HearingLikeMe recently connected with the Phonak hEARo to learn more about her hearing loss journey and passion for advocating for people with hearing loss.
HLM: So, Katie, can you tell us about your hearing loss?
Katie: I was born with bilateral severe-to-profound sensorineural hearing loss. I was adopted from Kaliningrad, Russia when I was 9 months old and my mom found out about my hearing loss at a routine “adopted child checkup” after we got back to the US. They shook a little toy monkey behind my head, I didn’t respond, and more tests were done. Eventually a diagnosis was made, and I’ve worn hearing aids ever since. I was a candidate for cochlear implants, but my mom wanted to see how I did with hearing aids first. I exceeded expectations, and I’ve worn hearing aids ever since. I have always communicated orally. I didn’t learn American Sign Language until college, and I currently have up to ASL 3 knowledge. In school, I’ve always used a personal FM system and really enjoy the Phonak Roger Pen.
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HLM: What was your experience like growing up with hearing loss?
Katie: My situation was a unique one in the fact that I was adopted into a completely hearing family and didn’t grow up around other any other hard-of-hearing children. I went to a special education program for children with hearing loss for preschool and then in Kindergarten I was fully mainstreamed. I don’t really remember anything from that special education program, and I never stayed in touch with any of the children/families either. I didn’t really connect with other HoH people until I was in high school and went to AG Bell’s LOFT program. This experience completely transformed my life as I was finally able to connect and interact with others who faced the same daily challenges I did. I finally felt not alone in my struggles, and it was so eye opening knowing there was a whole community out there. I went to this program in July 2015, and I still talk to some of the people I met there every single day.
HLM: Sounds like an amazing experience and a great community! As someone with hearing loss, are there any particular obstacles you’ve had to overcome?
Katie: The biggest obstacle I’ve had to overcome was working at a job that continuously violated the ADA and fighting to get the accommodations I was legally obligated to and deserved. I could have left when things got hard, but I stayed because I wanted to prove those managers wrong. I am more than my hearing loss, I am a good employee, and you can’t dismiss me because my hearing loss is “too difficult for you to handle”. My hearing loss is much more of a burden for me than it would ever be for my store managers who I saw 12 hours a week. The biggest thing I learned was to NEVER stop fighting for what you deserve, and eventually you will get it.
HLM: Switching gears a little bit. You’re a powerlifter. So cool! How did you get into this?
Katie: I played soccer my whole life up until graduating high school. While I loved soccer, I was ready to leave it behind in college because I was a goalie, and I felt a lot of pressure to perform. Even though I’d play a great game, I’d still feel like it was my fault if we lost even though I couldn’t score any goals myself. I still wanted to remain active, but I wanted to have more control over the outcome. Senior year of high school I started going to the gym, not really having any idea what I was doing. I’d spend hours on the treadmill, wanting to shrink my body as small as it could be and doing random weight circuits. After a year of trial and a lot of error, I realized I wanted to put on size and get strong. I started lifting heavy and absolutely fell in love with it. Lifting weights became my therapy and my way to escape from all my stress. I continued lifting heavy freshman year of college, and then sophomore year I joined UMass Powerlifting and I haven’t looked back. I’ve been powerlifting for about a year and a half, and I love it. I’m still able to put on muscle and reach physical goals, but getting strong feels amazing too.
HLM: Your instagram is a mix of content on powerlifting and hearing loss awareness. How do the two worlds come together for you? What do you hope people gain from your social media posts?
Katie: My account originally started as a page for me to log my powerlifting progress (hence the name @ktnLIFTS), but I realized there is so much more to me than just lifting. I was growing a following with the lifting content so I thought to myself, “why not take this as an opportunity to educate people about hearing loss as well?”
“I am just as much a powerlifter as I am a person with hearing loss.”
I am just as much a powerlifter as I am a person with hearing loss. Even if people mainly follow me for my lifting content, I’m still able to teach them about living with hearing loss, something they might not stumble across elsewhere. I’ve received so many messages from powerlifters and people who enjoy fitness saying how much I’ve shaped their perspective about hearing loss. Because of my content, they feel comfortable and confident about interacting with people with hearing loss, and know how to best serve our needs.
On the other hand, I’ve also received so many messages from other HoH people saying how my content makes them feel seen and validated. When I came home from LOFT, it was such a perspective change for me knowing that I can find that community of HoH people wherever I go, I just need to look for it. Why not find it on social media? I hope hearing people gain knowledge about how my daily life is, and also recognize their hearing privilege. For D/HoH people, I hope they gain a sense of community and that they know they’re not alone in their struggles.
“I hope hearing people gain knowledge about how my daily life is, and also recognize their hearing privilege.”
My hearing loss journey has been more about finding my identity as a person with hearing loss rather than dealing with the hearing loss itself. Having hearing loss is all I’ve ever known and I’ve come to learn that it’s less about what you have, and more about what you make of it.
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HLM: How would you say others have helped you through your hearing loss journey?
Katie: The biggest thing was just making me feel like I am not alone. Up until age 15, I never had anyone to relate to about the challenges that come along with hearing loss. Finally feeling seen and being able to talk about these things was the greatest gift others have given me.
HLM: You’re currently studying to get your BBA in Management. What do you hope to do after you graduate?
Katie: I’m not too sure. I have such a passion for advocacy and business, and I’m hoping to combine the two eventually. I’d love to start a company focused on developing products to make life easier for d/HoH people living in a world that isn’t built for us.
HLM: As you know, there have been many challenges surrounding the deaf/hard of hearing community as we navigate life in a pandemic and with mask wearing. What have you found to be the most challenging barriers to overcome? Any advice you have for others?
Katie: Mask wearing has been really hard. It completely takes away our communication, and you’re not alone in feeling incredibly isolated. It forces us to disclose our hearing loss, something a lot of us might not be comfortable with, and that can be really scary. What I do is either have someone answer for me (my boyfriend and mom are both hearing) or ask the person to step back and pull their mask down for a second. I’ve also asked people to write things down if we were too close to pull the masks down. At doctors’ appointments, I have my mom call ahead before the appointment and request they either have a clear mask, or wear a face shield with a mask and just pull the mask down when speaking to me. Different solutions work differently for everyone, but just experiment until you find ones that work for you. Communication isn’t one size fits all, especially in a pandemic.
HLM: Completely agree. Okay, one final thing, what do you wish hearing people knew about deaf/HoH people?
Katie: To take us seriously when we say we need accommodations. Accessibility is NOT optional, and we deserve access just like everyone else. We just need a little more to get there. Oh, and CAPTION YOUR VIDEOS!!!!!!