Archive for October 7, 2014

Olivier Jeannel: Three Criteria of Success in Growing Up Deaf

October 7, 2014

Dear readers,

I’m honored to be able to put in a guest post, at Karen’s request. Karen and I exchanged by Skype recently and we discovered we shared some common traits. Besides being deaf. We both live life with a passion. And enjoy extreme water sports. Karen as a barefoot water skier. Myself as a kite surfer.

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I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. At age two, I was diagnosed with severe hearing loss. The result of a fever which had damaged my nerves. My parents promptly had me fitted with hearing aids. I could have my choice of raising up Deaf culture or deaf mainstream later in life, when I could make a choice. But at two years of age my parents wanted that I should at least be able to make that choice: meaning that I should at least learn to speak and to grasp what I could hear with my hearing aids.

Today I’m 34 and I speak three languages. I now live in Paris, France. I have worked in Madrid, Spain. I enjoy going back to California regularly.

How did that happen ? I like to joke that it’s because I can’t hear the word, “no.”

But I can now identify three strong criteria for my success in growing up as a deaf child:
Family, reading, and sports.


My family gave me a loving and supportive environment. They weren’t overly protective, far from it. I had to face the real world. Growing up, my parents never gave me any excuse to skip classes or to forget my homework. I hadn’t heard the teacher? Very well. They’d ask the teacher or my classmates’ parents for my assignments. There were no games at home till homework was done.

At school, I realized I wasn’t like the other kids. I was probably missing out on things. I was being taunted sometimes. But curiously enough, I had never blamed it on myself. I just thought they were being nasty, and I didn’t pay them much mind. Unlike my siblings and my best friend who were totally cool. My three siblings gave me a world in which I could learn and play games and have fun, without feeling like I was any different.

Today, I marvel at that state of mind, and whenever I need to I sometimes turn to my younger self for inspiration.


My greatest breakthrough came from reading books. Indeed, what better channel of learning for a deaf child ? I picked up reading rather late. I had no clue what the ABC lessons were all about during school. So my parents made an extra effort for me to read, tracing the words on a page with their finger while speaking the words. I also had a tutor to whom I would go to once a week to learn to read. Her name was Miss Simms. And last but not least I had a speech therapist who educated me throughout my public school years, from elementary school to high school.

Miss Liss was patient and I enjoyed her weekly visits immensely. With such a supportive environment, I fell in love with reading. Maths was an abstract nightmare for me, but I loved reading. TV never really attracted me as a child. It was a mess of incomprehensible voices with ridiculous characters that always came with canned laughter or annoying tunes. But reading, ah, that was something real.

During recess period, I would sometimes sneak away to the school’s library and catch up on books. I quickly devoured most of the boring children’s books, and went looking for more challenging material. I was especially fond of pirate adventures, English explorers, and Greek mythology. Those heroes that defied the odds. I really identified with these characters.

Olivier Kite-surf


By sports, I mean all kinds of sports. Team sports, and outdoor sports. I wasn’t particularly athletic. I was just a kid with energy to spend. I invented new challenges for myself all the time. Learning to ride a unicycle. Doing a flip on the diving board. On the weekends my parents would pile the whole family in the car and drive to the mountains and the beaches around Los Angeles. We would hike and swim and build treehouses.

As a deaf child, having a universe of activities to do distracted me from my own condition. I was constantly in action. I had no time to mull over myself. There was always a fish to catch, or the next wave to surf on.

All three of these influences – family, books, and sports – had one thing in common: Passion! It was all about living life to the fullest.

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About Olivier Jeannel:

After a degree at UC Berkeley (Poli Sci ’02) Olivier left for the charms of the Old World. He pursued studies in international relations at Sciences Po Paris (’04), but eventually settled for a career at a telecom mulinational, Orange, working in finance and market studies for 8 years.

Today, Olivier has left his job to launch a startup business. His ambition? To enable the deaf worldwide to be able to make phone calls. Discover his project: RogerVoice Phone




Marsha Peterson: No One was Dancing in the Delivery Room, Except Me

October 6, 2014

marsha peterson

“Well, it looks like he has Down syndrome”, said a medical professional I hadn’t met before. With Apgar scores of 2 then 5, no one was dancing in the delivery room. Well except for me, in my mind anyway.

When I attended my first support group for babies born with Down syndrome, I was told “at least we have a diagnosis from birth that we can work with”. Really? Little did I know that autism, silent aspirator, hypotonia and hard of hearing would all follow as his little life began.

At a year old, Chad’s special education teacher suggested we learn sign language. I remember her teaching him the sign for ‘more’ using a musical top. He learned the sign after three or four introductions because it meant more spinning and music from the toy. The teacher didn’t provide any further sign language lessons or instructions. My sister had a book on signs tucked away with her old college textbooks. She pulled it out and as best I could, we began learning ASL on our own.

Where to start? I thought since kids like animals, I’d start with that. My son would learn five to six signs every weekend – not bad since as a single parent, I was working 40 hours per week. He remembered the signs and before long, he was relying on them for his main mode of communication. This began to present a problem however. I noticed that if someone didn’t have signing skills, he wanted nothing to do with them. This brought about horrible behaviors if he wanted to communicate something and wasn’t understood. I suffered two black eyes, a bloody lip, holes in the walls, a broken window, etc, too numerous to mention. I was learning how important communication for a non-verbal baby is!

I started asking for caregivers with ASL skills and found one or two between personal care attendants and educators. Whenever I could match him with someone he could communicate with, behaviors went away. But not many people knew the language. I decided to go back to school and finish my bachelor’s degree. With a sales background, I thought I would get my degree in marketing. As the bachelor program was coming to completion, I was struggling with my son’s school to give him language. It was nine months of regular meetings, I developed an ulcer and I am sure I wasn’t the only person who fell ill that year. The school suggested a communication device or using Picture Exchange Communication (PEC) system. For the most part, Chad rejected these and preferred the spontaneity of ASL. My frustration was so great that I decided I didn’t want any parent to go through what I did with language development. I wanted to give parents a tool they could use starting at birth and would put them in charge of language learning. I decided to somehow use this as my marketing project for my degree. After a lot of research on babies, literacy and language, I created Talking with Baby and the first book, Come Sign with Us, the Adventures of Potts and Friends was written. (Potts was the nickname I had given my son) The book won a Mom’s Choice Award for educational products in 2010.

chad peterson

Despite a slow start, my son had 400 signs by 4th grade, learned another 200 before entering 7th grade. We know he has well over 1000 signs today. Learning ASL has given my son language and confidence.

Teachers asked me what I wanted for my son’s future. I always answered, “Give him a language!” What greater fulfillment in life than to interact with others. He started a day training program last summer

and I’ve never seen him so happy. We love ASL.


Website:  Talking with Baby

Marsha Peterson