“Sorry, could you repeat that? I’m deaf.” This is the most popular phrase in my vocabulary. I usually get a response of laughter or an occasional “ugh, me too!” but little do they know that I speak the truth. At age six I was diagnosed with sensorineural hearing loss in my left ear. A year later, tests revealed that my condition progressed to my right ear, labeling me with a bilateral hearing loss. This was a challenge for my family and myself and forced us to adjust our lifestyle and personally, my social life. As I encountered obstacles, I became frustrated and embarrassed with the “bubble gum” molds in my ears. However, as I grew to accept my disability, I became confident in my self-advocacy and made the most of my condition.
My disability was a surprise and some found it humorous. After I began wearing my hearing aids, my uncle would shout at me for no reason to “make sure” I heard him, while my grandmother would speak in a slow monotone voice as if I was foreign to her language. I would ask my cousins to repeat themselves and they would say, “What, are you deaf”? I laughed along but inside, I was swallowing my emotions and blinking away the tears of humiliation. My father refused to accept my disability and believed it was nothing but a doctor’s plan to make money. My mother was forced to take on scheduling and meetings to get me the help I needed since she was the only person who accepted my disability. As the child of a divorced couple, I repeatedly listened to my mother complain about my father’s stubbornness, then visited my father only to hear him moan about my mother’s ridiculousness. With the conflicts and jokes I grew to hate my diagnosis more and more. I found myself taking my hearing aids off whenever my mother wasn’t around to scold me about keeping them on. I misplaced batteries to develop a new excuse as to why I couldn’t wear them and overall, I threw $4,000 down the drain by losing a complete set of hearing aids twice. This made my situation worse, making my mother frustrated with my irresponsibility. I found myself in argument after argument about nobody understanding my desire to hear like a normal person. After receiving my third set of hearing aids and long lectures from my mother, audiologist and father, who now accepted the disability because of the excess bills, I entered high school with a more optimistic point of view.
I began to wear my hearing aids daily but I still struggled to hear the teacher. I decided I had to accept my condition and make the best of it. My audiologist at the Easterseals Center for Better Hearing in Waterbury, went above and beyond to equip me with the proper paperwork, tools and even conversation starters to encourage my teachers and classmates to meet me halfway with my disability. I approached teachers and asked for preferential seating while my audiologist worked to get me a FM transmitter in school again. I was surprised by how accepted this was by my peers. I braced myself to be ridiculed but instead, I was approached with amazement and curiosity. Throughout high school and still today, people repeatedly ask to try on my hearing aids as if they are a piece of clothing (it puzzles me every time). I took the jokes from my family and created my own sense of humor, realizing my disability wasn’t that bad and in fact, was a bit comical. My imagination somehow gets a hold of my ears and makes me think I’ve heard the most absurd statements that are actually just creations in my mind. I once thought my dance teammate had asked me what kind of cell phone I have and I nonchalantly replied “I just have the free one that comes with the plan.” She burst out laughing and I became defensive saying I couldn’t afford the newest technology. She told me she had asked how many siblings I had and I realized how hilarious my answer sounded. That entire night of practice we laughed over my free sibling that came with the plan.
My boost in self-assurance through high school encouraged me to never limit myself or allow my disability to steer me away from my dreams. In 2012, I made the bold decision to attend New York University in the amazingly beautiful (and loud) New York City. My mother was worried about my choice but confident in me. After more than a decade of knowingly living with a hearing loss, I learned to use my senses, to adjust my hearing aids to my surroundings accordingly and to never ever be afraid of asking someone to speak up or repeat themselves. In the midst of NYC students shouting at each other on their way to class, the taxi’s beeping their horns impatiently, the dogs barking at each other on the sidewalks and the children repeatedly crying and laughing in response to their nannies…my hearing aids were even more my best friends than before. They not only ensured me of my surroundings, but also gave me the wonderful ability to tune out noise I didn’t want to listen to with the simple click of a volume switch. Yes I’ll admit, I have selective hearing when I want to…I promise this has nothing to do with me not hearing my mother at times.
In May 2016, I graduated with my Bachelor Degree of Science in Media, Culture and Communication. My studies were unique to me as I learned about the visual representation of those with disabilities like myself. I explored the accessibility issues we continue to fight and the technology that has enabled us to do more. I took classes on film and music despite the expectations a hearing loss would make such classes difficult. I sat in Spanish seminars encouraging those around me to annunciate more (mostly for my benefit, but hey, It definitely made them more proficient). I not only completed my four years at a highly acclaimed university, I excelled during them. The day of graduation, I took the stage as the class speaker and received my diploma with honors and a resume filled with activities and internships I never imagined doing on the first day those bubble gum molds were placed in my ears. Since graduating, I have remained in the Big Apple and now work full time at NYU with plans to start graduate school.
My hearing loss was a burden to me as a child and young adult. I was embarrassed, humiliated and ashamed of my condition. I hated wearing the bud size microphones in my ears but grew to realize how unique and blessed I was to have such assistance and support. Dr. Burton and the staff at Easterseals have watched me grow into the woman I am today and they have cheered for me every step of the way. Despite the obstacles I sometimes face as a person with a disability, my hearing loss will never be a burden to me and I can promise that I will continue to embrace it with each new journey life gifts me. My disability makes me who I am and because of this challenge in my life I have become the self-advocating, comical, and empowered partially deaf woman that I am today.