Achieving Dreams through Persistence
Dreams. We all have them. Sometimes dreams can be seemingly impossible to achieve for persons with a hearing loss simply because of the logistics. Nevertheless, Deaf and hard of hearing people have been achieving the "seemingly impossible," becoming lawyers, doctors, authors, even local news reporters.
In Chicago, Karen Meyer works at ABC News Channel 7, reporting the news twice a week. Karen produces, edits, and reports news segments that focus on disability issues. Being a reporter would seem to be an impossible task, given that Karen has a profound hearing loss and does not use hearing aids or have an implant.
Karen and her younger brother, Gary, were born profoundly deaf. Karen remembers having a "Chatty Cathy" doll at the age of four, and complaining to her mother, "The doll doesn't talk!" She would pull the string, and hear nothing. In reality, the doll was chatting away.
Karen was tested in first grade, and she remembers that first hearing test. "Every time the audiologist would move her hand on the dial, I would raise my hand," said Karen. Fooling the audiologist, professionals then suspected that perhaps she was mentally retarded, and perhaps this might be the reason that her speech was not developing normally. Second grade was unpleasant, thanks to a teacher who put forth verbal abuse. "I remember that verbal abuse clearly," said Karen. "What does that tell you? It affected me deeply."
In third grade, she was tested again and discovered to have a profound hearing loss. She began wearing a body hearing aid and speechreading her way through school. She was mainstreamed, with a resource teacher providing assistance, and attended weekly speech therapy. Karen believes it was a combination of excellent speechreading abilities, speech therapy, and itinerant teachers who helped her develop language after being diagnosed so late.
Her bulky body hearing aid, with wires that led to her ears, produced a memorable moment in sixth grade. Her music teacher once announced, "Perhaps if Karen would stop wearing her radio to class, she could sing better!"
Karen attended Evanston High School and continued her mainstream classes. She attended an English class with another classmate who was deaf. When asked how her hearing loss impacted her in high school, she remembers that it was a struggle to obtain a job as a teenager. For two years, she was unable to convince an employer to see past her hearing loss and take a chance on hiring her. Her mother would handle phone calls for both job interviews and her social life. "Students today have access to technology which makes communication easier. We didn't have that back then," says Karen. She believes there are almost no barriers to personal communication today thanks to technology and current law. "Today," says Karen, "It is cool to be deaf."
College was difficult, but Karen made it through by speechreading and borrowing her classmates' notes. After receiving her B.A. in social work, Karen began exploring different paths in the disability field. She began to learn sign language while working for North Suburban Special Recreation as a camp counselor. While attending graduate school, she used interpreters for the first time. She went on to receive her master's degree in urban studies. She spearheaded a pilot program for Jewish Family and Community Services, providing counseling to deaf and hard of hearing persons. She began her own consulting firm, advising on accessibility issues and the Americans with Disabilities Act. She tossed aside her hearing aids after wearing a broken hearing aid for a long while and not even realizing the difference. "I am happy being who I am," states Karen.
Her path into broadcast journalism was a matter of being in the right place at the right time. After giving a presentation on disability issues at the ABC station in 1991, Karen was approached by manager Joe Ahern and asked if she would start weekly reports for the station. Her first broadcast was mired in controversy when a local radio station grumbled their disapproval and stated that a reporter should not have a speech impediment. The station stood by their newest reporter and Karen went on to receive numerous awards for her reporting.
Fourteen years later, the reporting has expanded to two weekly segments, producing 104 stories per year. Karen produces and edits each segment and prepares each tape well in advance. Most of her reporting is longer than other segments on the show, averaging 2 to 3 minutes. She broadcasts the introduction live and adds an ending statement after each tape runs. When she conducts an interview, she relies on lipreading and then has an assistant translate each tape. "Some of the most memorable broadcasts," says Karen, "are those that help people or make a difference in their lives."
Early in her career, she used interpreters to assist with communication. As the years rolled by, her co-workers have learned to communicate and make adjustments when needed. She now airs each segment using visual cues from the staff. She has interviewed people with all kinds of disabilities as well as those with hearing loss. Kathy Buckley, Marlee Matlin, Henry Kisor, Heather Whitestone have all graced the screen. Ray Charles, Clay Walker, Greg Louganis and Bob Love are notable others.
So for anyone who doubts that children with hearing loss can grow up to attain the seemingly impossible, Karen has something to say to them: "Anything is possible. You have to make it happen. Take risks!"
Karen Meyer can be seen on ABC Channel 7 in the Chicago viewing area on Thursday (11:30 a.m.) and Sunday (8 a.m.) broadcasts. Karen also works for DePaul University.