Living in a new city surrounded by thousands of students from a variety of backgrounds had me eager to learn and grow and become someone I never thought I could be. Once so shy and quiet, I now felt compelled to put myself out there and make new friends. However, attending college with hearing loss wasn’t easy. I still would not put myself out there with my hearing aids on display.
That was still a subject of conversation that I continued to keep a tight lip about. I was happy that I could actually do that this time, though. No more getting pulled out of class to talk about my hearing aids. No more IEP meetings for me to smile and nod at until I could bolt out of the room. If I didn’t want a single soul at the huge university to know about my hearing loss, I could do it! So that’s what I did, until I discovered that my college calculus class was a far cry from the easier high school math classes.
Read more: What was it like being in high school with hearing loss?
I decided to check out what resources the university had to offer to students with hearing loss, by going to the disability office. I chatted with a woman who had a hearing loss herself, and there was a sign language interpreter as well. She presented options for me: an FM system to amplify the professor’s microphone and a notetaker. A notetaker would be another student in my class who chose to share their notes with me so I didn’t miss anything.
I thanked the woman for her time and walked out with the FM system and information on how to get a notetaker. I shoved it all into my backpack and every day after that, I thought about approaching my professor after class, but I could never bring myself to do it. Without ever using the resources I had, I was successful in all of my classes. Yet I was still paralyzed by the fear of what other people might think of me if I revealed my hearing loss to them. Would they think I was stupid? Would professors think I couldn’t do well in their classes? I maintained my silence about my hearing loss for two more years. Then a conversation with a friend changed everything.
“I was still paralyzed by the fear of what other people might think of me if I revealed my hearing loss to them.”
“Honestly, I think the root of my lack of confidence stems from how I feel about my disability. But I have suppressed all feelings about my hearing loss for so long that I don’t even know what I could do to change how I feel about it,” I explained to my friend.
“What about this. In the first week of class, you wear your hair up every day and see what happens. You’ll find that people don’t notice your hearing aids as much as you think they do,” he responded.
I thought about his idea with the feeling that I was definitely NOT going to do that. But by the time class started, I decided to try it out, just for one day.
Wearing my hair in a ponytail for class, brought back flashbacks to elementary school where I was constantly being asked about my hearing aids. I sat in my lectures, went to the store, ate lunch at the dining hall, and throughout the entire day, no one said a word to me about my hearing aids. I wore my hair up again the next day, and still nothing happened. The week passed and I was not asked once about my hearing aids! Now I had the proof that people really didn’t notice my disability as much as I thought they did. This gave me a spark of confidence and inspiration to use my hearing loss to help others. The universe works in mysterious ways, as I was then presented with the opportunity to join the McBurney Speakers Bureau.
The McBurney Speakers Bureau is an organization for students with disabilities, by students with disabilities, where students get to speak to the community about their disabilities and what can be improved. We talked to a panel of elementary school teachers about our experiences and our suggestions for improvement. One guy spoke about being blind, a girl spoke of mental health, and another girl spoke about having cochlear implants.
My heart was beating fast and when it was my turn to speak, my voice shook. I told the teachers about being pulled out of class to talk about my hearing aids, about my classmates’ questions for me, and how withdrawn I’d become over the years. They listened with quiet sympathy as I shared everything about my childhood with hearing aids. When I finished talking, I was filled with pride. At last, I was using my own disability to maybe help some other kids who have one too.
Discovering this confidence in myself and my hearing loss changed the course of my life. I was no longer afraid to do things! It led me to study abroad in Italy, nail my interviews for jobs after college, and best of all, start writing about my hearing loss. Since I put myself out there, I have connected with so many amazing people on social media. Often I find myself reassuring worried parents that their hard of hearing child will lead an incredible life regardless of their disability. I know this because if I can do it, they can too.