Young Adults and Challenges of Living with Hearing Loss – Part One
By Cheryl Heppner
Editor: It’s that time of year again! The start of Hearing Loss Convention Season! As is normally the case, HLAA kicks off the activity in June. Char and I didn’t attend this year, but super reporters extraordinaire Cheryl Heppner and Bonnie O’Leary from NVRC will be providing detailed coverage of the activities.
More coverage of this great convention is at: http://www.hearinglossweb.com/res/hlorg/shhh/cn/2009/2009.htm
This is part one of two parts.
Christopher T. Sutton, Director of Development and Education at Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA), moderated a panel of young adults who shared their experiences and challenges with the audience. Chris, who has been hard of hearing all his life, began working at HLAA as employee four years ago after he graduated from Gallaudet University.
Jennifer Cheng is with the Public Health Service, a federal agency where employees wear a uniform but will hire people with hearing loss. She uses the Federal Relay Service and other resources in her work. Jennifer finds that most of her needs are met if she is open and not shy about telling people what those needs are. In her personal life she is a competitive road cyclist, which has required her to spend a lot of time on advocacy to explain her unique needs. As an example, she can’t hear even with hearing aids as other cyclists do because of the noise from wind resistance. Jennifer has progressive hearing loss and has worn a hearing aid since she was diagnosed at age 17.
Patrick Holkins grew up hard of hearing after having meningitis at age 4. He didn’t define himself as being hard of hearing and was in denial. It was not until he began to work with the Hearing Loss Association of America national office that he learned to accept his hearing loss and become a self-advocate. He is now involved with the HLAA chapter in Boston and encourages others to be involved.
Shannon Smith is the director of technology and training for the New Mexico Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. She lost her hearing at age 20 from Meniere’s Disease. She wrestled with becoming a person who could no longer be at a Happy Hour and talk to a guy across the room.
Zac La Fratta is from Colorado and has just moved to Washington, DC where he has enrolled at Gallaudet University to get a degree in audiology. Zac’s hearing loss occurred when he was 8 months old and had meningitis. He grew up without using hearing aids or being part of the deaf community and wanted very much to fit in with hearing peers. After graduating from college, he worked in the Information Technology field and then found he couldn’t advance in his career. He came to recognize that he needed to accept and embrace who he is. Zac also realized nobody would look out for him and that they couldn’t and didn’t understand what he needed. He got his first hearing aid at the age of 28. His advocacy began when he got involved in working for theater access in Denver. He has found it important to try and make a difference.
Zac’s hope was that this workshop would encourage people to step up. “We are all more powerful together,” he said.
Dealing with Public Acceptance and Accommodation
When you are younger and have a hearing loss, it is hard for people to understand your needs, one panelist said.
For a long time Patrick Holkins didn’t tell his friends about his hearing loss. He was afraid that it would create a distance between himself and his friends and cause him to lose these friends. Over time he found that self-advocacy was important. He’d go to a restaurant, look at the setup, and tell his friends “it’s better if I sit in this seat.”
“You are the only one who knows what you need,” Patrick said. He believes that taking charge this way helped him grow and build confidence. He also feels it’s important not to take things too seriously at the inevitable times when you misunderstand a speaker.
Patrick finds that hearing loss is a daily struggle and you must constantly be sure that people understand your needs. “It’s day in and day out,” he said.
Jennifer Cheng has found that when she self advocates, the people she’s educated become advocates too. Those advocates come in unexpected places. Jennifer now serves as a mentor to a nine year-old who couldn’t seem to understand why it was important that Jenifer see her face when she talked. The breakthrough came when her little sister helped explain in simple terms to her mentee.
For Zac La Fratta, the foundation for public acceptance of you Is how you accept yourself. If you are comfortable with who you are, people will see it and respond to it. If you do not, you unconsciously put up a wall. “Be resilient and consistent – at work, with friends and with family,” Zac advised.
Zac found that at work he was hiding his hearing loss and people started to not include him in things. He recommended that when educating others about your needs you also tell them how an action will benefit you. “Oh this will make my life so much easier because….” Is an example of a good way to start.
Often if you request an accommodation in advance, people will provide as much as they can, Chris Sutton noted. This led to a discussion of the pros and cons of advance notice vs. waiting to inform about your needs when you arrive.
One of the individuals in the audience suggested that when in a situation where you have a hard time hearing, you should speak up right away and tell people how they can help you. Be really specific, e.g. “I need to see your face.”
Here’s part two!
(c)2009 by Northern Virginia Resource Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Persons (NVRC), 3951 Pender Drive, Suite 130, Fairfax, VA 22030; www.nvrc.org. 703-352-9055 V, 703-352-9056 TTY, 703-352-9058 Fax. You do not need permission to share this information, but please be sure to credit NVRC.