waiting in line. Other times we played games. Then there were the times when Larry narrowly avoided being eaten by a dinosaur and his girlfriend took pictures instead of helping him…
The only ride where I really wish I could’ve kept my cochlear on for is Rocking Roller Coaster. This is one of my top 5 favorite rides. I love roller coasters and I like Aerosmith. This rollercoaster plays Aerosmith music. However, it’s too extreme for me to leave my hearing aid and cochlear on for. So I had to take it out and wasn’t able to hear the music. It didn’t change the fact that the roller coaster is still pretty awesome though. I can’t complain too much.
Larry and I in front of Rocking Roller Coaster. This old guy definitely photobombed us. There’s actually two pictures…and he photobombed us in both of them. 😦
My Disney vacation was absolutely incredible and I believe that my cochlear definitely helped to enhance the experience for me. Disney definitely gets an A+ for deaf friendliness. Although I enjoyed Six Flags, I think they could learn a thing or two from Disney when it comes to accessibility and deaf friendliness.