Although Jason Anderson identified as hearing for most of his life, he became hard of hearing from spinal meningitis at two years old. The illness left one ear deaf and the other with fluctuating hearing. Despite a fairly typical upbringing in West Bend, Wisconsin, Anderson struggled socially and academically because accommodations were not provided. In his senior year, he dropped out of high school and moved to Milwaukee to work in customer service at Home Depot.
Three years later, Anderson’s residual hearing mysteriously disappeared one day, rendering him totally deaf. A medical examination found no apparent cause. While his hearing aid could pick up environmental noise, it could not help him understand speech. Seeing little hope of advancement at Home Depot after his sudden hearing loss, Anderson decided it was time for a change and, in 2007, enrolled in Sociology at University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee after obtaining his High School Equivalency Diploma.
Initially, Anderson knew nothing about the deaf and hard of hearing community and used captioning for his classes. At his advisor’s recommendation, he took up American Sign Language classes—his first glimpse into disability rights advocacy. “Being raised hard of hearing let me see how hard life can be. Being introduced to deaf culture allowed me to open my eyes and feel a part of something bigger than myself,” says Anderson. “It gave me confidence, self-worth, and identity, and it also helped me find my purpose in life. Even now, with my cochlear implants, I still am proud to say that I am deaf because of what I have learned.”
Anderson went on to join UW – Milwaukee’s Americans with Disabilities Act Advisory Committee, attend a leadership-training summit in England with other Deaf students, and intern at Independence First, an organization devoted to disability rights and advocacy. His work with deaf and hard of hearing clients at Independence First inspired Anderson to start an employment resource center tailored specifically for clients with hearing loss, called CODE-IDEA, or “Creating for Deaf Employment – Innovation, Diversity, Empowerment, and Access.” So far, CODE-IDEA has worked with approximately forty deaf clients.
In 2012, Anderson accepted a position as an advisor for deaf and hard of hearing students at UW – Milwaukee, where he still works to this day. He also received his first cochlear implant and followed up with a second implant two years later. Anderson currently lives in Fox Point with his wife, two cats, and a deaf dog named Beethoven. His business can be found at www.code-idea.org.