The sweet-natured Oregon native captured viewers immediately as she introduced herself to Matt with a cute quip. “So there’s something a little different about me,” she told him. “And that is, I’m deaf, so I’m gonna be reading your lips a lot tonight. Luckily you have really beautiful lips, so I’m not complaining!”
She had an effect on Matt as well. Later that night he gave her the First Impression Rose.
Abigail’s journey ended in Episode 7. But her time on the show cast a spotlight on the deaf community and — as she refers to it on the show’s episode, “The Women Tell All” — the gray area between the hearing and deaf worlds.
As she navigates her newfound fame, Abigail took the time to chat with Hearing Like Me. Writers Beth Leipholtz and Lisa Goldstein connected with her on captioned video chat to learn more about her experience on ‘The Bachelor.’
She shares her challenges of being a deaf person on a reality show and what she’s learned from the experience. Spoiler alert: She discovered that there’s more people with cochlear implants than she realized. She hopes to capitalize on her newfound platform to increase awareness about hearing loss. But let her tell you in her own words!
HLM: What was it like growing up with hearing loss and your mom raising you? What did she instill in you and (your sister) Rachel from a young age about your hearing loss?
Abigail: I think one of the biggest things that she did was she was always very positive. Right after we got our cochlear implants, a lot of work went into it – therapy, a lot of practice. When she would be doing chores around the house, she would just vocalize what she was doing. She would say, “I’m washing the dishes.” You know, just things that normally you would say out loud so we could practice hearing as much as we could.
She really advocated for us in the classroom. I just never wanted to be that person to ask the teacher for help and she was just always right there. She was very positive about it, for sure, which I think kind of helped my sister and I try to be as positive about it as we could.
HLM: What accommodations, if any, did you request on ‘The Bachelor”? Did you face any difficulties in understanding what was being said?
Abigail: For the most part I was able to kind of follow along with the conversation. There wasn’t a lot of background noise. With filming, everything else has to be quiet around you. So when we were having our conversations it was really easy to follow along. Obviously in groups, like on the group dates, it was a little bit harder. All the girls in the house were amazing. They repeated things if I didn’t catch something.
A lot of the cast members had to wear masks, which was hard, but they were always very nice. Like, if I couldn’t understand them, they just kind of took a few steps back and removed the mask so that I could read their lips. Everybody was really accommodating. That was one of my biggest fears going into it.
HLM: Obviously on the show, this came up about the likelihood of your kids being deaf. How do you feel about the way that your mom raised you and how your deafness will play into being a mom?
Abigail: One of the biggest things that I wanted to try to clear up was about that conversation [with Matt]. What you guys saw was only two minutes and it was about a 30 minute conversation. In no way do I want to give off the wrong impression that I’m scared of having kids that are deaf. That’s not the point I was trying to convey to him. It’s that this is a realistic possibility for me. If it happens, I’m going to fully embrace it, just because I saw how wonderful my mom was. I would be excited to be able to do the same thing for my kids.
I didn’t know how Matt was gonna take it, just because I’m very familiar with all the work that has to go into it – all the appointments and accommodations. That’s something that he doesn’t really have an idea about. So I just wanted to be transparent with him and say, you know, “This is a very strong possibility, I just want to let you know now that it is a lot of work, but it’s very rewarding.” He was very receptive about it. I didn’t want people to think I was saying having a deaf kid is baggage in any way. It was more that it was something that needed to be talked about.
“This is a very strong possibility, I just want to let you know now that it is a lot of work, but it’s very rewarding.”
HLM: A lot of us are so excited that you were on the show because we see so few people who are deaf and speak and have a cochlear implant. When did you become aware that this was a big deal, that you have a platform, and how do you feel about it?
Abigail: You know, just growing up, I didn’t know a lot of people that had cochlear implants. I think it’s a much bigger community than people realize. After the cast photos came out and my story was coming out, the messages that I was getting from people, from parents, just blew me away. It made me feel really good. There’s so many people out there that may have a similar story. It’s been incredible because I never realized how big the cochlear implant or the deaf community were. It’s been my honor to kind of open the door to that discussion.
“It’s been incredible because I never realized how big the cochlear implant or the deaf community were.”
HLM: You kind of touched on this and said it wasn’t too difficult with background noise and that kind of stuff. But were there any instances where you did struggle more than others, like any of the outdoor dates or anything like that?
Abigail: One of the hardest things for me was the first group date because it was the biggest group date that the show has ever had. I think there were 18 of us on the group date. In the beginning, we had to run and try on bridal dresses for the photo shoot. That was another opportunity to talk to Matt. He was walking around and talking to the girls, but there were so many of us. There were like five or six of us that were trying to talk to him at the same time. I just couldn’t follow with everything going on, so I didn’t get to talk to him at all during the day.
That’s actually how the whole signal thing started at the next Rose Ceremony, because I told him, “You know, I kind of struggled on that group date. I felt like I couldn’t be myself because I was just trying to follow these conversations and I never got to talk to you. So how about we do like this signal thing, you know, like I’ll pull on my ear if I’m in a situation like that again, so you’re not thinking I’m not interested. That’s how it started. But after that, the group dates were smaller, so they were easier.
HLM: Some of us noticed that you were always in the second row at the Rose Ceremonies. And on the group date when the women read the stories they wrote, those of you not on the date came in and sat in the back of the room. How were you able to follow what was going on?
Abigail: Yes, that was a little hard for me. They did have microphones, but when someone speaks into an intercom or microphone, it’s much harder for me to follow along. So I actually wasn’t able to catch a lot of the stories. But when we went back to the house later that day, all the girls kept their novels. We were able to read them and I was like, “Okay, this is what I missed.” So I was more included after the fact. It was hard, but it’s one of those things that I am used to. It isn’t ideal, but it’s something I’m used to.
HLM: As far as the girls in the house, were any of them familiar with cochlear implants or knew anybody with them, or was it something new for you to teach all of them?
Abigail: I think it was pretty new for a lot of them. I remember the first night when I came into the house, because I said in my introduction, “Matt, you know, I’m deaf, I’m gonna have to read lips.” When we came into the house, the conversation was, “What did you do when you first met?” I said I told him I was deaf, and they kind of looked at me and were like really? When they hear somebody’s deaf and then hear them talking without a lot of assistance, it’s just not something that people put together right away. They were just asking me a bunch of questions, about how things work and if there was anything that they could do. They were just so open and willing to accommodate anything I needed, which is ultimately what you want people to do in a situation.
HLM: We’ve all had that experience where your battery dies at the worst possible time and you don’t have another battery. Do you have any crazy device fail stories?
Abigail: So the very first rose ceremony on the first night goes pretty much until 7 or 8 in the morning. I didn’t bring my spare battery. They last about 12 hours. But the sun was starting to come up, and we were due at the Rose Ceremony. I was like, I feel like my battery’s gonna die any minute. So I just asked one of the crew members, “Do you mind if I go to my room and get a spare battery?” She was like, “Oh absolutely.” Because every date or Rose Ceremony, we would never really have an idea of fully what we were doing or how long we were going to be there. It was actually the producers that would remind me and say, “If you want to, grab a spare battery. Like we’ll hold on to it, I’ll be with you the whole time.” They were really really nice about it. I think my battery actually never died because they were really good at making sure I had it with whatever we were doing.
HLM: For the majority of the show, you really couldn’t see your implants, and they’re brown, right? They kind of blend in with your hair. Was that a conscious decision you made to keep your hair down or keep them hidden?
Abigail: No, I naturally just wear my hair down. It’s not something that I was purposefully trying to hide. I do remember one of the first times I wore my hair up, it was like the second group date. I was like, this is actually a pretty big deal. I never usually go on my first date with my hair up. It definitely gave me a lot of confidence just to kind of throw my hair up. Like obviously, Matt knows about my cochlear implant. After that, I tried to wear my hair up a little bit more.
I did get a couple messages about that just because you can’t see it. And if I had known that people wanted to see it, I absolutely would have worn my hair up more. It’s just something that I kind of forget about sometimes.
“If I had known that people wanted to see [my cochlear implant], I absolutely would have worn my hair up more.”
HLM: Were you worried about your cochlear implant during the group date that involved a pumpkin boat and being on the water? How did you manage with your CI during this and other physical challenges?
Abigail: For that day, I actually did take it out when we were in the water. They said okay, you’re going to have to take the pumpkin through the water. At first, I was thinking like a raft or something. They’re pretty stable. Then we get down to the water. The producers told me, these pumpkins have been tested, nobody’s fallen in, but if you wanted to take it off, just in case, we’ll hold on to it. We’ll be on the other side of water and we’ll hand it to you right when you get out of the water. So I was like, yeah, let’s do that. That sounds like a good plan and I’ll be safe. They were really good about mouthing things to me, like “We’re about to go.” I don’t know if Matt knows if I took it off or not but they handed it right to me when we got to the other side of the water.
HLM: You got your implants when you were two, right? And you have both?
Abigail: I’ve gotten surgery for both, but I only wear on my left side.
HLM: What is the reason for that?
Abigail: I got the one on my left side when I was two. Then they started having more discussions of both. I think I was near the end of middle school when I got the one on my right side. I think part of the issue was I got them so far apart, because [the left] one was already so developed. Then there’s all the work and everything I would have to put in for this side. I wouldn’t be able to wear them at the same time all day because it’s a robotic noise at first. You have to train your brain to recognize the sound. It was interfering with [the left] side. And I wasn’t able to hear as well. I would try to dedicate like an hour, two hours, a day of just training [the right] side. I just already was so dependent and comfortable with this one. I don’t really see the point of trying to catch up this side. I would highly recommend getting both at the same time. I think I just got it too far apart.
HLM: What’s your earliest memory of realizing that you were a little different than other kids, that you had a cochlear implant and they didn’t?
Abigail: Towards the end of preschool and kindergarten, I still was in deaf and hard of hearing schools. I grew up with other kids that had implants. Then when we moved back to Oregon in third grade, that was the first time that I wasn’t with other hard of hearing or deaf kids. It was hard, but not really with the other kids. We were pretty young at that point. I don’t think they really understood. One of the hardest things, I think, was teachers with seating arrangements realizing “Oh we need to put Abigail in the front of the classroom.” Or having their back turned when their body was toward the white board. That’s when my mom would kind of have to step in and say, “Abigail has hearing loss,” and of course, advocated. Of course, I’m just embarrassed. But I think that was one of the first times that I was like, okay, I actually do need a little bit more help. I shouldn’t be afraid of how sensitive I am to that.
HLM: Some people have wondered if you were a producer pick because you never got a one-on-one date with Matt and if you ever felt like the token deaf girl on the show. How do you feel about that?
Abigail: That’s one thing that I kind of struggled with after filming. When I was on the set, absolutely not. I had a really strong connection with Matt. I don’t think he treated me differently at all. One of the things after filming is kind of watching everything played back on TV. It really does seem like all that I talked about with Matt was my hearing loss. Those are really informed conversations that we had on the air that other people can kind of learn alongside.
At the same time, I think we probably only talked about my hearing loss maybe five percent of the time that we were together. The other times we had just normal relationship talk. We have a lot of jokes between us, funny moments. I kind of wish some of that was shown so that I’m not just the deaf girl. That’s a big part of who I am but not just all that I am. The two hour episodes, they have to cram so much in, so I understand. But I kind of wish people had gotten to see a different side of me on the show. I’m sure all the girls feel that way too.
HLM: What has it been like growing up with somebody so close to you in your family who knows exactly what you’re going through?
Abigail: I think that’s why her and I are just able to have such a positive outlook on our situation. It just makes life so much easier when you have somebody that knows exactly what you’re going through. We kind of have our little inside jokes, and just that comfort feeling of when we go somewhere, like she’ll have a spare battery if mine dies. Just small things like that. Going to the appointments together. I know it’s not a luxury that a lot of people have, but it’s something that I’ve always been really grateful for, especially since she’s a year and a half older. She was very vocal. She had a lot of new teachers the year prior. So I had it easy kind of coming in and the teacher was like, “Oh yeah, I had your sister last year. This is what we did, does that work for you?” It’s been really nice to have somebody that knows I’m going through.
HLM: How much you can hear with the cochlear implant, and how much do you depend on lipreading?
Abigail: If I’m not wearing it, I can’t hear anything. The way I kind of explain it to people is, when I put it on, I do have recognition of sounds but it’s a little bit more robotic than a normal hearing person can hear it. I can’t tell where sound is coming from. If someone calls my name on the street, I have no idea where it’s coming from. I can’t really separate sounds. If there’s a lot of background noise like in a cafeteria or in a bar, I can’t separate the background noise from who’s talking. Hearing people can kind of do that, but it’s like the layers. They can kind of separate and say, okay, it’s this person talking. To me, it just kind of all blends together. It just kind of sounds like a bunch of mumbling, which is why group settings are really hard for me.
HLM: At the Rose Ceremonies, you were always in the back row. At the Women Tell All, you were in the back row; the stage looked far away. How were you able to follow in these situations?
Abigail: Matt was very quiet during the Rose Ceremonies. There were a couple times where one girl thought her name was being called, and it was somebody else. So it wasn’t just an issue for me. That’s why I just relied on his eye contact. He would look at the girl he was giving the rose to, so that was kind of how I knew.
There was one instance in the Rose Ceremony at the very beginning, when we were all sitting on the couches and he called me up first to go talk to him. I didn’t hear him because he is kind of quiet. He’s very patient and I was just like “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you.” Other than that, when it’s just us, he was really good at communicating. But I did struggle sometimes in those settings.
HLM: What about at the Women Tell All? How were you able to follow?
Abigail: That was a little bit hard. You might think we were talking really loudly, but in person, it’s really not that loud. I was in the back row, kind of in the corner. I was able to kind of follow some of the women, but not all, especially the ones that were on the same side. Part of why I didn’t really advocate for myself much in that situation is I kind of knew going into it that I didn’t really want to get involved in the drama and girls talking. So I was kind of like, I’ll just stay in the corner and stay to myself. But then when I went up with Chris Harrison, it was really easy. It wasn’t the best for me to follow along, but I know if I needed help, I could have asked for it.
HLM: As somebody who has a cochlear implant, did you get any backlash or anybody being hard on you?
Abigail: Before the cast photos first came out before the first episode aired, there was an article that came out in a deaf publication called The Daily Moth. It wasn’t the article itself, but that audience is very Deaf community oriented and not cochlear implants. I did get a couple messages after that article came out of people saying I don’t represent them and I’m not a member of the Deaf Community. It was kind of hard to see. Because I was just like, wait until you see me on TV and talk about it. Don’t be so quick to judge. But then after the show aired, I [didn’t get] any of those messages. I’m not trying to represent the deaf community as a whole. Once people realized that, I think they kind of took a step back and said we were a little too quick to message her. Those messages are what I was expecting to receive and why I was scared to come on the show.
“I’m not trying to represent the deaf community as a whole.”
HLM: If you have kids someday, do you plan to go the route of a cochlear implant, obviously talking to your husband about it as well?
Abigail: I think I would go the route of cochlear implants just because I had a really great experience. I owe a lot of that to my mom. I obviously know how much work goes into it. Just having these experiences that I’ve had, every experience that I did, I would want to go that route.
HLM: When you applied to be on the show, when did you disclose your deafness?
Abigail: I disclosed right away. I knew if I was going to go on the show, it was gonna be something I wanted to talk about. Normally, I don’t really vocalize my hearing loss, like on a job application or for college. With this experience and knowing how many people apply, I know it’s something that makes me different in a really good way. So I wanted to just put it out there and say this is what you should know about me and I would love to be able to talk about it on a platform like the show. They were just really receptive about it.
HLM: What made you apply for the show?
Abigail: There’s a lot that goes into it, I think. I was just really frustrated with my dating life in general. COVID was happening, [it was] hard to get out and meet people. So there’s that layer. The second layer was, I was furloughed from my job. So I work for an event planning company, which obviously got hit really hard with COVID. It’s like okay, I have time for ‘The Bachelor,’ and we’ll just see what the offer is.
Once I got the call, I was like, what did I get myself into? It kind of started off like, I’ll apply, see how far I go, and then I got the call. They were like, do you want to come on? I was like okay, I guess we’re really doing this. It was not like me at all. I really went on a reality show to try and find love.
“I really went on a reality show to try and find love.”
HLM: Did you know who the Bachelor was at that point?
Abigail: I knew it was Matt. I think he was a bit of the reason why, too. I think some of the bachelors in past seasons, I would say probably haven’t been my type. I mean he was tall and handsome and seemed like a good person. I was following his charity work for a little bit. I was like, okay, I’m gonna go see, I think he would be the best type of person for me to try to get set up with.
HLM: What was the most surprising thing about your experience on the show?
Abigail: Well, there’s a lot of things that surprised me. I had watched the show in the past and one thing I always caught myself thinking was, “Why are these girls crying, they don’t love him, what is going on, is it all fake?” But I will say once you’re in that bubble and you’re not talking to your friends or family, not working, you’re only talking about him. Your feelings really do grow really quickly. We would kind of just say you know like one day in the bubble is like two weeks in the real world.
So in the real world when you’re dating, you might just see the guy one or two times a week and it moves at a much slower pace. In the bubble, I mean you’re seeing him, you know, much more often. You’re having those hard conversations much sooner than you probably would. And so it is really easy for you to get really attached. I think that’s something that definitely surprised me.
HLM: If you had to pick one big takeaway from the show or one big lesson that you learned, what would you say that is?
Abigail: I think probably the biggest lesson I’ve learned is, you know, it’s okay to talk about my hearing loss. That was something I felt really uneasy about before I went on the show. I went on a date with a guy one time and we went to Top Golf and I couldn’t even bring myself to tell him, “I’m having a hard time hearing you in an environment like this.” It was just the most awkward date. And I think once I kind of just ripped the Band-Aid off with this experience, how I got out of the limo, had those hard conversations with him about it. I think it’s shown me that people are so receptive to it. People will be nice about it. It’s just having the confidence to start that conversation.
“I think probably the biggest lesson I’ve learned is, you know, it’s okay to talk about my hearing loss.”
HLM: Can you tell us what a typical day in the house was like?
Abigail: So if you had a day where you didn’t have a date, it really was just lounging around the house. That’s how we got close with all the girls. If it was nice. We laid out by the pool. If it wasn’t, we sat by a fire. There was a book club going on, but I hate reading. Sometimes you just talk to the girls or have interviews about what’s going on. And then if you had a day where you had a date, that takes up a long time. I mean, what you guys see on TV, it seems like it’s bam, bam, bam, but it’s not. There’s so much prep work that goes into the date. There’s a lot of waiting around. And then you go home and you have to get ready for the cocktail party. It takes up a lot of time. It’s like 12-14 hours.
HLM: A lot of people who have been on the show talk about the lack of sleep. Is that accurate?
Abigail: It’s so real. There’d be days where we’d only get like two hours of sleep. Because when you get back from the Rose Ceremony, it would be like 3 or 4 in the morning. Then you have to be up and ready for Chris Harrison to bring the next date card. Sometimes it would be like, I kind of hope my name isn’t on that date card so I can go back to bed. Yeah, the days are long.
HLM: Did you feel fully accepted by everybody on the cast and the crew?
Abigail: Absolutely. I think it’s something that I’ve noticed. The more vocal I am about it and willing to talk about it, I think people become much more comfortable around me. The people that I’m not closest to but know about my situation, I feel like they kind of walk on eggshells a little bit. Telling the girls right away, the producers right away, everybody was really nice about it. I definitely did not feel like an outsider in the house at all.
HLM: How many times did you actually do the secret signal with Matt?
Abigail: We came up with the idea and honestly we kind of both forgot about it. I think it was something where I was like, oh this would be like a cute idea after I struggled on that first date. Then I just kind of forgot about it. He forgot about it. It wasn’t something like, “Oh it’s dumb, we’re not going to do it.” There’s so much going on with the show. I was thinking about what my next conversation with Matt should be. It never crossed my mind to do it. But I saw people speculating during Rose Ceremonies when I was tucking my hair behind my ears. People were like, oh she’s doing it. I was like, no, I really am just tucking my hair behind my ear. So, it’s like, sorry for ruining that storyline for everyone who was following it.
HLM: As far as social media, your Instagram went from a normal number of followers to a crazy number of followers. How do you manage that kind of stuff? Do you try to respond to everybody?
Abigail: Yes, I try to respond to as many people as I can. People feel comfortable sharing their story with me, asking for advice. I love it so much because I feel like they kind of see themselves represented. That’s all I wanted to do by going on and being as open as I was. So right now this is all very new to me. My next step is I really want to figure out a way to get that content out there, and answer any questions people may have. I’m thinking about maybe doing a Live with my mom. She obviously knows way more than I do. I think it would be really fun to do. She loves talking about it, so doing like a Q&A to try to get all those questions that I can get in my messages answered.
HLM: A lot of us are rooting for you to be the next Bachelorette. Is that or going on Paradise something you’d be open to?
Abigail: Yeah. I mean I definitely have an open mind with anything that’s going to come my way. You know I think it would be a really cool opportunity. But, you know, at the same time, I’m just really happy with where I’m at. I just moved to New York City. I just turned 26. And, you know, I just think I have a lot of really good things kind of going my way right now. So it’s not the end of the world if I don’t get it. But I’m open to possibilities.
HLM: As far as people in Bachelor Nation, who is one man and one woman you’d love to meet?
Abigail: So I actually got asked this when I went on Kaitlyn (Bristowe’s) podcast a few days ago. She asked me the same thing and part of me was like, I have to kind of think about it because I don’t really have a type. That’s my hardest thing, I just gravitate towards people personality wise. I told her from past seasons, probably Ben Higgins. He was very sweet and had a warm presence about him. But recent seasons, they’re all attractive. I’d probably talk to any of them.
I’ve already met some of the most incredible women, like Kaitlyn, Becca, Rachel. I’ve been able to talk to them. I always looked up to them. That was really fun. I think one person I would love to be able to talk to is Sarah (Heron). She was on Sean’s season. She’s the woman with the one arm. I think it would just be really cool to talk to her and see how her experience was, what she’s been able to do afterwards.
HLM: What are your plans now that you’re in NYC?
Abigail: I don’t really have any set plans right now. I’m working with my company, they’re letting me work remotely. So that’s taking up a big part of my time. Other than that, I’m just kind of hanging out with some girls from the show. I’ve been exploring the city.
But then I also realize, you know, I really need to capitalize on my platform right now. Just because I feel like people are really interested in learning more about the deaf community, about hearing loss. So I really want to try to put more stuff out there, just raise awareness. So I think that’s kind of my big next step. I’m just trying to figure out the best way to make it the most successful for a lot of people.
“I really need to capitalize on my platform right now. Just because I feel like people are really interested in learning more about the deaf community, about hearing loss.”
HLM: Did you take your processor off during screaming matches or any other time?
Abigail: No, I didn’t take my processor off. Growing up, my sister and I were told by our parents that if we’re in arguments with people, we could not take our processors off. That was always instilled in me. When there were arguments going on, I didn’t feel comfortable, so I just never got myself involved. But if they got to a point where it was like, this is too much, my roommate Magi absolutely hated drama, too. She was really good about saying, let’s go for a walk or something. We would just remove ourselves from the situation. I never got to the point where it was too much and took my processor off.
I did see some people on Twitter talking about that. I was like, I absolutely could do that. It’s just growing up and having my mom say don’t do that, I was like, I probably shouldn’t start doing that now.
HLM: Was anybody in particular hard to understand or lipread?
Abigail: For the most part, everyone was really easy to understand. I’ve always had an easier time understanding women because I think their voices are less mumbly and deep. It was easy for me to understand all the girls. Some of the producers, when they had their masks on, it was a little bit harder. But they’d step further back and pull it down so I was able to read their lips. And then Matt was really easy to understand. I think he’s just naturally a slower talker. But for the most part I was able to follow along with everyone.
HLM: Was there anything that didn’t air that you wish the audience had seen?
Abigail: I do have a really embarrassing moment that I’m really glad didn’t air. It was on the group date that Tayshia and JoJo were hosting. They ultimately ended up cutting it but they put some of the moments in the bloopers. At the beginning of the day, we were in front of the main building, the Chateau, and all the girls were lined up. They were telling us it’s a race, you need to run to the golf cart and do all these different challenges. They were like, on your mark, get set, go, so we started running. But the stairs on that main mansion, they go up, down, up, down. And one of the stairs that was down, there were only three of them. So I was like okay, I can just jump over all of them and I’ll get to the golf carts first. So I tried leaping but my body was moving too fast, so I completely fell down, slid, ripped open my jeans, got a huge bruise. It was mortifying. Matt and JoJo were right behind me and saw the entire thing. But I got up right away. It was so embarrassing, but by some miracle they decided not to air it.
HLM: Well, it looks like our time is up. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us!
Abigail: Thank you for having me!