Wednesday, September 15, 2010

How Would You Encourage a Teenager With Hearing Loss?

Ten years ago I was a college student struggling to hear and take notes in class. Today I returned to my Alma Mater, the University of Tennessee, to speak to graduate students in a Cochlear Implant class. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would be a CI recipient OR be speaking in front of a class at a university. A big thank you (again!) goes to Cochlear for making the technology available so others can hear!

My presentation went better than expected and the students were very attentive and had some good questions for me. Which made it easier to share things that I would not have originally presented or thought of. I shared my hearing journey with them, which included discussing some difficult times during my teenage years. One of the questions they asked me was, "How would you encourage a teenager today with a hearing loss who is depressed, isolated, or doesn't want to wear a hearing aid or work with a cochlear implant?" I had to think about that for a minute and said that was a hard one to answer. And have been pondering it ever since.

When I was a teenager in the 60's and 70's, life was hard. Peer pressure reared its ugly head and I felt very isolated. Had very few friends because I talked funny and couldn't hear very well. Was labeled a "snob" many times because I did not respond when my name was called. I felt suicidal at times.  I couldn't talk on the phone and if I wanted to communicate with someone, I had to do it by snail mail or in person. I just wanted someone to listen to me and validate my feelings. And just wanted to have a sense of belonging. Thankfully, I had a wonderful family and support system at home. But not every teenager has that in today's world.

Today, the Internet & technology has made it possible for teenagers to have immediate results and communication skills, something many of us did not have as teenagers. The social media has broken down those barriers of communication and make it possible for the deaf & hard of hearing to connect with the outside world. But instant results when it comes to hearing & understanding with a hearing aid or cochlear implant is a different story. The results are not always immediate and take time.  Working with a hearing aid or cochlear implant is like any other tool and have a learning curve associated with them. Practice and patience is the key to success.

I feel that increased independence leads to a richer life with a purpose. Many of us CI recipients can attest to that. I would encourage parents, audiologists, & medical professionals to learn how to encourage them in a positive way.  They need to know that they are special just the way they are and have a purpose in life. Listen to them, love them, embrace them, & plant seeds of hope so that they can make a difference in their world and for those around them. And pray for them, too. When you do that for them, you give them the power & courage to live a confident, healthy, & positive life.

How would you answer the question? Looking forward to hearing your answers!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

A Broadway CI Moment

Wow! Oh, Wow! My husband and I recently saw the Broadway musical, “Wicked” at the Gershwin Theatre while on vacation in New York City. For the first time EVER, I was able to enjoy a show without missing a single word or action. Steve called ahead before he made our reservations to see if they had any assistive listening devices available for me. The person who answered the phone was very vague about what was available and didn’t seem to know too much about them. We decided to take the chance and go to the show because I figured I might be able to use my Cochlear audio cable cords that I use for listening to music on my iPod and FM systems. To my surprise (and glee!), I was able to use not one, but TWO assistive devices for the show. There was a gal in charge of the booth and they had an infrared unit with a neck loop, headsets (much like the TV Ears), AND a handheld I-Caption unit. I also overheard her telling someone else that they had a device to allow someone to enjoy the musical translated from English to Spanish. In order to get the units, I had to exchange my driver’s license and chose to use the infrared neck loop unit with my own cords and the I-Caption unit.
Wow! The acting & musical numbers were extraordinary, drawing both Steve & I (as well as the audience) into the story. We were totally in awe of the costumes and the different sets that moved quickly between scenes. Our seats were four rows from the stage so the orchestra was right in front of us! The plot of the story was very intricate and we loved how the life lessons were connected to the original Wizard of Oz, which was first produced in 1939. The characters were so loveable and emotional, leaving Steve & I speechless in our seats. We both had tears streaming down our faces by the end of the show.
I think Steve enjoyed the show just as much as I did because I did not tap his arm once during the musical production to ask him what was going on or what someone had said. I cannot remember a time when I did not have to ask a question about the storyline during a show or a movie. My earliest musical memory was seeing “The Sound of Music” when it first came out in the late 1960’s. My mother sat next to me and spent the whole time making sure I understood what was going on. She was my earliest “transcriber” and was so patient with me.

There are only three theatres in NYC that provide assistive listening devices for those persons with hearing loss. (I didn’t catch the names of the other two.) The Gershwin Theatre definitely has a place in my heart and I plan to visit again the next time we come to New York City. This Broadway experience was definitely a special CI moment for me. In case I haven’t said it yet, “Wow!” What an experience! I love New York!

To Cochlear and those persons responsible for the advances in technology today so I can hear & enjoy music & shows with my cochlear implants, I just want to sing “because of you, I do believe I have been changed for good….” (lyrics from the last song “For Good” in the musical, Wicked).