I went through a lot of emotions my first year (of college), denial, anger, frustration, and eventually I realized that I couldn’t wish away my disability. It was here, it was presenting itself and I needed to learn to deal with it. And I think I have. More often than not, I LOVE being hearing impaired now. I OWN my disability. It makes me wonderfully different and unique. It has taught me valuable lessons about tolerance, respect, love, and empathy.
That is how I knew I was not like other kids
The first time I knew I was different from other kids was probably right before kindergarten. You know that game Telephone where all the kids sit in a circle and the teacher starts off with a phrase and they pass it on to somebody’s ear and then the kid has to whisper it to the next child? By the time they got around to me I could not hear them whisper it. I would say “What?” and then they would have to say it again and by the time I figured it out they would have to shout it to me and then it ruined the game. That is how I knew I was not like the other kids. I could not hear whispers. Once I got my hearing aids I was transferred to an elementary school that had a class specifically for deaf and hard of hearing kids. That eased my transition into mainstream classes because I knew I was not the only kid wearing hearing aids.
Don’t Panic if Something Goes Wrong
At a certain age I would expect the kids to start caring or treating the hearing aids as their own and taking ownership of their hearing loss and always remembering to carry a spare set of batteries, their backup implant or speech processor. If they are stuck in the middle of nowhere without hearing aids you just have to have a sense of humor about it. Do not let it get you down. I remember I was on camping trip for two weeks out West and I did not have a dry aid kit. The hearing aids broke down because of the moisture so I went without my hearing aid for quite awhile. We did not have a way to restore them so I told my coaches and trainers about this. We got a little container and we got a camp fire going and we stuck the container and put the crystals in there and then I had a dry aid kit. You have to be resourceful. You cannot be afraid to tell other people, especially adults, your situation. You have to let them know ahead of time. If you speak up and let everybody know they are more supportive that way. They will do something about it.
Don’t Let Anything Hold You Back
My sister and I were raised in a household where we were told that having a hearing loss was just like having bad eyes, and that putting hearing aids on was just like putting on glasses. That we were like every other kid, and in my household, we never dwelled on it. I found it helpful because it gave me the confidence that, “You know what… I’m not different!” My parents didn’t allow me to use my deafness as an excuse. For example, for swimming lessons, obviously I can’t use my hearing aid in the pool, but my parents were like “If you want to take swimming lessons, you can take swimming lessons.” So I took swimming lessons with my friend so my friend could help me through. So if I didn’t have the mentality that my parents had, I might not have felt comfortable doing swimming lessons. I never let anything hold me back. I’m very vocal with what I need, and I think that’s because my parents always said to me “As long as you get the services that you need, you can be like everyone else.”
Mark, Audiology student
When I was younger I wore glasses and I had hearing aids. There was this girl who was so mean, she called me Helen Keller. She teased me, and she called me Helen Keller, and she just made my life miserable! It wasn’t until I told the story in college, to a girl named Christine who went to a School for the Deaf, and she wrote me this card, saying “That girl might not have known it, but she was giving you the best compliment ever, because Helen Keller is a real hero to me.” I was just so happy that she could take the negative and turn it into this positive.
Mark, Audiology student
Many professors were willing to go above and beyond to help me. From holding private sessions with me to recap everything in their lectures, to answering all my questions, to just being patient and willing to listen.
I’m Teaching Now
I am a special education teacher with Teach for America. Currently I am teaching seventh grade special education and I have a range of students who are all mildly/moderately disabled. I am also getting a masters in special education and a certificate in disabilities studies. I chose to teach special education because my own experience as a person with a disability.
Giving a Speech in College
One of moments in my life that I am proudest of is my work in the field of diversity and tolerance at my college. When I was a freshman I went through this program called the “Diversity Peer Program” and began a process of taking ownership of my identity. My sophomore year I was nominated and selected to speak at my school’s “Experiences” program. I gave a speech being Asian and being hearing impaired. Apparently, it was one of the first times at my school that someone had been outspoken about a disabled experience. The feedback I received on this speech was overwhelmingly positive and I was asked to perform the hearing impaired speech two more times at college. What I love most is that this speech was the impetus for starting a real dialogue about disabilities at my school. So many people came up to be and shared their own experiences. It was tremendously empowering to see these faces materialize and claim their disabled identity. My senior year had lots of highs and lows, but getting to the point where I could own my disability and my experience being hearing impaired was very liberating and empowering.