Amanda McDonough: They Think I CAN’T, I Know I CAN

They Think I CANT. I Know I CAN.
By: Amanda McDonough (Deaf Advocate, Motivational Speaker, and Author of “Ready to be Heard”)

Like most children, when I was born my parents told me I could become anything I wanted to be. After I was diagnosed with hearing loss, at four years old, I started hearing the word “can’t” a lot. It came from doctors, teacher, adults, kids, family members, and family friends. All of a sudden, the world’s expectations of what I could achieve with my life had decreased seemingly overnight. People seemed to believe that having “hearing loss” had somehow lowered my drive, intelligence, and ability to learn. At first, I believed them. I thought of myself as lesser than my peers. My self-esteem dropped. The social kid I once was started retracting into her self a little bit more with each missed sentence, each confused smile, and each uttering of the word “what?” as I failed again and again to keep up in conversations with my peers.

Every six months, my mother would take me back to the audiologist, who would lead me into that tiny grey metal box of a room and shut me in for my hearing tests. A room that felt more like a prison than anything. Over and over again I would take the same tests, repeat the same words “airplane, baseball, hot dog…” as they faded into oblivion, and chase the impossible beeps with my finger on a buzzer. No matter how hard I tried, no matter how hard I “studied,” each time I failed. I hated the feeling of “failing” more than anything. So, even though I had no control over how well I did in that little grey room, I realized I had 100% control over how I reacted to it, and how I behaved and viewed the world outside of that room. In that moment, I decided to stop being the “victim” of my story and become the “hero.”

I knew in my heart that being hard of hearing didn’t completely define who I was, what I was interested in, or what I was passionate about. Being hard of hearing was something about me, just like having brown hair is something about me. It was a contributing factor to my personality but didn’t need to define every decision and moment of my life.

I started dedicating myself more to my studies. I realized that if I kept the teacher on my “good hearing side,” studied, payed attention in class, asked questions, and read the material I could get A’s. Sure, it looked easier for everyone else, but each “A” on my report card made me feel more powerful and more in control of my own life and destiny. It wasn’t easy, this was back in the early 1990’s when parents of children with hearing loss didn’t have the resources, support, and information they do now. My parents were on their own. Therefore, I didn’t have full access to the language and information being taught to me in my mainstream school, but I had an unstoppable work ethic and had banished any memory or thoughts of the word “can’t” from my mind. I knew “I CAN.”

I ended up becoming a straight A student. Even as my hearing continued to decrease as I grew older, the work ethic I developed as a kid kept my grades and my resolve strong. I had less than 50% of the hearing left in each of my ears in high school and I still managed to graduate 8th in my class.

In college, I finally lost the last of my usable hearing and became undeniably physically deaf. Even though I wasn’t emotionally ready to accept my deafness, I still kept working towards my goal of graduating from college. I obtained real-time captioners in my classes, attended tutoring, and put in hours of work into even my easiest classes.

By 2012, I was 100% deaf in both ears as I walked down the aisle with my head held high during my college graduation to receive the two college degrees I had finished in four short years with a 3.15 GPA.

All because I knew I CAN.

The moral of my story: Never let others tell you what you are capable of. You get to decide your own path. You get to be the hero of your own story. No matter what your obstacles are in life, you CAN.

 

For more information on  Amanda: Ready to Be Heard 

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How a Deaf Mentor Helped Our Family

We brought our boys home from Russia when they were 15 months old.  When they were 22 months old, Mark was diagnosed with severe to profound hearing loss.  He was fitted with hearing aids a month later.  Mark is now a teenager.  I remember feeling completely overwhelmed. We had so many questions; will Mark learn to speak? Will he use sign language? How will he hear the phone? How will we teach him to read?  We had so many questions; And, so few answers.

 

After he was diagnosed, we started early intervention with bi-weekly speech lessons.  Each week we went to speech and we had little progress.  Because we believe that language is vital for toddlers, we began to inquire about sign language. No one could recommend a class or teacher for us. This process continued for about six months with no success and we all became more and more frustrated, especially Mark. No one was able to help us.

 

One day, at a local grocery store, a woman asked me about the cord holding Mark’s hearing aids on.  We began to talk and she informed me her son (who was not hearing impaired) used sign language to communicate because he had no spoken language.  I asked her how/where/who she used to learn sign language.  She gave me a name, Karen, and told me she was a “deaf mentor” and she said we should ask if we could get Karen’s services through early intervention.  We called our early intervention coordinator the next day.

 

Karen came to our house within days.   As it turns out, she is deaf.  Her husband is deaf. Her children are deaf. Finally, someone who could help us.  Someone who was able to teach us how to teach our child to be a successful person in a hearing world.   She came weekly to our home.  She came at all different times and began to teach us sign language. Her philosophy is to get language (any type-spoken or signed) into a child as soon as possible. Without language, children fall behind in every aspect of life.

 

She came when the boys ate lunch. She signed hot dogs, more, milk, cookie, green bean.  Simple words that helped language make sense to Mark.  She came before nap time and read books with us. She taught us the words to “Brown Bear Brown Bear” and “Polar Bear Polar Bear” and other board book favorites.  She would come after naps and play music and sign the words to songs and play instruments and help Mark make the vital connections between things and language.

 

But, she did more than give Mark language. She helped our entire family. She told us about door bells that light up when the bell rings so people who are deaf/hard of hearing know someone is at the door. She told us about alarm clocks that shake instead of buzz.  She taught our family what it is like to live without being able to hear. Honestly, we had never thought of any of this, after all, we can hear.  It is amazing the things we take for granted.

 

In the year that followed, the biggest question our family faced was what type of communication we were going to use.  We were not sure if we were going to use sign language, pursue an oral education, or try to find a total communication school. This decision is hard and it caused emotional grief for our family.  As usual, Karen was there for us when we were questioning what to do for Mark.  The best advice anyone has given me came from her.  She said, “Remember, nothing is permanent. Make a choice, do it for six months and if it doesn’t work, change strategies and try something different.” We still live by that advice.

We had never heard of a deaf mentor before we met Karen and now we tell everyone we meet who has a deaf or hard of hearing child. Karen clued us in on what deaf and hard of hearing people face on a daily basis. Karen believes nothing is impossible for deaf and hard of hearing people and she helped our family realize that too.

Jessica Bianco

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Jessica Flores: Being Deaf is a Laughing Matter


 

 

Jessica Flores is on a mission: to make others laugh while she’s in the middle of her own journey of discovering her deaf self.  In a video that went viral on Now This, Breaking Deaf Taboos, Jessica shared some insight that started her on the path to becoming more comfortable being deaf:

So for a long time, I always felt really alone and isolated. I’m not gonna get into my whole life journey, but it was hard. And it was not an easy road to go down. It took me years to realize that I was not the only deaf person facing all these communication barriers and challenges every day. I seriously figured all this out like three years ago. Once I realized this, I wanted to do something about it.

Karen Putz and Jessica share a few laughs as Jessica tells more of the story of her journey:

 

 

Jessica’s popular videos:

Most Googled About Deaf People:
Can Deaf People Drive?:
What You Should Know About Hearing Aids:
What You Should Know About Captions:
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Teaching Deaf and Hard of Hearing Kids to Read

By Karen Putz, Co-Director of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Infusion

I grew up hard of hearing. The library was my favorite place and I often spent Saturday mornings picking up books for the week. I immersed myself in reading for hours and hours. For me, the written word was the key to the universe because the audio world simply wasn’t accessible. When I became a mom of three deaf and hard of hearing kids (who are now young adults) I was determined to give them the same keys to the universe. My children were all born with normal hearing and became deaf/hard of hearing at two, four, and two years of age. When they were born, I introduced them to board books before they could even sit up. I had books everywhere in the house–and always kept a box of books in the car. Today, all three of them enjoy reading, although they all took different paths to learn to read.

Here are some creative ways I’ve used to teach my children to read:

Make Reading FUN

The key to teaching reading to any child is to make it FUN! Learning to read doesn’t have to be a dreaded process for you or your child. Start early. Your infant can begin to enjoy picture books as early as six weeks–which is about when their vision sharpens. Keep in mind, books need to be held no more than ten inches away during the first three months.

As soon as each of my babies were a few weeks old, I brought out picture books with simple objects and just one to a page. Before my kids could even sit up, they would become excited at seeing the same books over and over. Often, my husband and I would team up to read, with one of us holding the kid and the other reading and signing. When our kids were a bit older, one of us would read out loud while the other held the book and followed along pointing at each word. We often alternated our methods in a variety of ways depending on each child’s development and skill.

Not only did we strive to develop their language skills, we worked on auditory skills with whatever auditory ability they had. Even kids with profound losses can appreciate books that focus on sound–using drums, vibrations, visual lights flashing, etc. Be as creative as you can in showing your child the visual and auditory world around you.

The Bathtub Reading Center

 

One of the best places to teach reading is in the tub. This is the perfect place to keep your child in one place for a while and have some fun learning to read. Of course, you’ll need to keep the books OUT of the water.  Occasionally I would also bring in treats like ice cream bars or popsicles (you can make healthy ones!) –this would keep my child occupied long enough to sit in one spot and watch me as I read from a book.

The best reading tool is a set of foam letters. Yes, that’s right. A cheap set of foam letters. I taught all three of my kids to read during bath time. Start by teaching them to recognize each letter. Once they know the alphabet, play “Hunt for the Letter” by placing two of them in the tub. “Where’s the A?” “Where’s the P?” You can gradually increase the number of letters floating around until you have the entire alphabet in the tub. You can use cueing, fingerspelling, or flashcards to show the letters you’re looking for. Have your child put each letter up on the bathroom wall as they find them. (If your child has a waterproof hearing device, they can keep it on during the play session–check with your audiologist to confirm).

The next step is to start spelling out short words. Cat. Dog. Mom. Dad. Pig. And so on. I had a whole collection of plastic animals that we used in the tub–I would put the word up on the wall and my kid would have to find the corresponding animal.

Here’s a way to vary the activity and encourage kids to think. Put up the word “Cat.” Then hold up an “M” and a “H.” Now ask your child, “Which letter would turn this word into “Hat?” If your child has some difficulty, then use visual cues, props, flashcards, cueing, or fingerspelling. Do this with a variety of easy words.

Around the House

Grab a 100-pack of index cards and a marker. Label things around the house and stick the cards to each item. Once your child has mastered the words, substitute the cards with more complex words or similar words. This works great for families with multiple languages. Yes, deaf and hard of hearing kids can learn more than one language. The key is to provide access in a way that the child can comprehend, process, and understand language.

Once your child has basic recognition of words on the index cards, you can put them in a pile and play, “Find the Word.” Then expand it to, “Create a Sentence.” For more advanced word, ask your child to pick up five index cards and “Create a Story” with the words. The stories can be as silly as possible!

Choose different areas of the house to read books. Spread a blanket outside and have a picnic while you read.

Use Books with Pictures for Words

One of my kids’ favorite books was “Picky Nicky.” This book was a bit more advanced for the beginner reader, but the beauty of this book was each sentence had one or two pictures in place of words.  I would read/sign the words and pause at the pictures. This gave my child the opportunity to fill in the word by looking at the picture. It was a great way to involve them in reading longer books and allowing them to participate in the reading. My kids also loved “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” because of the different-sized pages. For fun with pre-schoolers, you can purchase all the foods in the book and have a feast as you read!

Cooking + Reading

If you have a kid who won’t sit still long enough to get through a book, another way to teach reading is through cooking. Yup, that’s right, cooking! Use the back of a brownie or cake mix to teach reading. Most box mixes have pictures as well–showing eggs, a measuring cup, etc. Ask questions like:

“Can you find the word, ‘Pan?’”

“What temperature should I turn the oven on?”

“How many minutes do we need to bake the muffins?”

“Do we need one or two eggs?”

Let your child scan the box to find the answers.

Create simple recipes for foods that your family eats often and read the recipes together as you prepare the food. This skill goes a long way in life!

On the Road

One of the first signs my kids learned to read was the “stop” sign. “Oh look, there’s the stop sign,” you say as you come to a stop. “S. T. O. P. Yup, that means stop. So I’ll need to stop here.” Yes, that sounds cheesy when you say it, but hey, you’re teaching your kid to read everything, everywhere you go.

As they become older, you ask for their help in finding certain exits. “I need to watch for the exit for Lawrence,” you say. “Can you help me find the exit that begins with the letter, L?” Do this within a mile or two at first. For more fun, start out on a trip with a list of words to find and cross them off as you pass them by.

Play the License Plate Game on long trips. You can print out the license plates of all the states here: License Plate Printable.

Other Reading Tips:

When your child begins to learn to read and knows a few words from a favorite book, read along by pointing to each word/sentence (as you speak/sign/cue) and then stopping in puzzlement at a word that your child knows. Give them a chance to recognize and read the word–kids love to help adults and share what they know! When your child has a comprehensive understanding of a book, you can also have some fun by misreading a word and waiting to see if your child catches your mistake. This is also a way to test your child’s understanding and comprehension.

Another fun reading activity: alternate sentences when reading familiar books. You read one sentence, your kid reads the next one.

Everywhere you go, with everything you do, find and create opportunities to expand your child’s language and their exposure to the written word. One of our favorite toys was the Magnadoodle–I would introduce a new word and draw a picture for the word. This was great during the times we had to wait in doctor’s offices. At the beach, we would write words in the sand.

Pick books that fit your child’s language development at the time then alternate with a book that’s a bit above their language level. If you notice your child has a passion for a certain sport or activity, select books around those topics. My youngest child hated to read books but he was content to sit through a football book–he knew every NFL team by the time he was four. Don’t be afraid to read books that are above your child’s reading level. The more words you expose your child to, the better!

You can even find books with deaf/hard of hearing characters: Wikipedia List of Books with Deaf and Hard of Hearing Characters

Here are some resources for teaching your child to read:

Clerc Center Literacy

Hands & Voices Literacy Resources and Research

Instructional Strategies for Students Who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

 

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Ashlei Powell: Creating Deaf Wearables

My name is Ashlei Powell and I have bilateral cochlear implants. I became deaf at eleven months from meningitis and received my first implant, on my second birthday, in 1990. I was the youngest recipient in the USA (just after FDA approved the cochlear implant for children) and the first youngest, in the world at the time, to receive a cochlear implant.


After receiving my first implant, I attended speech therapy for several years to learn how to listen and speak. Growing up, I had the opportunity to speak about my hearing experiences at auctions, in news interviews, and even with the first deaf Miss America, Heather Whitestone. After fifteen years of wearing just one cochlear implant on my right side, I felt like I was missing a puzzle piece. In 2005, I received my second implant and it was indeed, the missing puzzle piece for me.


I attended Pensacola Christian College in Florida for three years, before coming back home to marry my college sweetheart, Joe. We are proud parents of two dogs and a spunky and sweet two-year-old boy, Jackson.

My life has had a few challenges, but has been incredible and full of blessings. As being a Cochlear Implant recipient, I had to find ways to help me listen in life and in school that would work best for me. I made it work and accomplished a lot. I love being a bilateral recipient and I enjoy sharing my story to help others who are considering cochlear implants.

I have always wanted to be a nurse, but it wasn’t what the Lord wanted for me, so I tried a few classes in the medical field to see where the Lord wanted me to go. I’m now currently working as a phlebotomist at a hospital, running my own Deaf Wearables business, and also being a mommy and a wife.

In summer of 2017, I participated in a physically challenging obstacle course at Copper Mountain.  I looked everywhere online for outer wear that showed I couldn’t hear…..something I could attach or could wear on my clothes, arm or headband that said the word, “deaf”. There was not one single thing out there and I thought it was so frustrating and not fair to the deaf community.
I recently started producing of all kinds of Deaf Wearables for all ages, that can be used in all kinds of activities such as skiing, marathons, hikes, walks, etc., even daily life.  The reason why I have a line going through the ear is because it’s very simple and produces a quick understanding, like the universal symbol, to let people know the person can’t hear.  I wanted to present this collection of wearables in a fun and inviting way. I know how hard it is to do everyday activities without people being aware of someone’s deafness. My products contain: reflective vests, shirts, neon headbands, key chains, bags, stickers, etc. that have the word, “deaf” on it. My goal is to produce deaf wearables that people would be excited and proud to let others know that they’re deaf–all while being fashionably current.

 

For more information on Deaf Wearables:

www.deafwearables.com 

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Autism or Hearing Difference? Tweezing out the Differences

By: Kristi Riley

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One of the big questions researchers have in the D/HH and autism world is, how do you tell the difference between hearing loss symptoms and autism symptoms? As a mom of a child with a severe hearing difference and a child with both mild autism and a mild hearing difference, I have gotten to see first hand what some of these differences may look like. I am in the process of earning my doctorate degree in clinical audiology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I am also a family trainee in the Wisconsin LEND Program (Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities) at the Waisman Center, where I have learned about different developmental disabilities in children. I was recently trained through LEND on how to administer the ADOS. I have friends who are D/HH and friends who are on the autism spectrum. I can tell you for certainty that narrowing down the symptoms of hearing loss and the symptoms of autism is no walk in the park, and requires the subjective feedback from both parents who know the child best and the objective analysis of trained professionals.

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In 2012 when my daughter Lauralee was born, she failed her newborn hearing screening. Right away, we were whisked into bimonthly audiology appointments. Being music teachers at the time, my husband, Justin, and I were concerned not only about her ability to enjoy music, but her ability to gain access to language and literacy. If you can’t hear, you can’t speak. If you can’t speak, you can’t read. If you can’t read, then just about every subject that crosses your path is affected. (Who cares about aspirations of Julliard!) Learning to talk, read, then write affects every single subject in school. Lauralee was not officially diagnosed until 6 months old. She did not get her first pair of hearing aids until she was 11 months old. We were worried about her language development.

Lauralee has always been very alert and interactive. She has always made good eye contact and loved to play. She is goofy and is such a joy to be around. Even though she did gain the stereotypical “mama and dada” babble in the first few months, she mostly talked with her facial expressions. I decided to get the Signing Time DVDs, and she and I soaked-up sign language. It was like we had our own “secret language”. I always felt like we had a deep connection. Sometimes, I seriously questioned whether she was truly deaf or if it was all a big mistake!

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In 2014 (right after I started my path to audiology), we had our son, Oliver. He was such a beautiful baby and I was ecstatic to find out he passed his newborn hearing screening. Even though he had a short NICU stay after he was born, he ultimately seemed healthy in every way. When we brought him home, right away I noticed he was a little different from Lauralee. He was fussier and cried a lot. I chalked it up to being a different personality. Besides, I was a fussy kid too! I’ll never forget, at around 7 weeks, I was holding Oliver in my lap attempting to do face time. He would not look at me nor smile. He seemed so disconnected. I would force my face into his gaze until I got a reaction. But ultimately, I did not connect with him like Lauralee. I felt guilty.

When Oliver was about 3 or 4 months old I started subbing at a local daycare. Oliver stayed in the infant room while Lauralee was in the 2-year-old room. Lauralee was immediately the “favorite friend”. Kids would follow her around because she was so expressive and out-going. She caught-up academically and knew all her letters and sounds by the time she was 3. Oliver, on the other hand, was making minimal progress. He had little ticks like “twinkle hands” when he was curious, leg tensing and screaming when he was excited, and head shaking when he was bored. He did not learn to sit until he was over 10 months old.

When Oliver was around 12 months old, I contacted birth-to-3 about my concerns. He started receiving OT services right away. Weeks went by and Oliver did not learn to walk. He resisted every idea the therapist had. One night while crying my eyes out, my husband told me about this place called the Wisconsin Early Autism Project. I doubted autism because Oliver was gaining language and had okay eye contact but I went along with the idea just in case…

Two summers ago, I realized Oliver was saying “what?” a lot. Sometimes he would ignore me all together. He had not yet started autism therapy, and I wondered if it was his hearing. On a last ditch effort to prove it was NOT autism but something else, I asked my professor if we could test him. She agreed.

Testing day was a nightmare and an absolute embarrassment. Oliver screamed bloody murder in the sound booth and was ultimately untrainable. We waited six months and got a few frequencies. We waited another couple of months and got a few more frequencies- my professor is amazing! Ultimately, it looked like Oliver DID have a mild hearing loss in one ear (which newborn screenings do not catch). (YESSS!) We confirmed objectively through ABR over the summer. Even though he had a mild loss, my professor made the point that the loss would not affect his language development nor his behavior. The autism diagnosis stuck. (Darn.)

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I have finally come to terms with Oliver’s diagnosis. I don’t know why it took me so long. Maybe because there is a stigma about autism or a stigma about children with “poor behavior”. Lauralee made me feel like an amazing mom. Oliver challenges me every step of the way. Looking back, there’s no doubt Oliver has the right diagnosis. And to tell you the truth, he’s a good little boy.

Both autism disorder and hearing disorders are a spectrum. Every case is different. Someone could have the exact same audiogram as Lauralee but be affected more. There is so many intricate connections between the peripheral hearing system and the cortical synapses in the brain where hearing and cognition happen that something could go haywire at any point along the auditory pathway. Some one could have mild autism like Oliver but have a completely different set of abilities or behaviors affecting everyday life. Because of all these factors, it’s hard to truly come up with a set of “symptoms” that separate autism and hearing differences.

Maybe rather than separating the disabilities as two separate entities, maybe hearing loss is a symptom of autism. Autism on a basic level is caused by sensory wiring differences in the brain. There have been several studies showing the autistic auditory pathway is wired differently from the neuro-typical pathway. Perhaps hearing differences, whether peripheral or cortical, are a common symptom of autism. But the social insufficiencies that are commonly associated with autism do not translate to a person with deafness.

People who are deaf but given adequate language access through sign or otherwise, develop socially normal. Yes, a person may have to grab their attention differently but ultimately a deaf person is very socially aware. Autism can make a person seem “deaf” because they lack social cues like eye-contact and quick verbal responses. Neuro-typical people with deafness do not lack these social differences when given the chance to communicate. You can see it clearly in my children, but we are only one example on the entire spectrum.

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Kris Martin: A Passion for Racing

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Not Afraid (Excerpt from Kris Martin’s website)

Ask Kris Martin to do something for you and his standard response is “Not a problem.”
Stepping in a race car that reaches speeds of over 200 miles per hour. Not a problem. Speaking to over 300 hundred students who look at him as a role model. Not a problem.

Being born profoundly deaf. Not a problem.

In fact, being born deaf may have helped Kris. He learned to race by primarily using his tactile senses, and has given him a great ability to feel the track and use his instincts. Today Kris is actually able to receive partial hearing through the use of a implant he had surgically implanted when he was eight. A company Phonak Hearing Systems created an audio device that uses radio frequency which allows Kris to communicate with his spotters.

Kris certainly has the talent to race and he comes with racing in his blood. Warren Coniam(Uncle) and Doug Syer(Grandfather) are both in the Canadian Racing Hall of Fame. Kris also is strong proponent of giving back to those who are deaf and hard of hearing. A role model for many, Kris speaks to children and charities across North America. His speeches give hope to not only children, but to parents, too–that their children can defy any odds that may be placed against them.

Ask Kris if he is ready. He will tell you…not a problem.

From Kris:

Racing Family

I come from a racing family.
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My grandfather is my hero in my world. He is that one started our racing family history since he was 18 yr old. He had seven kids!

When I was little watching my family race, I knew that I all I wanted to do was race. It was my dream!
There were a lot of expectations because of my family’s success in racing, but I took it as a challenge to follow in their footsteps and make them proud. NOT A PROBLEM…..

kris martin go kart

Go- Karting

I loved Go Karting and I was lucky to have success and travel across North America.

I had a lot of fun racing and meeting friends at the track. It gave me a lot of confidence in life and in school to know I can be successful.

I had to learn how to drive the kart by feel. I got the feel of the car in my hands, my legs and my butt. I can feel if there is anything wrong with the car immediately. I do not need to hear anything go wrong.

One Thing I’m Proud of: 6X Time Karting Championship!

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Race Car

My dream has always been to race Stock Car!

I had other drivers tell track officials they were concerned to race against me because they were worried I could not hear and could not drive–and would wreck them. After seeing me on the track they quickly realized I am a driver and could handle the track.

I am able to race because of special hearing system from Phonak that allows me to communicate with my spotter and crew chief.

I raced in the Nascar Arca at Daytona International Super Speedway, LeMan 24HR Series road racing.

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Public Speaking

I decided to get involved with public speaking at the age of thirteen. I became involved with VOICE and CHHA organizations, and I was able to talk to children and adults that had to face challenges just like I did. I like to show them that they can overcome anything as long as they are passionate, work hard and believe in themselves. I have spoken all over the world to thousands of people. I take it very seriously to show everyone my passion that you can achieve your dreams with whatever challenge you face. NOT A PROBLEM…..

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Believe Yourself

I followed my dreams and I was able to achieve my dream of being a race car driver.

Everyone has their own set of challenges in their lives. I am proof that if you are passionate about what you do, then there is nothing that you can stop you. Have confidence and believe in yourself. Don’t let being deaf/hard of hearing stop you from living your dreams. NOT A PROBLEM…..

 
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The Cornerstone of Parent Choice

Most recently, we have been asked to clarify our position on parent choice. Supporting parents in making their own informed choices for the child they know best is central to everything we do.
 
The Cornerstone of Parent Choice
By Karen Putz,
Co-Director of Deaf/Hard of Hearing Infusion
Hands & Voices
 
In my very first job right out of college, I informally took on the role of being a mentor to a family with a toddler who was deaf. I had no formal training, other than my own experience of growing up hard of hearing, becoming deaf as a teen, and learning American Sign Language shortly after. That first experience of working with families was so enjoyable for both the family and for me that I began to get calls from more and more families. I happily provided mentoring support, even though my primary job was structured toward independent living for teens and adults.
 
Then I got a call that would change my life and eventually lead me formally down the path of parent support…
 
A mom called to ask for support services and resources. She had just found out her six-month old daughter was deaf. I debated whether to take the appointment, for I had just turned in my resignation letter to stay home with my own newborn baby. Since the family lived near my home, I took the appointment.
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I ended up mentoring that family on my own out of sheer passion for the work. We held sign classes in her home and the neighbors joined in. We mentored other families together. In an ironic twist, this mom was also there to support me when my toddler became profoundly deaf two years later. It was that moment that my journey became personal–now I was the mom of a deaf kid. Everything shifted in the way I provided support from that point on, because I was now walking down the parenting path with my own experiences. My husband and I were now facing the process of choices and decisions we had to make for our child (and the two that followed).
 
And that changed everything.
 
As a parent, we are responsible for all kinds of decisions for our children. My husband and I soon learned that NOT making a decision was a decision in itself–and we had to own the consequences of that path as well.
 
In 2004, I stumbled upon Hands & Voices while putting together a website for parents in Illinois. The minute I read the description of the organization, I knew it was a fit for our family.
 
Who are we? We are parents of ASL signers, cued speech users…. parents of kids with cochlear implants or total communicators… we are people who have common interests connected through the community of deafness. Hands & Voices is a safe place to explore options, get unemotional support (although we can be emotional about it!), learn from one another and share what we have in common. We value diversity and honor the role of parents and family as the single greatest factor in raising a WASK (our favorite acronym: Well-Adjusted Successful Kid).
 
“There is room in the community of deafness for an organization like Hands & Voices, and in fact, I think parents, and even many professionals, have been crying out for a group like this,” says Leeanne Seaver, Board member. “Somehow parents connecting to other parents provides an element of credibility; there’s a level of ‘knowing & feeling’ that only a parent experiences. And parents, especially parents of babies newly identified with deafness or hearing loss, need a way to connect like this without being wary of a sponsoring agenda from a service provider.”
 
Hands & Voices is a nonprofit, parent-driven organization dedicated to supporting families of children who are deaf or hard of hearing. We are non-biased about communication methodologies and believe that families can make the best choices for their child if they have access to good information and support.
 
Everything about the organization matched what I felt was most needed. Parent choice. Support for diverse communication options. Coming together for common causes. Support by parents for parents on the parenting journey.
putz kids 2
It is now many years later; my kids are now young adults. I’ve been a board member, a founder of a state Hands & Voices chapter (along with the parent I previously mentored), and I am now working as staff. Through the years, we’ve remained steadfast in our mission and vision to provide support to parents on the journey. We work with a diverse group of parents from all walks of life and all different stages of their journey.
 
From time to time, we are asked for our position on a variety of topics. Most recently, we have been asked to clarify our position on parent choice. Supporting parents in making their own informed choices for the child they know best is central to everything we do. When it comes to the parent’s right to choose, we stand firmly behind this concept:
 
Parents not only have the right to choose language and communication modality for their child who is deaf or hard of hearing, they have the ethical, legal and moral obligation to do so. Furthermore, the research proves that the single greatest indicator of a DHH child’s eventual success—regardless of which mode or method of communication is used—is the meaningful involvement of his or her parents. The goal is to make that involvement authentic, effective and informed by the wisdom that so many have to share from direct experience…parent-to-parent, deaf or hard of hearing adult to parent, and professional to parent.
 
putz kids
The parenting journey is filled with twists and turns. As a mom of three kids, I’ve experienced this firsthand. As a Deaf Mentor in early intervention, I’ve had the honor of being a part of a family’s journey often from the beginning. As a staff person with Hands & Voices, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a variety of families negotiating this journey around the world. I’ve seen it time and time again–even in the midst of difficult situations and trying times–there’s so much more that unites us than divides us. We must continue to focus on the common goal: building an informed community surrounding parents so they can nurture the seed of potential in every child.
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Rana Ottallah: Finding My Way Home

I have attended two Hands & Voices Leadership conferences and my first Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI) conference. There is no place on earth that felt like home than those three conferences.

Being a parent of Deaf/Hard of hearing child, with strong beliefs and convictions–is a lonely place. Single motherhood is a lonely place, strong advocacy for Deaf and Hard of hearing children is a lonely place, being a female community leader is a lonely place. All of these roles come with lots of emotional pressures, and the pressure to look strong and capable all the time. Educated , informed, calm, collected , on top of your game, and prepared for any and all changes of plans–at each and every setting.

The weight of responsibilities on my shoulders gets heavier and heavier by the day–I feel emotionally and physically drained. I feel lonely,and on my own. Nobody gets it or understands it.

Moms of Hands and Voices

The first time I attended a Hands & Voices Leadership conference, I met other parents and listened to their stories, I felt complete, whole and at Home. I wasn’t alone anymore. I felt the warmth of home surrounded by mothers like me, experiencing the same emotions and feeling similar pressure

moms of hands and voices 2

Things came into prospective and the vision became much clearer when I listened to other mothers tell their stories, share milestones, and share emotional highs and lows.

I realized that it is okay to feel down, overwhelmed, frustrated, but it’s not okay to feel alone when I am a member of the Hands & Voices home. There are hundreds of Hands & Voices mothers and leaders out there who get it, understand it, and are available to pull me up when I am down, wipe my  tears when I cry, and cheer me up when I feel helpless and frustrated.

I no longer feel alone, I found my way home.

parents of hands and voices

A home filled with Hands & Voices warmth, support, and unconditional love and understanding of parents and family struggles.

I am emotionally charged and ready for whatever comes my way. I am headed to my smaller home a better mom, stronger advocate, and more capable community leader with so much to give and so much to share.

Thank you Hands & Voices for bringing me home.

 

Rana Ottallah

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Jordan Livingston: Becoming a Pilot

jordan livingston pilot

Jordan Livingston has a dream: he wants to become a commercial pilot, aviation safety officer, and a flight instructor. And he’s well on his way!

Jordan was born deaf and from a very young age, he dreamed of flying. Both of his parents worked in the aviation industry so Jordan grew up around planes. He obtained his pilot’s license in high school and interned at Southwest Airlines. He’s currently on a quest to complete his education and obtain the aviation hours necessary to certify him to fly commercially.

jordan livingston southwest

Take a moment to watch this Hands & Voices interview with Jordan and learn how he’s blazing through the barriers to become a commercial pilot:

 

An article on Jordan: Deafness Doesn’t Ground Aspiring Pilot 

Jordan’s experience at Southwest Airlines:  Southwest Intern is Defying the Odds to Become a Pilot 

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