Being born deaf, I have to live knowing nothing can fix my ears. I primed myself to question the context of every sentence ever spoken to me. My teachers told me it was a skill I needed to develop to ensure I did not miss information or misinterpret the spoken language that surrounded me. Even so, I spent many hours reflecting on why I had only a few friends, and contemplating why the friends I did have never clued me in on their conversations. For so long, I thought there was nothing I could do. I had to accept that I would continue to miss opportunities throughout my life because of my impairment. Even my bone-anchored hearing aids—a type of hearing aid that enters its sound output into the cochlea by vibrating the mastoid bone instead of by directing amplified sound to the eardrum—could not actualize the equivalent of a hearing life.
My struggle to hear made me an easy target for bullies throughout elementary and middle school. I was labeled the “special” student, the child who needed closed captioning along with other assistive technologies. I knew I needed these accommodations to allow me equal access in my classes, yet none of my classmates treated me equally. Sometimes, they would ignore me altogether, look in other directions as I spoke, and roll their eyes at me. My best friends at the time would try to pressure me to shoplift because in their opinion, I was disabled and less likely to get caught. That day, everything within me said shoplifting was wrong. When it was time for me to attend high school, I was friendless, and treated even more disabled than I had been in the past. The school administrators exempted me from all foreign language requirements and they told me that I had the option of graduating early, only so they would not have to deal with me anymore.
To my mind, no one saw past my limitations—not even my parents—and it validated every negative word people hurled in my direction. I began to lose faith in my abilities, disregarding any intellectual, emotional, and physical potential I may have had before. At my weakest point, I was eating from tubs of ice cream without any regard for my health or respect for my self-worth. I was at war with myself until my sophomore year when I walked away from the bad influences in my life. Then I could finally see my strengths and know my life is worth the fight. Thus, my sophomore year became the first year I had ever achieved straight A’s on my report card. Although my biggest breakthrough did not come until I jumped into an AP Psychology class my junior year which led me to see myself for who I truly was: an intelligent and unbreakably strong person.
Upon coming to this new and empowering realization, I found a way to use my strengths in order to help people with disabilities who struggle emotionally and socially. Toward the end of the school year, I was presented with the opportunity to start down the path of my career as a psychiatrist through initiating a research project. The goal of my research was to support the addition of American Sign Language and Latin courses at my high school. I drew inspiration for the project from my own experiences as a deaf person, wearing hearing aids and struggling to understand spoken English. However, the driving force behind my research was my eagerness to pave the way for future generations of deaf people in my community. I want them to have a better life, to be accepted, and to know that they are not alone in a world of silence. Everyone has a voice that matters, but it is in how we use the voice that we can make a real and substantial difference.