Aspiring deaf psychologist Danielle Guth”s past experiences with bullying led to the creation of her social media blog and campaign “Compassionately Inspired.”
These experiences and the more recent experiences of navigating the pandemic with hearing loss have inspired her. She is pursuing a career as a psychologist who specializes in the deaf and hard of hearing community. Guth believes the deaf and hard of hearing world is often vastly misunderstood by the hearing world. Her goal is to combat those stigmas and misunderstandings.
HLM: Let’s start with the basics. Who are you? Where are you from?
Danielle: My name is Danielle. I’m 22 years old from Glenolden, PA. I’m currently a senior psychology major earning my bachelors at Penn State University Brandywine’s Honors program. In addition to writing for HearingLikeMe to advocate for others with hearing loss, I’m a mental health advocate, writer, and public speaker for my page, “Compassionately Inspired.” Through my work in psychology, I serve as a volunteer crisis counselor and work as a clinical research quality control specialist at a psychiatric research facility. I am involved in multiple research projects through the psychology department at Penn State.
HLM: Tell us a little bit about your hearing loss.
Danielle: I was born prematurely with a severe hearing loss in both ears. I’ve always worn bilateral hearing aids to hear and speak. My FM System (personal microphone/Phonak Roger) is used particularly in classroom settings and Zoom meetings. I also rely heavily on closed captioning and/or live transcription when using technology.
HLM: When it comes to hearing loss, does it run in your family? Do you know others with hearing loss?
Danielle: No one else in my family has a hearing loss. However, I know quite a few people with hearing loss. One of my friends is profoundly deaf and wears a cochlear implant. I know a few others who have a severe hearing loss and wear hearing aids as well. It’s comforting to know others who are d/Deaf and hard of hearing. We are able to learn from each other’s stories, share experiences, and understand each other.
“It’s comforting to know others who are d/Deaf and hard of hearing. We are able to learn from each other’s stories, share experiences, and understand each other.”
HLM: Can you share with us more about your own hearing loss journey to date?
Danielle: Being born with a severe hearing loss and growing up hard of hearing has had its challenges but also its benefits. In my younger years, I attended a school with other d/Deaf and hard of hearing students until about kindergarten. At that point, I was mainstreamed. Eventually due to the bullying, I moved to cyber school, which was the best decision we ever made. I grew up with a very supportive mother and grandparents who were proactive in my hearing loss in my younger years. They have gotten me to where I am today.
“Throughout my life, I’ve often felt ‘not deaf enough.'”
Throughout my life, I’ve often felt “not deaf enough.” What I mean by this is being hard of hearing can be challenging to fit into the deaf world since I’m not profoundly deaf. It can also be a challenge to fit into the hearing world as someone who is not fully hearing. That particular piece has greatly contributed to why I’m so inspired to share my story and others on my blog and social media. However, what has inspired me the most to share my story is my own experiences. My mission is to turn my negative experiences into positive inspiration for others.
My mom and grandparents never stopped supporting me, being my strongest advocates, and giving me the tools I needed at a young age to be able to advocate for myself and others. I also had an amazing early childhood education teacher, Ms. Eberlein. She provided me with the communication and life skills necessary to succeed with hearing loss before I could even walk. I’m honored to still be in contact with her to this day. So much of where I am today is due to these amazing role models that have inspired me to be the same role model for others. These people have shown me the impact just one person can have. I hope that I can make an impact in someone else’s hearing loss, health, or mental health journey.
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HLM: You brought up bullying. Do you mind speaking on this and other obstacles you’ve had to overcome as someone with hearing loss?
Danielle: Hearing loss, just like any disability, definitely doesn’t come without obstacles. However, I do strongly believe in the fact that there are many benefits as well. Some of my greatest obstacles were in middle school. I went through major bullying due to my hearing loss. It was one of the worst times of my life. I actually wished I never had a hearing loss.
Once I switched schools and went to a cyber school where I was able to overcome those obstacles, I didn’t feel that way at all. It actually made me inspired to work with this population in my future career as someone who has been there. I choose to use my hearing loss as my inspiration and motivations opposed to a barrier, and turn the negatives into positive inspiration for others. “People with hearing loss can do anything anyone else can do except hear,” or hear differently, as I. King Jordan once said.
“I choose to use my hearing loss as my inspiration and motivations opposed to a barrier, and turn the negatives into positive inspiration for others.”
I have definitely experienced even more obstacles in terms of my actual hearing ability in these days of masks, social distancing, and technology. It’s actually been one of the first prominent times where I’ve encountered diminished communication access. Thankfully, technology is increasing everyday with captioning [and] interpreting. People for the most part have been extremely understanding.
HLM: What inspired you to pursue psychology? What do you hope to do after you graduate?
Danielle: My past experiences are what inspired me the most to pursue a degree in psychology – not just with hearing loss but a variety of struggles.
“My past experiences are what inspired me the most to pursue a degree in psychology.”
Throughout my life, I’ve learned what is now my motto: Everybody has a story. I’ve seen first hand the power of just being that somebody for someone. Just one person can make the biggest positive difference in one’s life. As I continue my studies and gain more experiences, the more passionate I become about the field. After I graduate with my Bachelor’s degree this upcoming May, I plan to go straight to my doctorate program in psychology. My long-term goal i
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s to become a clinical psychologist with sub-specialties in trauma, health psychology, and the d/Deaf and hard of hearing population.
HLM: Speaking of trauma around the d/Deaf and hard of hearing populations, many in the deaf/hard of hearing community have struggled to navigate life in a pandemic and with mask wearing. What have you found to be the most challenging barriers to overcome? Any advice for others?
Danielle: For sure! The most challenging barriers to overcome are not being able to read lips and/or see facial expressions as much. Hearing through technology is also difficult. I can’t speak for all d/Deaf and hard of hearing individuals as everyone has different levels of hearing loss, communication methods, etc. However, as someone with hearing aids, so much of the world these days sounds muffled. As I’ve written about in some of my HLM blog posts, masks decrease the decibels of sound anywhere from 6-12 percent, making that a challenge in addition to the barriers of lip-reading, etc. With technology, sound has to go through the device and into the hearing aids before it even reaches the ear. [This] can not only cause processing delays but also a more muffled tone. There are definitely ways to work around it.
Thankfully, Zoom has officially rolled out captioning and live transcripts. This has made a world of difference for me. I have also been using my personal FM system more as well to help amplify the sound through technology. It doesn’t make it perfect. My greatest piece of advice is not being afraid to explain to others that you have hearing loss or letting them know. Most people have been super understanding.
HLM: Going off of that advice, what do you hope people gain from your blog and social media posts?
Danielle: Through my blog and social media posts on “Compassionately Inspired” and Hearing Like Me, my greatest hope is that someone sees my page and/or blog and knows that they are not alone. Someone else is out there who cares. When I overcame bullying, I was inspired to find a way to reach people who were struggling and/or didn’t have a voice. So many people struggle in silence.
I hope people gain a sense of awareness about topics surrounding mental health, hearing loss, chronic illness, and the importance of kindness, and share with others. Growing up with hearing loss my entire life and being immersed in a hearing world, I’ve become so passionate about not only helping others with similar struggles. I’m also passionate about advocating for hearing loss, disabilities, mental health, etc. through my social media blog and campaign.
HLM: To wrap up, what do you wish hearing people knew about deaf/HOH people?
Danielle: What I wish hearing people knew about deaf/HOH people is firstly that we are not “impaired,” “broken,” or “disabled.” We still have just as much ability to thrive and succeed as anyone else. Some people, myself included, like being hard of hearing/deaf. We don’t see it as something that needs to be “fixed.” We are who we are, and we’re proud of it. I’ve often have had so many people ask me why I wouldn’t opt for an opportunity to regain normal hearing if the opportunity arises. My response is because this is who I am and what I’ve known my entire life.
Of course it comes with its challenges, but our challenges are what inspire us to rise above our obstacles. We’re not all equally the same. There’s a wide spectrum of hearing loss/deafness. We all come from different backgrounds. Some of us like to use hearing assistive technology and speak. Others like being Deaf and signing. Some use a combination of speaking and signing (SIMCOM), and so forth. Finally, hearing aids and technology don’t make hearing perfect. I may seem as though I hear totally fine in one situation, but could have a hard time in another. It varies and it’s not always linear.