The Camp

As a child of the 70s, having been born in ’72, growing up was a huge learning experience, not just for myself, but for my family, my friends, my school, my job(s), but especially for myself. Back then, I was unique because I had a disability that not many people knew about, much less understood. I was born with a severe hearing loss due to the results of birth complications. During the ’70s, and perhaps into the ’80s, those with some form of hearing loss or deafness would be sent to a school for the deaf. In Maine, there was only one such school, and it was called Baxter School of the Deaf.

My parents wouldn’t have any of it. They refused to send me somewhere so far away. The only time I’d ever see them was during the weekends, if that. They fought for me to stay home and go to public school in our area, and miracously, with the help of several doctors, speech therapists, etc, they won the right to keep me home and send me to public school.

As I said, it was a learning experience. Not only did I had to adjust to a life with hearing loss, but so do others had to adjust to a child with a hearing loss. Thankfully, my mother made sure that I lived a “normal” life, a life that would be considered the life of a “hearing person”. Among those I still count as friends are kids, and now adults, who had perfect hearing all their lives. If I did not have those guys as friends, I’d have been very, very alone indeed, because of the simple fact that there were no kids my age who had the same disability I did.

One such experience I will relate to you now. A few years after my parents found out of my severe hearing loss, when I was but a wee kid probably still sucking my thumb, my parents decided maybe I would benefit from meeting kids who had the same issues I had. Deafness. Hard of hearing. So my father took a day off from work, and hightailed it up north with myself and my mother in tow to a Camp for the Deaf Children.

Little did I know that I would remember this experience for the rest of my life.

We arrived at the camp, and to all appearances, everything looked normal. People were normal. Kids were normal. The campgrounds were normal. Everything was just fine and dandy. My eyes probably lit up then, seeing all the fun things I could do for three, maybe four months! 

We were ushered into a room and spoke with a guidance counselor. And then he showed us around on the camp grounds. As we walked around, we passed building after building where the kids would sleep or stay inside during rainy days. As chance would have it, it had just rained about an hour before our arrival, and the children did not yet leave their bunks. 

Have you ever seen an old black and white film where a car would be cruising a dirty old neighberhood, and kids would be standing in their doorways, just staring distrustfully at the car as it drives by? That an ominous silence filled the air, only to be shattered by the voice of the counselor as he introduced us to other counselors, or when he showed us around? It was like a scene straight out of a horror movie, to be honest. 

I thought I was home. I thought I was with kids who are…Just. Like. Me. But it was furthest from the truth. You see, I am hard of hearing, not completely deaf. Strike one against me on that one. I did not learn sign language, having been able to communicate just fine with other kids my age. Strike two against me. And finally, I was an outsider, regardless of our mutual disabilities. Strike three.

People with deafness, they are empaths. We can read lips. We can read body language. And kids? Well kids are honest to a fault. And their body language was so plain and open to see. I was not wanted. I was an outsider. And I felt every stare, every distrustful stare that day. I broke down and cried that day, so powerful were the emotions I felt emanating from the children in their houses of wood. 

My parents took me out of that camp as fast as their feet could go. They knew what I saw. They felt what I saw. And I never attempted to do that again, never. Ever. Again.

Here’s the thing I learned since. I am thankful for my parents with what they did. They did not shelter me from the world, as cruel as it is. They did not inhibit me by defining me as a child of deafness. They chose to treat me as their son, a child, a child who loves to play ball. Who loves his video games. Who loves to read and write, and play games with his friends. They did not let my disability affect my happiness; they would not allow me to let my disability define who I am. And what I am.

Because of that, I was much better able to deal with the real world as a consequence. Did I have some problems as I became an adult (and afterwards?) Certainly! No matter what, there will always be ignorant, selfish, uneducated people who will judge you no matter what. But I was better able to deal with such things, and still retain a semblance of a “hearing person’s” life.

It’s okay to have friends and acquantainces from all walks of life. It’s okay to accept your deafness as a part of yourself, and it’s okay to mingle and mix with people of different race, color, religion, and last but not least, with people who can or cannot hear. 

I don’t let my deafness define me. I define who I am, me alone. And you know what taught me to do that? Walking in a camp of deaf kids changed that. 

Morale of the story? Don’t let anyone or anything define who you are. You are who you want to be.

Living In Between

When most people look at me, they probably don’t see my hearing aids. They probably don’t know that I struggle with comprehending a spoken conversation. They most definitely don’t know that I am juggling life between two worlds.

Many of us in the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community wear hearings aids or cochlear implants, however, this doesn’t mean we can understand every spoken word. With my hearing aids, I simply hear more noise. The noise itself is not distinguishable between rushing wind and someone shouting my name from far away.

From the time I was five years old and I received my first hearing aids, I was encouraged to “be hearing.” I went to speech therapy but was never introduced to American Sign Language. I didn’t even know the Deaf community existed, until I was in high school. While my parents weren’t supportive of me attending the American School for the Deaf, I could take ASL classes. It was there that a passion was born. I finally found a place where I wasn’t an outcast. I wasn’t the only one who was different. I could breathe.

I remember when I was in elementary school trying so hard to fit in. I purposely left my hearing aids at home, “forgot” my FM unit in the audiologist office and must have done the Deaf Nod a million times a day. I always felt like the odd ball. The misfit. I was constantly fighting what made me different – unique. I didn’t want to be that way. I wanted to be like everyone else, you know, normal. It didn’t become painfully apparent that I would never be normal until I was in high school.

My high school experience was not a good one. Honestly, I’d rather pretend those four years never happened. Not only were students picking on me for not being able to hear them, teachers did it too. They could be in earshot of someone bullying me and wouldn’t say a word until I retaliated. The one memory that is forever burned is when one of them called me a retard. That word haunted me and still does sometimes. Any time I wanted to try something new, his voice would echo in the back of my mine until I decided not to try. I had started to believe that word was synonymous with my name.

Since no one in my family learned ASL, I was forced into a life of lip reading everyone all the time. Whenever I went home after school, I rarely wanted to have a conversation because my energy was often tapped out. I’d go to my room, crawl into a comfy chair and read a book. In those fictional lands, I didn’t have to work as hard to understand what was going on. If I missed something, all I had to do was turn back a page or two. Whereas in a real-life conversation, I was always lost. If I had to ask, “What did you say?” more than once, I usually just read their facial expressions to figure out how I should react. It got to the point where sometimes, I was 100% guessing during a conversation.

During the pandemic, I have been guessing all the time. My insecurity is now through the roof! I can no longer hide my hearing level as well I used to. I have started to use alternative methods for communication among general public like Sprint IP Relay and typing my food/drink orders in my phone. Lip reading and facial expressions were the skills I could use to understand what I couldn’t hear. Now, I have less to work with when figuring out the correct response to a question or statement. Every Deaf and Hard of Hearing person would probably agree to this, I can’t wait till we no longer have to wear masks in public!

While hearing aids allow me to hear sounds, I can’t otherwise hear, this means many people I encounter think I am hearing. Since they assume that I am hearing due to what I can understand and my speech, I have always been embarrassed whenever I need to ask, “What did you say?” I am positive that they will think less of me, if I told them the truth. In reality, I think of myself as less than. Not good enough. Subpar. Don’t get me wrong, the bullies from high school and others I have run into over the years who have said, “Never mind” or looked down on me, played a part. Those looks, words and vibes chipped away at my self-esteem, as I grew older. I hardly thought of myself as successful or worth anything. This is something I still struggle with.

So, when it came time to move almost halfway across the country to start my own life, that mentality followed me into every kind of relationship. Whether it was trying to find a job, friends, boyfriend, or roommate, I was constantly second guessing myself. When they looked at my hearing aids, they automatically saw what I couldn’t do, instead of what I could do. Eventually, I met individuals who saw my potential, my worth, my essence as something to be cherished instead of frowned upon. In an effort to acknowledge my own self-worth, I have a mantra. I am a Black Deaf Queen who deserves to have space to be me. I will accept nothing less. I can do anything, except hear.

What My First Job Taught Me

I still remember my very first interview at Marcus Theaters, Westown Cinemas in Waukesha, WI. I was in high school then, and my mom took me to a movie theater that was only five minutes from our house. While she waited in the lobby area near the concession stand, I went into a small office for an interview with the manager.

He hired me on the spot as an usher.

I learned what really happens behind-the-scenes in a movie theater. I worked with other ushers to keep the lobby and theaters clean before, during, and after each show. I swept away popcorn, ripped tickets, and helped out at the concession stand. Better yet, I had the power to kick people out who tried sneaking in without a ticket.

It was a fun experience–but I faced some challenges. The other ushers bullied me. They gave me the most boring jobs, like keeping track of tickets when customers entered the lobby. It was just like middle school, when I was teased because of my hearing loss and being a minority.

I kept my chin up and refused to let it bother me. Eventually, the managers noticed I was great at greeting customers and made sure the other ushers treated me fairly. Their approval and consideration made me work hard and improve, despite the social obstacles.

Eventually, I received enough positive feedback from moviegoers that I became an employee of the month. I never felt so proud to earn that recognition–at my first job, no less!

By stepping out of my comfort zone and trying a job that intimidated me, I reached a milestone I never would have considered.

I hope you all find my first job an inspiration to try something new–even if it scares you. Thanks for reading!

Edited by Stephanie Stott, Staff Writer

Rebranding DeafandHoH.com for our community

As our website continue to expand with over 11,000 members in our Facebook community, we are re-branding our logo to serve both deaf and hard of hearing individuals worldwide.

As I mentioned before, I started the hearing loss website back in 2008 because I always felt like an outsider and not having many friends while growing up with mild to moderate hearing loss. Back in the school days, it was always a challenge to make new friends and found myself outside of the social circle.

I worked with our talented designer, Autumn Wallace, to create a new logo for our branding. She used the “I Love You’ sign and that reminds me of all the challenges I faced wanting to be cared about from others. Even though I am a non-signer, I feel this sign is commonly recognized by hearing, deaf, and hard of hearing individuals all around the world.  It’s a symbol that represent love. I want everyone to feel loved and cared about in a community unlike how I felt feeling isolated between the two worlds. The squares represent unity and digital technology as we establish this community online with a wide social media presence.

deafandhoh site logo

The mission of DeafandHoH is to empower the hearing loss community by promoting confident social interaction and open communication. We will continue to work hard and make this a great place for the deaf and hard of hearing community.

The milestone of 10,000 members

I would like to personally share some exciting news. We have finally reached the milestone of 10,000 members in our online hearing loss community with DeafandHoH. I’ve had mild to moderate hearing loss all of my life, and have always felt like an outsider and as if I don’t have many friends. Those feelings were my inspiration for starting a hearing loss community.

Thank you to all of our past student interns who have contributed to make our hearing loss website a great place for the deaf and hard of hearing community. We have had many students from Ohio University, the University of Dayton, and other colleges over the years. Without your contribution and involvement, we would not have gotten as far as we are today.

Last summer, I unexpectedly lost my job for no reason and faced another road block in my life. I will continue to advocate for others who are treated unfairly and are isolated in the outside world. I will continue to share my stories, frustrations, and achievements. Lastly, I will continue to reach out to the stars and all my dreams will come true no matter what roadblocks I encounter again.

I am confident our community will expand to become bigger than ever. The more we have, the stronger we are. Just remember, you’re not alone in this world.

I appreciate each and everyone in the hearing loss community, the friends who are still my friends today, and especially my parents who always been supportive and always there for me.

I love you all and thank you for reading.

Nothing Personal is Personal

It was just another normal day at work on Friday, July 28. I was feeling positive while taking on a graphic design request assigned to me. I always showed the willingness to contribute in other areas with my broad experience and creative talent whenever I could. At noon, my manager sent me a chat message asking if I would be around at 1 p.m.  He didn’t give an explanation, so out of curiosity I checked out his calendar—there was a meeting titled “Employee Action” at that time. I wondered what that meant as I walked over to my manager and asked if everything was okay. He briefly mentioned there was nothing to worry about, so that was a relief. I was thinking maybe it was a promotion or something good, since I had always been a hard worker. But instead, the unexpected happened like an asteroid falling on me out of nowhere. I was called in to see the HR manager whom I never met before. The HR manager told me I was being terminated. I wasn’t given any good reason for this.  I asked, “Am I being fired?” The only answer I received was, “No, nothing personal.” I was told this was a marketing department decision and that my skills weren’t needed anymore. Well, that was a vague response. Everything was personal to me in this case and I did not see it coming at all.  The digital team was expanding and more of my expertise was beneficial in the days to come as mentioned. I’ve always gotten positive feedback and recognition on my work. Nobody was being laid off in the marketing department and I kept asking the reason “why”? The HR manager and my manager were only interested to take away my ID badge and bring any personal belongings I had. I could not even return back to my desk. My manager walked me out of the building and treated me like a complete stranger. I have never been treated so badly by any company I worked with over the years. I felt deeply insulted and, even more, cheated like everything was an act. Just like that, one sunny afternoon, I lost my job that I worked so hard to get 17 months ago. Later, I learned I was possibly wrongfully terminated because they had hired another person to take over my role a week later. I had a taste of how Corporate America and management operate, particularly in big companies. It can happen to anyone and the world isn’t always a friendly place. It’s filled with politics. Unfortunately, it happened to me.

Even though this experience has really emotionally impacted me during the past couple of months, I have been trying to stay positive. Yes, thinking about beginning the job search process again is difficult. Yes, I have had dreams while sleeping of going back to work and being treated like an outsider by co-workers as I dealt all of my life growing up because of my hearing loss. But I’m also reminded of why I started all of this in the first place. This experience is why I continue to expand my hearing loss website, write a novel reaching out to the world, and share my personal experience in every part of my life. I will continue to advocate for others who are treated unfairly and isolated in the outside world. Someday I will reach the stars and all my dreams will come true, no matter what roadblocks I encounter. Sharing my stories, frustrations, and achievements is the best cure to move forward. That’s what I have been doing all along here in my blog.

Thank you all for reading and your support. New beginnings and good things are to come.

“Total Communication” philosophy

Thank you Kris Raasch Polly and Barb Nagy for your recommendation letter on behalf of my nomination for the 2017 Oticon Focus on People Awards.

At age 3 Senthil joined the full-time preschool program for deaf and hard of hearing children in Waukesha, Wisconsin. The preschool program followed the “Total Communication” philosophy which was very popular at that time. This philosophy allowed for oral speech, auditory skill development, speech reading and sign language techniques to coexist within the same classroom, based on the needs of the child. This class of 10 children included those who were hard of hearing, profoundly deaf and 3 children with apraxia who were learning sign language to help them in communicating their ideas. This “Total Communication” philosophy probably contributed to Senthil’s acceptance of people with different communication styles and needs.

Even at a young age, the teacher noted that Senthil displayed unusual compassion, interest in what other children had to say, and a desire to include everyone. Always a polite and well mannered child, an unkind word from Senthil was never heard in the years she worked with him. He also developed an appreciation for the cultural differences among people. At home his family continued some traditions and customs from India, while at school he learned about American customs and values.

By third grade, Senthil was mainstreamed into a regular education classroom. He would continue to be educated with his hearing peers through his middle school and high school years. A resource room teacher and then an itinerant teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing would consult with regular education staff to see that modifications such as appropriate seating and the use of an FM system to help him to hear the teacher’s voice and block out competing background noise were in place to help facilitate his success.

Senthil graduated and went to college. He became a graphic designer working with computers. As an adult he went on to develop a website for deaf and hard of hearing people, featuring a weekly chat night available internationally to share experiences and information. Given Senthil’s character, it is no surprise that he continues to find ways to help others and it has been our privilege and pleasure to have taught Senthil and be part of the process of referring him for this award.

Kris Raasch Polly and Barb Nagy, Teachers of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, School District of Waukesha, retired

#hearmeout

Jen Mikol, a current doctorate of audiology student at Ohio University, is finishing up her 4th year internship at Hackensack University Medical Center/Hackensack Audiology and Hearing Aid Associates. She completed her undergraduate work at SUNY Plattsburgh as a Communication Sciences and Disorders major. I reached out to her and several other students in the program to see what it was like to live a day in the audiologist student life. Below are several stories that Jen and some of her colleagues thought would be meaningful for the deaf and hard of hearing community.

  • I had a patient come in, a 3 year old, very smart little girl. During the testing we ran an automatic test (optoacoustic emissions). I asked her if she could hear the “birdies” and she looked up at me and said no- I instantly had a bad feeling about it. We wound up diagnosing her with a severe to profound hearing loss in one ear. She now wears a soft band BAHA and LOVES IT! She is doing really well in school (top of her class, in her words).
  • We had a kiddo come in with hardly any language at 2.5 years. He was diagnosed with a moderately severe SNHL in both of his ears. He was very interactive but just did not say words. He was fit with hearing aids and began speech and language services and he is now a little chatterbox. He is doing really well in school and knows his audiologist as the woman who helps him hear and plays fun games with him.
  • I had a kid come in who was starting to go through the process of potentially having a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder. He was 4 and very introverted, he did not speak much, he did not connect with people. He had failed hearing screenings but was put off as not being able to engage well. He wound up having a significant (believe it was moderately sever to profound) hearing loss in both ear. We fit him with hearing aids and began getting him proper therapy, primarily speech services. He is not interacting much more with people and saying much more. He is still in intensive therapy however things like this are why our job is so rewarding. We get to help people and work with other wonderful professionals and the families of these kids.
  • Plain and simple, I have a little girl who cries every time she has to take her hearing aids out, for testing, a bath, at night, going in the pool, whatever it may be and it breaks my heart and makes me so happy at the same time that she loves getting sound that much!

Open Forum Night

Starting November 9, 2011, we’ll be opening our Hearing Loss Forum for live discussions on specific topics during our regular Wednesday Open Chat Nights. Anyone and everyone is welcome to register and join in. The more, the merrier!

These discussions in the forum will allow DeafandHoH.com members to do the following:

  • Stay On Topic. Because Open Chat Night isn’t restricted to the weekly topic, our conversations usually jump from subject to subject depending on general interest. The Hearing Loss Forum will enable a more focused discussion on the posted topic.
  • Participate in an Alternative Discussion Board. Some members have had trouble logging into the Open Chat Night due to technical difficulties; however, they can still join in through the Hearing Loss Forum.
  • Follow a Structured Conversation. Much like Facebook, the forum allows you to send, like, and answer posts in a chronological format. Members will be able to clearly see who is responding to whom, and when.

DeafandHoH.com hopes that the Hearing Loss Forum will allow more members to participate in the weekly discussion at their own convenience. If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Thanks, and we look forward to seeing you this Wednesday!