I remember vividly the day I first tried on my hearing aids – my entire world changed forever. I entered kindergarten with my newfound hearing and immediately fell even more in love with learning. However, despite the help the hearing aids offered, I often found myself completely lost in class, and maybe embarrassed for falling behind. With a 40% bilateral hearing loss, I missed many vital lessons, the loss of which would prove to be detrimental to my future educational career. This is just one of the many ways that hearing loss has affected my education.
It’s Friday, the monthly awards ceremony in elementary school. Half of the school, like me, is jittery with anticipation to receive their award, while the other half want to be anywhere else but here. I hear my name and I jump up to accept my award. I look back and grin widely at my best friend as I make my way up to the stage. Once I get up there, I’m beaming at my principal with pride. I reach out for an award that will make my parents so proud, but instead the principal leans in and whispers something in my ear. But I can’t hear her. “What?” I ask, feeling the blood start to set my cheeks on fire. Something’s not right. “I didn’t call your name, sweetie.” Oh, no…this can’t be happening. Please God, this can’t be happening.
When I first began attending school, I was immediately in my zone. I had just gotten hearing aids, and the gift of hearing renewed my zest and passion for learning. I also just couldn’t wait to tell everyone how great hearing aids were and that they should really get a pair, too. Scholl was always the most exciting place I could be because I knew I’d learn something new every day, and nothing thrilled me more. As I grew older, however, school became more of a burden than an exciting adventure. I found it difficult to hear and therefore keep up with the assignments.
Despite having a hearing loss, I had never considered myself very different than my peers. I certainly never thought that I needed any sort of special treatment because of it. I was still very young the first time I was confronted about wearing hearing aids. A girl my age came up to me and said, “WHAT are those things in your ears?!” I didn’t think that it was that big of a deal. I could hear, what was the problem? But it was the first time I remember feeling ashamed for having to wear hearing aids. It was the first time I realized I wasn’t like everyone else.
Students are not the only one who have made me feel inadequate due to my hearing loss. I have been blessed with many wonderful teachers, but of course there were those who were considerably less understanding. I have been humiliated in front of the entire class many times because I couldn’t understand correctly what the teachers were asking of me. It was in those instances that I felt extremely discouraged. I began seriously doubting my intelligence and became too embarrassed to ask questions for fear of being humiliated again. This obviously created major setbacks for me in my education.
I had always seen myself as intellectually adequate, if not advanced even, until one year in high school I was failing algebra. At the parent teacher conference, my teacher accused me of using my hearing loss as a crutch, suggesting that was why I was failing her class. I was so frustrated. She didn’t seem to care that I hadn’t gained the same foundation as the other kids in class, because I had in fact missed so much already in previous math classes, and she wasn’t willing to help me move forward. However, I decided not to let this get to me. The next year I took Algebra with another teacher who made me sure that I was getting all the information I had been missing up until then. I passed with flying colors.
What most people don’t understand about those of us with hearing loss is that we don’t process auditory information as quickly because there are added steps. We rely heavily on visual cues, lip-reading, body language, and written information. While I have been faced with many obstacles because of this loss, I have learned to view it as a gift. And maybe even more importantly, I am able to help others with the same disability as me; I can help them avoid some of the pitfalls I’ve had to climb out of. That, in and of itself, is gift enough.
For the past three years, I’ve been blessed to work at an assisted living facility in the activities department. Not only have I had the opportunity to help seniors who have started to lose their hearing, but working with them has helped me to discover true passion in this field – bringing life back to a person who has, metaphorically speaking, lost it. And after much prayer, I feel led to pursue a degree in Occupational Therapy.
I want to inspire people to their full potential, without fear or shame of any disability, to live again.