I often times speak out against how frustrating it can be to have people see my cochlear implants and automatically assume that I sign. This is annoying but an easy mistake for people who are not familiar with the difference between lowercase d deaf and capital D Deaf to make. What is infuriating to me is when I tell people that I don’t sign and they don’t listen and insist on trying to sign to me anyway, such as what recently happened to me at Human Village.
I’m realizing more and more as I talk to different hearing adults that they just simply don’t understand why I don’t sign and how I can still communicate with others without sign language. People are especially confused by how I managed to get through school and to survive in a hearing world without sign language. I want to use this blog post to try to clear up some of the confusion.
Here are 5 reasons why I never learned sign language. As you read through my reasons I ask that you remember that I am and have always been mainstreamed. I am lowercase d deaf meaning that I have significant hearing loss but I live in a hearing world. I have never been a part of the capital D Deaf community. I support Deaf culture and sign language and the capital D Deaf community, but this is not my world. My experiences are unique to me just as someone else’s are unique to them. What worked for me isn’t right for everyone and vice versa.
1. It Wasn’t Practical.
I was first introduced to sign language when I was five and in the process of enrolling in kindergarten at Oakview Elementary School. My speech teacher, Mrs. Smeltz, offered to teach me sign language. My parents asked me if I wanted to learn it. They were very supportive of it but ultimately allowed me to make my own decision. I decided against it because it didn’t interest me, mainly because I didn’t know anyone that spoke sign language. It seemed to me at the time that learning it would be a waste of time and not worth the effort because I wouldn’t really have anyone to sign to. My parents would have had to learn sign language in order for me to sign with them and any friends or loved ones or honestly anyone I’d want to communicate with would need to learn how to sign in order to talk to me. It seemed much easier for me to learn how to communicate in spoken English and to learn strategies on how to exist in the hearing world than it was to have everyone I wanted to talk to learn sign language.
2. Nobody Cares About Sign Language (Except the Deaf Community).
If you are capital D Deaf, you care about sign language. It’s very, very, very important to you. Sign language is your world, and I get that and support it.
But I’m not capital D Deaf. I am lowercase d deaf living with hearing loss in a hearing world where most people don’t really care about sign language. Some people might choose to study it for fun or as a hobby, but a lot of people don’t really take it seriously.
Unfortunately, this can make learning it very difficult, especially if you try to learn it later in life like I did.
I tried to take ASL in college as an elective at Rowan University, but at the time I was enrolled in undergraduate studies (September 2010 – December 2012), it wasn’t an option. I remember asking about this before and they said they weren’t offering because they didn’t have the money/funding for it and there wasn’t an interest. This is no longer the case…ASL is seen as being almost trendy now and there are classes (which I’ll get into in a later point), but that was unfortunately not the case when I was an undergraduate student there. One of the biggest problems with how people view sign language is they see it as a hobby rather than as an actual language. This is a problem because people lose interest in hobbies and pass them off to the side to forget about when they get bored. Languages on the other hand are seen as essential communication skills needed to survive in the world. ASL sadly is not viewed in this light by people outside of the capital D Deaf community.
I to enroll in a non-credit course at Gloucester County Community College multiple times to learn ASL. It was always cancelled though due to low enrollment. They couldn’t get enough people to sign up for it as a non-credit class to make enough money to pay the instructor I guess. People will enroll in ASL if they can get college credit. It’s often seen as an “easy” and “fun” class to take for credit. But when people aren’t getting something out of it for themselves (they don’t see learning ASL as being important, especially since many of them don’t know anyone who is capital D Deaf…), they don’t see a point in learning it.
3. Learning Sign Language Was Too Expensive.
I know what you’re thinking.
“This isn’t true.”
“My best friend’s cousin’s dog sitter is fluent in sign language and could teach you for free…”
“Blah blah blah insert random noise/nonsense here.”
Okay, first of all when the concept of sign language was first introduced to me back in/around 1995, there was no YouTube.
As stated in my previous point, I didn’t want to learn sign language as a kid and could you blame me? A five year old usually has better things to do or other interests…
As mentioned in my last point, the non-credit courses were constantly cancelled due to low enrollment. These did cost money and at one point my family and I shelled out a few hundred dollars so the whole family could learn it together, but it ended up being refunded to us all after the course was cancelled.
The non-credit courses were about all that I could afford. With Rowan not offering ASL courses for credit my other option would be to take the classes at a local community college for credit but it wouldn’t be covered by my financial aid/loan and I couldn’t afford to spend that kind of money on a class that wouldn’t even count towards my degree.
Another issue with learning sign language for free – while people definitely mean well, the people offering to teach it often are not fluent or experienced in sign language. They may know the basics and a few sentences here and there but not enough to really hold full conversations in sign language, which makes it not entirely practical. Those who are really fluent and certified to teach sign language typically want to be paid for their services so they teach the college classes which I already stated I couldn’t afford to take. This isn’t true for everyone of course, but it is true in a majority of cases.
4. Learning Sign Language Wasn’t Worth the Trouble.
For some unknown reason, learning sign language was designed to be the toughest subject I could ever study or learn. I have been working to teach myself German recently and it has been a much, much, much easier experience than learning sign language which is just ironic.
Here’s a list of some things I think are easier to learn for me than sign language:
- Mandarin Chinese
- Amish quilt-making
- Homemade cheese
- Quantum Physics
- Flying an airplane
I’m serious. This has been made to be impossible for me to learn.
Backing up a bit, remember how I said that Rowan University *did* in fact get an ASL course after I finished my undergraduate studies?
Well, I tried to enroll in it as an elective as a graduate student. I tried to make my case that this course would be perfect for my graduate research since my Master’s thesis was a memoir on my cochlear implant/deaf experiences. The writing department and professors such as Dr. Drew Kopp were so supportive of this and really tried to advocate on my behalf to make this happen.
But it always comes down to one person who has a little bit too much power and is the final decision maker…
I don’t know who that one person is, but if you’re that person and you’re reading this now – just know I’m glaring at you from my computer screen. Yep. Glaring. Mad hard glare.
So here’s the shortened version of what actually happened:
Since I was a graduate student, under Rowan University’s policies I was not permitted to receive graduate level credit for what was an undergraduate class. I would need to do something more to have the work qualify as graduate-level work.
Okay, that makes sense, right? No problem. I was planning to use this course for my research for my MA thesis anyway. I would take the course as a form of an independent study and keep a research journal and check in with Dr. Kopp who would be my adviser of the project. I just finished taking his Core II course where I had to keep a research journal as I conducted research for my MA thesis anyway. This would be essentially a continuation of the work we’ve already started together.
But that one person who I am glaring at through my computer right now said that wasn’t enough.
Instead I needed a detailed description of what exactly I’d be studying and using for my research. I needed to create a very, very, very detailed research proposal about how I’d be studying students. I needed to explain what I’d ask students, who would participate, how their data would be used, and so forth. It was so much more than what I had intended to do. I wanted to learn the language, not how students used their experiences or what they thought of the course or whatever, but if it got me into the classes, I was willing to comply.
But of course it wasn’t that easy. Nothing in life is ever that easy – I had to submit a research proposal to the IRB and have it approved.
It took me several weeks that summer to put together my application for the research proposal. There were so many parts and it needed to be as detailed and specific as possible. I also realized I would need to hire an intern to help me with my research along with a videographer to film students. I would also need permission from the students. There were so many different loopholes and approvals I would need. Dr. Kopp worked with me every step of the way to help me in writing down the steps and just what I would need. We didn’t submit the application until the last minute when we were confident we had covered all of our bases.
I think I worked harder and longer on that application that I did in most of my graduate level courses combined.
And yet, the application was STILL denied for many, many, many different reasons. The overall theme was that they needed more specific information and more approvals from people involved.
I was tired and getting burned out and the class wasn’t even approved yet, let alone started.
After having my application rejected I decided not to move forward and just accept that I wasn’t going to learn ASL that semester (or even study people who would learn it). I accepted my next point…
5. I Wasn’t Meant to Learn Sign Language.
God’s ways are better than mine. Every time I tried to learn sign language he put roadblocks in my path that prevented me from learning it. Sometimes this seemed extreme, as was the case with the hardships I faced trying to take the ASL course in grad school. He simply did not want me to learn it. I will never know exactly why he didn’t want me to learn it until I am face to face with him in heaven and have a chance to actually ask him, but I do have a few theories.
Have I had learned sign language, my life would be very different. I may not have been mainstreamed like I am today and I may not have accomplished all that I have. I know that these is controversial and this statement may infuriate anyone from the capital D Deaf community who may be reading this, but you can’t deny the fact that it’s true:
Not being able to interact in the hearing world will hold you back in society. Is it right? No, it’s not. But it is the truth.
If I learned sign language from an early age and made it my dominate language and chose to become a part of capital D Deaf culture, I may not have been as prepared for the “real” world because my communication skills may not have been as good. I wouldn’t have had to rely on lipreading as much and I wouldn’t have learned ways to navigate the hearing world because I wouldn’t have had to. I probably wouldn’t have went to mainstream school, let alone college, and wouldn’t have had the same experiences and may not have had as many job opportunities.
I know it’s not right, but the world is designed to operate for people who can hear and while it’s discrimination, employers get away with it. Most employers don’t want to hire someone who can’t hear, especially if they need a lot of accommodations such as sign language interpreters. These things cost money and people don’t want to have to pay for it and if employers aren’t the ones responsible for paying for it (ex – if health insurance or disability services cover it…I admit I’m not entirely sure how this works) it still won’t change the fact that employers will view it as a hassle that they may not want to deal with. Meetings will take longer, phone calls may go on unanswered, and work days may be less productive. Again, I’m not at all saying I agree with this. It’s horrible and it should not be this way, but you can’t deny the fact that this is how the world operates and even anti-discrimination laws can’t change the way people think and feel – that’s something only God can change.
If you want to get ahead in life, you need to be able to sell yourself and adapt to the outside world, knowing that a majority of people exist in a hearing world. This is similar to how a majority of the world speaks English (and most of the US). If immigrants want to get ahead and make a future for themselves in America, it is very wise for them to learn the language. We can and should support them by trying to speak their native language or becoming familiar with it and offer translators, but at the same time it is easy for them (and perhaps more practical) to learn our language then having all of our people try to learn theirs.
Have I had learned sign language, I may not have ever gotten cochlear implants. I know that this isn’t the right path for everyone to take, but it was the right path for me. My cochlear implants have opened a whole new world of opportunity for me and greatly improved my quality of life. If I had sign language then getting cochlear implants wouldn’t have mattered or been a priority for me and I would’ve missed out on so many amazing experiences (not to mention sounds!)
And yes, I did try to learn sign language post-cochlear implants. I am not sure why God still doesn’t want me to learn it, but I even have my theories about that, too. I am still training my brain to hear sounds and I imagine I will for the rest of my life since there’s always something new to hear. My hearing is fantastic now and “almost” perfect, but it will never be natural. I will always need a minute to think about and process what I am hearing. I’m never going to “just hear” – my body is not capable of that. If I would’ve learned and became fluent in sign language I may not have had the need to work so hard at hearing the sounds and training my ears post-cochlear implants. Simply put, I may have gotten lazy with my training and rehab.
Sign language is important and should never go away. I understand the point oralists were trying to make way back when and I agree that being able to communicate in a hearing world without sign language will help the deaf to advance in society. However, sign language is a tool or a strategy that works better for some than for others. For some people they may be the son or daughter of Deaf parents born into the capital D Deaf culture where sign language makes the most sense for them to use. For others like myself, lipreading and cochlear implants are better tools to help prepare us for the hearing world we choose to live in.
There are some people who absolutely need sign language, but I am not one of those people and I shouldn’t be made to feel bad or wrong about my decisions. As a child I was able to get by in school and society through lipreading, sitting in the front of class, reading a lot of books and text to gather messages, and relying on others to lend me their ears when in need. As I got older, cochlear implants gave me nearly perfect hearing. In either case, I managed without sign language and I regret nothing. I was still able to live a happy and fulfilling life and never felt cut off from communication.
Everyone has their own communication preferences, especially those who are living with hearing loss. It is important to remember that no two people are exactly the same and just because some individuals with hearing loss sign, doesn’t mean that they all do and it’s perfectly fine if you choose to sign or not to sign. It’s a personal decision and you should never feel the need to apologize for the way you wish to be spoken to. People should respect your decision and if they don’t understand it, they should take the time to ask questions and educate themselves so that they can learn rather than judging, speaking for or on behalf of someone else, or flat out ignoring someone’s requests or communication preferences.
Hey guys! Long time, no blog! I have been a little bit more active on my other blog, KimErskine.WordPress.com lately. Feel free to check that out if you get a chance. It has a lot of book reviews if you’re into that kind of thing!
There is one big thing that has happened since I last blogged on here…
I graduated with a Master’s in Writing degree from Rowan University! I technically graduated in December of 2018, but since Rowan only does commencements in the spring I had to wait until this coming semester for commencement. I technically could’ve walked last spring, but it didn’t feel right to me to walk when I still had two more courses to come back and take in the fall, so I waited.
Attending graduation ceremonies with cochlear implants was a very different experience then my graduations prior with just hearing aids, which is what I’ll be focusing on in this blog today.
My commencement ceremonies at Rowan University took place on Saturday, May 11, 2019 and Wednesday, May 15, 2019. The first ceremony was an all-college University ceremony that included literally everyone – all majors, undergraduates, graduates, etc. This was naturally a huge and informal ceremony that took place on the University’s football field. The ceremony on Wednesday was for my department – the College of Communications and Creative Arts – and was the more formal ceremony where my name was called to receive my degree.
The first ceremony was a bit of a disaster. Since I was graduating with my Master’s degree, I wanted to look a bit nicer and get more dressed up than I did for my Bachelor’s degree. This resulted in me making a special appointment to see my hairdresser to get my hair curled before commencement, buying a few new dresses, and a new pair of shoes.
My favorite store to shop at is Burlington. I always get great deals on name brand clothing there and I am kind of obsessed with buying shoes. They have never let me down before, but I guess there’s a first time for everything, right?
I should’ve known better when I saw the label name was Chinese Laundry, but the shoes were cute and actually comfortable which is a rarity for dress shoes, so I shelled out $25 and bought them.
This was my first mistake.
Upon arriving in D-lot at Rowan University I quickly discovered I was not in the right area. I walked all around by the parking lots and football field asking for directions on where to go. Most of the people were a bit less than helpful and said something along the lines of “Somewhere by the engineering building – Masters’ are in the front” or simply “I don’t know”. With so many people around, this took awhile to find.
My shoes unfortunately did not make it for the full journey.
I was walking pretty fast because I wanted to get where I needed to be before everyone started walking in. Right as I just about found the right spot I tumbled down onto the ground, scraping my knee and dropping everything in my hands in the most ungraceful way imaginable.
When I fell, my right cochlear implant processor flew off and my left one on my dominate ear was bumped so the magnet came off. I couldn’t hear and was trying not to panic over losing my cochlears. Fortunately, I was able to find them both rather quickly and to put them on. A girl I never saw before came running to my rescue as several other strangers stared at the scene I was creating. The girl offered me a hair tie for help. Confused, I thanked her and said I was fine.
Then I tried to stand up, only to realize the strap on my shoe was broken. The girl was offering me her hair tie in an attempt to try to “fix” my broken shoe by creating some kind of a band with it. It probably wouldn’t have worked anyway, but was still a nice gesture. Hey, she tried, right?
Embarrassed, I tried to keep my cool and tell myself I could just rip it off and wear my shoes as strap less sandals, no big deal.
But when I looked down I noticed that strap also was broken. The entire shoe has fallen apart in every way imaginable and was completely unwearable.
My mom who went with my dad and boyfriend to find their seats sent me a text to make sure I found where I needed to go. The text read, “Are you okay?”
“No. My shoes broke.” I wrote back as I tried to hold back tears.
Not long after I was reunited with my parents and boyfriend. Mom offered to take me home, saying I didn’t have to go through with the ceremony. It would be starting in just a few minutes so going home and getting a new pair of shoes was not an option. “No, I have to do this. I can’t miss my graduation,” I said.
Then my mom looked down at her feet and took her shoes off. “If you can fit in these they are yours,” she said. She was about two sizes smaller than me so I wasn’t sure if would work, but I was desperate.
Fortunately, I was able to get the shoes on. They were very tight, but better than no shoes. My mom attended the rest of my graduation ceremony barefoot and I think this is the moment I truly realized what a mother’s love was.
I would like to say the rest of the University ceremony was smooth sailing, but that would be a lie.
I was worried about how I was going to wear my cap with my cochlear implants. Hats don’t usually work for me because they knock my cochlears off. I tested it prior to the ceremony and found that I could place the magnets over top of the cap and it would stay in place.
However, as my shoes proved – just because something worked at home didn’t mean it was still going to work at commencement.
My right cochlear was fine but my left one would not stay in place. I spent a majority of the commencement ceremony fidgeting and trying to fix it. Another challenge I had is that I had a ton of bobby pins in my hair to keep my cap in place. Naturally, bobby pins are made of metal which tends to get stuck to the magnet. Even when I had my cochlear positioned correctly it would often still give me trouble by sticking to the bobby pins and limiting my ability to hear.
There were multiple times throughout the ceremony where we were asked to rise then sit down, rise and sit down. At one point our commencement speaker, Shaun T (AKA the guy who created Insanity) asked us to do a bunch of these like dance movements. On a normal day in normal circumstances this would be no big deal. However, the chairs at commencement were so tightly packed together that you literally couldn’t move without touching someone. The people on my sides kept accidentally bumping into me and even the slightest touch caused my cochlear to fall off or get bumped out of place.
By the end of the ceremony I was so annoyed by constantly adjusting my cochlear that I decided to just completely take it off and use my non-dominate right ear to get by.
This solved all problems with the main ceremony then, right?
The main University ceremony ended with a literal bang as confetti was shot at the students from the stage. Confetti is fun and festive, so no big deal right? Wrong again. The problem with the confetti is that it was REALLY LOUD. Think confetti party poppers…it was like that. Since I was graduating with a Master’s degree I sat in the very first row closest to the stage. When the confetti shot out it scared the crap out of me but also physically hurt me.
The thing with cochlear implants is that while it took me from about 0% – 93% total hearing, it is still not natural hearing and it never will be. The way I use sound involves a lot of brain power as my brain needs to process what it is hearing before I hear it. This is why after a loud and noisy day working in the city I often come home so exhausted. The confetti was so incredibly loud and unexpected that my brain struggled to process it and it physically hurt me.
I really wish the University could have some how warned us about the confetti and how loud it would be ahead of time. The way the stage was designed you couldn’t tell there was confetti inside of it ready to be shot out. Had I have known ahead of time I could’ve prepared for it by taking both of my cochlear implant processors off so I wouldn’t hear it and be affected by it.
The University ceremony was a bit of a hot mess and a disaster. I was certainly glad for it to end and to have a drink afterwards. Lord knows I needed it!
The one good thing about all of my troubles with the main University ceremony is that it prepared me for and made me even more excited for my college ceremony that took place a few days later. This one went MUCH more smoothly. I chose to wear my fancy baby pink silver glitter converse sneakers and I packed an extra pair of Converse in the car just in case. I have had dozens of pairs of Converse over the years and they have never failed me. This time fortunately was no different.
The volunteers this time around were generally much more helpful and happier to be there which made me all the more excited and helped me to find where I needed to go more quickly. Given all of the trouble I had with the first ceremony, I decided to redesign my cap for the second one to say “Not today, Satan!”. Many people commented on how much they loved that and asked to take pictures.
My graduating friends were all present for this ceremony as well, so it was a lot more fun and I wasn’t alone. We all had fun catching up and taking pictures with each other prior to the start of the ceremony.
Since I had so much trouble with my cap with the first ceremony, I changed the position and placed my magnets inside of the cap rather than outside of it. My cap fit snuggly and was secured with bobby pins that were away from the magnets. This secured everything in place. I never once had to readjust my cochlears during the ceremony. I was able to just enjoy the ceremony.
I enjoyed Trymaine Lee’s speech far more than Shaun T’s. This could just be because he didn’t make me move and I related more to him being a journalist. Also, the fact that I wasn’t fidgeting with my cochlear implant the entire time certainly helped.
I have no memory of previous graduation speakers. I remember that Steven Sweeney spoke at my last graduation. I remember finding most of my previous graduation ceremonies to be boring because I couldn’t hear them.
Trymaine spoke about his experiences as a journalist and how growing up he was taught to always believe that he was somebody – something he instilled in the minds of the graduates as he had them complete the phrase, “I AM Somebody!” As a deaf individual, growing up and even to this day I was often told that I wouldn’t amount to anything. I always had the support of my parents of course, but my classmates would say things like “You’ll be lucky to be a 7-11 worker.” I never forgot these words and have dedicated my life to proving these individuals wrong and I think that is largely why Trymaine’s speech resonated so much with me.
This ceremony went smoothly all around including at the end. I was prepared for confetti this time around, but very happy that there was none (my ears/brain says “Thank YOU!”, Rowan).
After the ceremony I had the challenge of finding my family and boyfriend in the crowd of people. I actually called my mom to try to find her – something I never could’ve done in the past since I couldn’t hear on the phone!
While my combined graduations had their downs and then ups, it’s an experience I wouldn’t change for the world. I don’t think I would have ever went back to school to get my MA in Writing had it not been for my cochlear implants and I know I couldn’t have succeeded and managed to graduate with a 4.0 if it weren’t for them. God opened my ears to hear and in doing so, he opened many doors to my future, too.
Next step……………………………………………………………………………………………….to be determined.
Hey guys! 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!