How my hearing loss journey led me to become an audiologist
I was inspired by my audiologist and my family to go to school for audiology.
In fact, it felt natural for me to become a hard of hearing audiologist to work with and help others living with hearing loss. I am excited to be on the frontlines and be a part of the rapid changes and improvements in technology that I depend on every day. Currently, I am a Research Audiologist for Phonak. In this role, I design and conduct research to verify and validate Phonak products and services.
I was diagnosed with hearing loss around 2 years of age and have worn hearing aids ever since. A year and a half ago, I underwent surgery for a cochlear implant. Now I wear a hearing aid in one ear and a cochlear implant in the other. I have never known “normal” hearing, all I know are the sounds I hear through my hearing devices.
Growing up with hearing loss
Growing up, I was lucky to have support from my family, teachers, and healthcare providers. They were my advocates. They provided me with the resources and accommodations to be successful academically and socially. Even with excellent support and resources, I still worked twice as hard as my peers to prove my hearing loss would not impede me from doing anything I wished to achieve.
Throughout my childhood, I experienced different challenges that were tied to my hearing loss. In elementary school, I had the desire to learn to play the violin and perform in the school’s orchestra. Yet, I failed the music test as it was a hearing test given in a large cafeteria. I could not hear the recording from across the crowded room. As a result, I was not allowed to play the violin. My parents advocated on my behalf as the testing procedure was unfair. With practice and determination, I learned to play the violin. Eventually, I became a first chair violinist in the school’s orchestra. I adapted to feeling the vibration of the music in combination with hearing it to better play.
“I adapted to feeling the vibration of the music in combination with hearing it to better play.”
In middle school, I joined the cheerleading team. Yet, my coach was afraid my hearing aids would break while stunting or tumbling. My coach was also concerned that I would not be able to effectively communicate with my teammates during routines. I learned to tape my hearing aids to my ears using putty to prevent them from falling off my ears. With perseverance, practice and visual cues, I proved to my coach my hearing loss did not inhibit me. I became captain of the team and one of the youngest cheerleaders to make the varsity team.
“I learned to tape my hearing aids to my ears using putty to prevent them from falling off my ears.”
These experiences taught me how to adapt to the situation and think outside the box. I had to jump through many hoops and obstacles to get to where I am today, and I will continue to do so. It may seem like hard work to always have to overcome obstacles, and one may question, is it worth it? It is worth it every single time because the reward of being a part of anything, regardless of how small or big, is gratifying. Hearing is one of the five senses we use in our everyday life, and without it, we struggle to feel included in society.
Becoming my own advocate
Learning to be an advocate for myself was challenging, and it still is. Being an advocate means speaking up for yourself and admitting you have a disability. It means confronting others to repeat themselves and adapting to your surroundings. Hearing loss is a “hidden disability” because it is not always noticeable to others. A person may think you are ignoring them when they are speaking to you. In reality, you had not heard them so you were not aware they were speaking to you.
This was a wake-up call for me when I transitioned from high school into college. I received my bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Go Tar Heels!). No longer being in my high school bubble where everyone knew me presented new challenges. I was in an environment where I did not know anyone and did not have suitable accommodations in place. The school’s FM system was old, clunky, and worked intermittently. Yet, I did not say anything or report my concern. I was also embarrassed to sit in front of the classroom or a have a note-taker. As a result, college was challenging and I did not perform as well as I could have.
When I began graduate school at the University at Buffalo in New York, I developed a better understanding about myself and my hearing loss. This helped me to accept my disability and to be comfortable with myself. It is not worth isolating yourself to avoid telling others you have hearing loss. I learned it is better to ask for repetition than to pretend you heard it the first time. I learned that people are willing to be as accommodating as possible and need some education on how to help. It does take effort, as well as trial and error, but I learned that it is worth more than missing out on the small things in life.
“It does take effort, as well as trial and error, but I learned that it is worth more than missing out on the small things in life.”
As I enter different stages of my life, I will continually face challenges due to hearing loss, and I will overcome them every time. They may not be perfect, but my hearing aid and cochlear implant are the most valuable items I own. They connect me to the world and without them I would be lost. The sounds they provide me, however small or large, gives me great joy. I aspire to be a great advocate for others with hearing loss and hope to help them feel more connected to the world, like those who advocated for me.
Jaqueline will be writing regularly for HearingLikeMe, stay tuned for more of her articles!