I was born with a profound hearing loss in India. My parents were not able to diagnose my hearing disability in my early days in 1989, when I was born, because they did not have access to proper diagnosis and infrastructure, back in those days. It was when they first noticed that my speech development was not on par with other kids my age, and upon frequent interactions with my teachers, they realized something was wrong. My father had me tested immediately at various hearing Institutes for evaluation and inputs.
At that age, I just did not understand the things evolving around, however, I always enjoyed going outdoors and just responded to people speaking to me with a pleasing smile. I still remember the fun of endless audio and echo tests with marbles. Thanks to the technology, I got hearing aids for both the ears and was then able to recognize the sounds of my parents and siblings speak. I felt the real happiness after hearing different sounds with headphones. It served my purpose – Hearing. That made my day.
Hearing aids do not cure hearing loss, but they do certainly help a great deal enabling me to have better access to sound. I realized life without hearing aids is much harder for me when it comes to communication and making a connection with others or vice-versa. Communication plays a pivotal role in human life – to learn, to understand, to respond, to react, to assimilate thoughts, to convey or even to teach others. Without connection, there is no proper communication. Without proper communication, a person feels excluded/left behind, can get bored easily, resulting in a lack of motivation to learn. And, when that learning stops, it has a profound impact on one’s life. Without my hearing aids, I would miss the very many magical moments around, such as, birds chirping every morning, ringing of bells, baby’s first cry, and more.
The hearing that I have through hearing aids contributes to how well I function in my daily life around family, friends, and colleagues. It is a basic sensory unit that helps me not only to take care of day to day activities but also to succeed in today’s competitive world. Interpreting it in human terms, it is a way of sending signals to the brain to perform certain actions such as, thinking, becoming creative, and more importantly making sure that family/friends gatherings became enjoyable. For many people, like me, who have hearing loss, hearing aids serve a greater purpose, opening up a whole new world of opportunities.
While growing up, it took so long to develop my language, speech and social skills. I did also notice that having hearing aids does not help to hear perfectly. Despite the amplification being set exactly right at certain frequencies to offset the hearing loss, and to muffle unwanted sounds amplified by the devices, there is still an element of distortion due to the damage that exists within my hearing mechanism. It is just that people who can hear in the normal range do not understand this problem. I have to ask people to repeat things often, which is then followed by moments of frustration, pity, and angry faces when people had to repeat after them. I am lucky to have two siblings who are always by my side, helping me understand the topics during midterm exams and finals. They are my alarm clock and when the alarm rings, they alert me. As I grew up, I had to undergo humiliation when people around me were calling me deaf, yet I buried the pain and feelings inside me. With hearing-aids, I moved on with my life, but for a purpose to achieve at least a little more than expected.
My hearing disability never deterred my confidence and interest in exploring more in the field of science and technology. Fast forward, to life after the completion of my college, my siblings motivated me to pursue higher studies abroad (in the USA, the land of opportunities). Science and Engineering have always fascinated me during my school days. By setting discernable goals and relentless pursuit to achieve them, I headed to Northeastern University at Boston to pursue my Masters.
With all the love and compassion that I received from my parents throughout, I came all the way, defying the odds of my hearing disability to pursue my higher studies. I encountered mixed feelings with varied experiences on the long international flight journey for the first time. I could not understand the announcement made at the airport. I always made sure I sit next to the big screen to keep a tab on the flight timings. I shied away to make connections with fellow travelers because I would feel awkward about how to respond when they speak and I do not understand them.
I felt much better after obtaining technologically advanced hearing aids and support from my friends and faculty in the US. This support taught me how to be independent. I still find it challenging to understand and follow the local accent here when others speak. People tend to speak too fast and I lose track of many words in the context, even with hearing aids. After researching about the technology support available for hearing impaired people, I came to learn about CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation), which transcribes and translates spoken text and sound into words. Through the CART support at graduate school in Northeastern University, I could follow the texts on the screen, and at the same time, I was able to follow the lectures.
With the technology support in place, I was able to follow with closed captions when speaking to recruiters and hiring managers during interviews for internship/full-time employment process. It was indeed a very lengthy ordeal I had to undergo when compared to others, but I kept calm and composed and kept motivating myself to further push along and keep trying. Thanks to the iPhone’s voice messaging possibility, which transcribes speech to text for me when someone leaves me a voice message, I can access voice mail. Using that information, I was able to connect with the interviewers who try to reach me for a job opportunity. Things went well, until I was affected by WFR (Work Force Reduction) at my previous employment at HPE (Hewlett Packard Enterprise). I had to participate in frequent telecon with attorneys to seek inputs on the impact of my lay off on my immigration status. Since, my speech characteristics and speech delivery has been impacted by my hearing condition, I often felt low with rejections. I was out of job for close to four months while I was supportive and taking care of my spouse’s ambition to pursue her higher studies. With patience, self-learning, and my family support, I accepted full-time employment with Dell.
The arrival of my daughter into our lives recently, was the most lovable moment in my life. With the recent job switch to Microsoft, I always have had the highest regard in helping people with disabilities to build the best products for everyone, and to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. I am thankful to my current employer Microsoft, who is so committed to improve disability inclusion and accessibility, by adding built-in accessibility tools and features in various Microsoft technologies. For example, Microsoft Teams now offers speech to captions support in real-time. This is a huge step forward to enable hearing impaired people have active communication and develop social skills. We must collaborate to improve technology to make everyone’s life easier. Through the advanced technology, I hope I can pass on my learnings and challenges to the next person in need, and make their life easier to help transition in their lives.