Karen Putz is a deaf life coach, author, Phonak hEARo and motivational speaker. Did we mention she’s also an accomplished barefoot water skier?
Putz, “specializes in helping people unwrap the gift of passion within them.” We talked with her about her services and life, which lead her to serve as a leader in the deaf community.
Deaf life coach Karen Putz was born with hearing in the normal range. She experienced her first drop in hearing just before elementary school. In her book, Unwrapping Your Passion: Creating the Life You Truly Want, she writes about the incident that changed her life overnight.
At the age of 19, Putz was an accomplished barefoot water skier. She was also hard of hearing. She writes, “One August day, my life took a very different turn. I took a couple of barefooting runs around the lake, and during one run I decided to cross the lake. I had done it once before with success and wanted to try it again. I told my friend to go a little faster than usual so the wake would be flatter and easier to cross. My foot caught in the wake and I cart-wheeled into the water. In an instant, I went from hard of hearing to deaf. When I climbed back into the boat, I could no longer hear my friends’ voices. Their lips moved, but no sound came out.”
Putz now has bilateral profound sensorineural deafness. With her hearing aids on, she can detect voices and enjoy music. She needs to either lipread, watch captions, or use an interpreter to understand and follow conversations. Shortly after becoming deaf she began learning American Sign Language (ASL), going on to teach it at a local community college for 15 years.
Putz was no stranger to deafness, even at an early age. Her mom was deaf, and all of her mom’s siblings were deaf/hard of hearing. Putz’s sister became deaf at the age of three. Her other siblings were all hearing until adulthood. Then they became deaf/hard of hearing. Her family all uses spoken English.
“Growing up, I was ashamed of being hard of hearing,” she relates. “I hid my hearing aid. I only had one as I was considered deaf in the other ear. The audiologist assumed a hearing aid would not help that ear. I was fortunate to have a small group of friends who would face me and repeat conversations for me.”
Things were not easy in school. Putz was mainstreamed and the only hard of hearing student until high school. At that point, she met Shawn, the one other hard of hearing student in her school. They were total opposites, but became friends and are still connected today.
“I relied heavily on lipreading and I missed out a lot,” Putz says. “I always say that I had a “Swiss cheese” education--lots of holes in my learning.”
Putz loves the fast results she can get from her method of being a deaf life coach. Her business is called Ageless Passions. It draws on her academic background in counseling, as she holds both a bachelor and master’s in the subject.
“I specialize in helping people unwrap the gift of passion within them,” she says. “My coaching and speaking are centered around this beautiful energy. I especially love it when a client or business/organization creates passionate changes!”
Putz has a personal challenge to leave this earth a bit better than before. As a speaker and coach, her focus is to ignite transformation in a positive way. One that includes more joy, fun, and passion. She wants see more deaf people have the courage and confidence to stand out and show their brilliance and uniqueness.
On the subject of her books, Putz says that she has envisioned being a paid writer since being a young girl. Her book writing journey began in a boat when she was taking her second lesson from the World Barefoot champion Keith St. Onge. She asked him what he wanted to do in five years. His answer was that he wanted to write a book. Putz ended up writing the book, Gliding Soles, for him. That triggered a book writing career.
Putz also works for Hands & Voices, a nonprofit that is dedicated to providing support to families with deaf and hard of hearing children. She is on the National Advisory Group board at RIT/NTID and is also involved in various Deaf clubs, organizations, and groups.
Putz made the national news recently for an incident at Taco Bell. She was denied service at the drive-thru window because of her deafness.
Read more: Deaf customer denied service at Taco Bell
On the sometimes tricky subject of whether deafness is truly a disability, she believes it is something of a two-way street.
“On one hand, there’s no ignoring the fact that to people who can hear, they look at me and see ‘disabled,'” she says. “The world is not always nice to people who don’t have the full sense of hearing. However, when I have 100% communication access, I don’t feel like I have a disability. I would love to see more deaf and hard of hearing speakers in major speaking roles all over the world. There’s only a few who are consistently on the speaking circuit.”
“When I have 100% communication access, I don’t feel like I have a disability.”
Putz, her husband, and their three kids are all deaf. She and her husband recently moved to Rochester, NY, which she calls the Deaf Mecca.
When it comes to family this lady can also teach most folks a thing or two. Thirty-one years of marriage and three grown up children can testify to a life well spent, where family matters are concerned.
Family is very important to Putz and she never shies away from the rocky side of marital relationships, she says. In the past she has mentioned that the pair went through quite a number of rough times, as well as the smooth.
She states that gratitude is the antidote to divorce and Compromise is the secret sauce that flavors a marriage.
Her three adult children are all deaf, hard of hearing. Putz credits social support as one of the main aids in her and her husband raising happy healthy children.
Raising deaf children has its challenges, but as with any other children, the good always far outweighs the problematic.
In an article written in 2013 Putz talked about the importance of connecting deaf kids with deaf adults and peers. In the piece she stated the following:
‘Deaf and Hard of Hearing Adults are Essential
I can’t stress this part enough. Connect your kids with deaf and hard of hearing adults while they’re growing up. If your kid wants to be a fireman, doctor, lawyer, pilot, pharmacist, engineer, janitor, entrepreneur, nurse, counselor, teacher, author, professional athlete, or Nobel Prize winner–go find a deaf/hard of hearing adult living that dream and connect your child to them. Deaf and hard of hearing adults are out there in all walks of life just like everyone else, but it’s essential for deaf and hard of hearing kids to know them, see them, and connect with them in some way. If you can’t find someone on the path your child wants to take, then perhaps your deaf/hard of hearing kid is going to be the one to blaze a new path. Someone has to be the first down a path that hasn’t been taken before–perhaps it’s going to be your child.’
While the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have caused problems and challenges for so many people, as an introvert, Putz found it to be right up her alley. She had been traveling too much and was longing for more time at home. She finally found time to catch up on the books she wanted to read and to just relax in the hot tub. Putz has been able to create time for everything she wants to do. This has been her main goal and personal challenge. There are many future projects in the works. Her days are quite full.
Putz has never been one to shy away from difficult challenges. Her personal philosophy on life is just as proactive as her coaching, speaking and writing.
“I always say, ‘let your life do the talking,'” she says. “There are so many stories of deaf and hard of hearing people who are breaking boundaries and doing things that hearing people assume we cannot do. If you look back in history, there are always the people who were ‘first’--the first deaf and hard of hearing doctors, lawyers, engineers, pilots, etc. And if it hasn’t yet been done, maybe you will be the first.”
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