Veditz: Online Classes for Families with Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children

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Born in the City of New York – The Bronx.

I was born hearing and had an ear infection that triggered hearing loss and raised in the city of The Bronx in one-bedroom apartment with just my mother–that has always been my story. I’ve always seen and knew how half of us as New York City residents struggle economically, make ends meet just barely, if at all, and most of us always feel this sharp uncertainty about the future, at least, it was for me growing up. For one, I was born to Deaf parents who moved to America from Puerto Rico. Both families were poor as my father’s side works as the landlord of a project apartment in the South area of the Bronx. My mother’s side is from the military.  Both of my deaf parents met each other at an oral school called “P.S. 47” public school in Manhattan. Both of my parents’ families speak Spanish. Come to think of this… imagine all of the communication, language barrier and not to mention, different cultures all combined in one family when both of my parents married each other. But, after turning one-year-old and my older sister, Jasmine, who is also deaf, at age five, both of my parents separated then eventually divorced. 

 

Life as of the Hard-of-Hearing Child and How I Unconsciously Code-Switch Two Languages and Modalities.

When I lost my hearing at 18 months old due to an ear infection. I had residual hearing that wearing a hearing aid, for me, is like from hearing completely nothing – no sounds to hearing absolutely everything! I embraced hearing and speaking. I loved going to speech classes during my school days. I’d sing like how I recorded my own voice signing in the speech classroom all by myself, now imagine those who really heard me singing across the elementary hallway!

But, when I didn’t want to hear… it was always my advantage, to have the choice to turn off my hearing aid, hear no sound, be completely deaf.  

 

What resource I had growing up as a city young girl, I could call my parents through the Telecommunication Relay Service (TRS), which is actually through the relay operator who would voice and translate in English for my parents via TTY. Also, I remember how almost all the time, I would be called to interpret for my older sister and parents at appointments, restaurants, movie theatres, many more. I also remember how my parents always said the youngest child “hard-of-hearing” and “very, very smart who can speak very well” when introducing me and my older sister to other people (poor my sister of having to grow up being compared to my abilities). So, all my growing years, I have always talked with my voice and sign but little did I know it is what we call “code switching”. I now understand why using both language at the same time is always a challenge because both language have different grammatical functions and rules. Therefore, the influence of speaking values that my deaf parents from their spilled over to how they raised me and my sister. Looking back, it is, indeed quite interesting that I do not see this life experience of an interesting mix of values in both worlds – hearing and deaf, as a bad thing but has become a resource for me in what I can use every day, especially, with my four CODA children and, of course, my love for music, always!

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Love for Music & Discovering ASL/Deaf Culture – Understanding & Navigating Both Worlds.

Since I mentioned my love for music. For me, music has always hold a connection to sound because I can hear, appreciate the sound of music, which grew that inner value for sound the of music. I love to listen to music (over many times), read lyrics to make connections and sign the words without realizing what it means to translate into a conceptually accurate in ASL. I also love to dance!

I knew many songs that were back in 80’s and 90’s, which were songs that are easier to follow compared to our music nowadays. The more I learn about ASL as its own language, I realized it a challenge to translate the actual meaning when signing a song because there are many different ways that depend on meaning. Then, we have to consider how words are interpreted and expressed in order to successfully deliver the same way from one language to another.

During college, I studied to be a Social Worker and the more I learned about my identity, who I really am and how I discovered ASL and Deaf culture through courses and workshops I attended. That alone, opened my eyes to the world of a human being I am. Many cultural and language conflicts in terms of how we use of ASL became a clear structure of how two languages that I equally value has stronger influence with how we bend both cultures into our way of life and because that’s how we all learn to evolve to be who we all are as individuals.  

                        

Professional Journey as a Deaf Educator and Leader.

As soon as I graduated Gallaudet University with my Bachelors in Social Work. I went back to New York City for one year working as the Deaf Service Coordinator at the Bronx Independent Services. I also had a part-time job as a G.E.D. instructor for LaGuardia Community College. That’s when I found my love for teaching, which then I went back to school, studied and received my Masters in Deaf Education. I was also working night shifts as a residential counselor for high school deaf students.  After having my 3 boys in two years as I had a set of twins after my first born being at 20 months old.

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I accepted a position as the Co-Director/ASL Lead Faculty of the ASL/Interpreting Preparation Program in Denver, Colorado. There, I learned so much more about the culture, language, history of our community and how we, the deaf people, are outsiders of the hearing society. I also learned how we all are raised with different backgrounds and education experience that brings the uniqueness even more in the Deaf community that’s within the larger community in the hearing world.

 

During my 5 years living in Texas, I was employed as parent infant program teacher at Texas School for the Deaf in Austin before I landed a Director position with the Gallaudet University Regional Center – Southwest when it first opened and based in Austin Community College. Five years later, I was offered the K-12 Principal position at Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind in Colorado Springs. After years of teaching and administrating in the education field and do an extensive outreach work at the center, I knew there is still a serious huge gap in the connection of our people, our community and the resources that we must access to but I didn’t have any answer to this huge issue that deeply impacts every deaf individual.

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  Three years ago, during the National Academic Bowl at Gallaudet University, I sat next to Karen Putz. I brought up my concerns about deaf and hard of hearing students who were showing severe delays with language and learning. During our conversation, I remember vividly how Karen was very straightforward about lack of centralized information and resources for parents with deaf children. Karen also mentioned how serious of a problem that is if we (Deaf and Hard of Hearing adults) continue to not be connected to those hearing parents with deaf children, we will continue to have challenges now that 98% of deaf children have hearing parents.

 

In other terms, we must change how we do things. That conversation never left my mind because I already knew and believed that as a huge and serious gap, which impacts many, many deaf children and how they live life and ultimately, become a productive adult that may come to question. It’s the connection. Fast forward. Three years has passed. Karen and I reunited at the Hands and Voice Leadership Conference in Estes Park, Colorado discussing about Veditz, a solution I created for deaf and hard of hearing children and their families! Veditz is the first online, mobile, on-demand and live interactive video chat tutoring platform for the deaf and hearing who wants to learn ASL or are simply visual learners regardless of where they are or what device they’re using – PC, Mac, Chromebook, or Apple iOS or Android smartphone or tablet devices! Deaf students, including, deaf and hearing people can now get tutoring in many subjects (math, science, ASL, and more!) with tutoring delivered in ASL online in your home! Teachers, professionals, students, parents and their children can use Veditz for FREE to find ASL practice partners and then meet up online on Veditz’ secured platform and conduct live video peer-to-peer ASL practice with each other.

 

Also, when a child needs help in Algebra, English writing, ASL or something else, Veditz and our hundreds of tutors are at your service. Since our tutors tutor in ASL, it saves costs on having to hire a tutor and interpreter, plus it maximizes quality of tutoring time. Also, come and learn more about our vision on building a Khan-Academy-like for the Deaf similar to our ASL Math Academy is currently featured on our website for free! When Deaf students want an answer in ASL not just English? Our FREE ASL Math Academy has dozens of videos signed in ASL with English CC on Arithmetic, Pre-Algebra, Algebra, Geometry and more!

 

Embracing Life as a Deaf Mother Raising 4 CODAs

In between my career journey after having my baby boy, Caleb, I was hired as the High School Social Studies teacher at Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in St. Augustine, Florida. I learned the value of student connection as a teacher and implement visual learning instructions. After the double “oops” surprise came on the day of 18-week sonogram, I was told that I was carrying twins! In 2005, we had fraternal twins, Tristan and Sebastian, when Caleb was only 20-month-old where many thought I had triplets! Certainly, at age 25, I was shocked but I embraced raising twins. I have learned so much raising my own twins. Evidently, I had my hands full that I decided to stayed home temporarily to raise 3 young boys before I went back to work.

                                                

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The Impact of Co-Founding Veditz

Leaving the principal job at Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind was not an easy decision yet best decision as the decision has blindly led me to co-founding Veditz! Like I mentioned, I always knew there is a way to fill such a severe gap of “connecting with others”. I never knew how or what it takes to develop such product because I knew it starts with a person with technology expertise to build a platform.

 

Veditz is going to create an opportunity to break the communication barriers that are often created between the parents and the deaf child. There is no comprehensive program available for learning how to communicate with their deaf child. Veditz is going to provide parents and their deaf children integrated and interactive learning product where is self-paced with practical lessons and activities parents can use as they develop other competences.

 As I briefly shared the evolving human identity that I am today as a deaf, woman, Puerto Rican, single mother of four children. I am fortunate that I have been given through different professional opportunities, to be a counselor, a service provider, a coordinator, a classroom teacher, a program administrator, a school administrator, an outreach/ambassador for a University where I will always use as resources and tools to continue navigate in the hearing world. Now that technology is here and sign language is a visual language, putting both together is what validated my deep desire, passion and understanding what it takes to happen for such product to connect, educate, and empower the world’s deaf community.

 

I am going to be who I am and I will use all tools and resources to live and merge in the hearing world as a deaf adult. My identity has evolved as I was once called “hard-of-hearing” child to simply being deaf. I have and will continue to embrace what it means to be deaf in this world. Most certainly, I will also embrace the gift of being a mother and raising four beautiful hearing children (CODAs).

 

          

 

 

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The “Letting Go” Moments of Parenthood

 

david as a kidWhen my first child was born, I wasn’t prepared for the experience of my heart being wrenched out during the moments of learning to “let go.”  The first time my husband and I went out for dinner and left the baby with grandparents, I was excited for about twenty minutes. Then I started wondering, “I wonder if he’s crying? (he was going through the colicky stage), did I leave enough breast milk? Will they remember to change his diaper?” and so on.

The first time I let go of my toddler’s hand to take his first steps, he faceplanted hard on the carpet. When the second and third kid came along, I was much more cautious about letting go and waited until I thought they could master the walking thing. Some of that wisdom comes from experience the second time around, and some of it comes from being patient and knowing the time when the kid was ready to master it on his/her own. That’s the fine line of parenting and letting go–figuring out that magic formula and timing.

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We live in an era of Helicopter Parenting–parents who hold the reins of parenting so tight that the kid has little opportunity to learn on their own and make mistakes. But here’s the thing, letting go is a vital part of the parenting transition that enables a child to achieve maximum growth in all areas of life.

When my oldest son was around five, we were at a McDonalds (I know, I know) playland and he asked for an ice cream cone. I gave him the cash and he went up to the counter to order his ice cream. Another parent who was with me was flabbergasted.

“You let him order by himself?”

My oldest son is deaf, and from an early age I wanted him to be independent and competent just like any other kid. I stood back and watched as he ordered his own ice cream. He came triumphantly walking back happily devouring his cone. The other parent continued to order for her deaf child for YEARS after that. She just could not let go and allow her kid to struggle with the ordering process. It was far easier for her to speak for her child and do the ordering.

The struggle is part of the process. In fact, it’s probably one of the most valuable aspects of the parenting gig–letting your child navigate the world and the challenges on their own is one of the most valuable gifts you can give your kid. The letting go stuff is hard. It’s so much easier to do for, or hold on–and wait for a better time or more maturity–before letting go. Yet, by letting go, our kids gain skills and experiences that they wouldn’t have if we didn’t hover so darn hard over them.

The first time I let a child take off with the car and a newly-minted driver’s license my heart was in my throat. And no, it did not become easier with each child because I was reliving all my fears, doubts, and scary thoughts with each child. But the only way around the fear of letting go is to…let go.

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And the first time they leave home…oh my…that’s the ultimate letting go.

Letting go often means giving up control, and that can be so darned tough at times. Here are some tips for navigating those parenting transitions that involve letting go:

Shift Your Perspective: 

Instead of seeing the letting go process as a loss of control, focus on the gain from it: increased independence, learning, and growth. Each time you “let go” and allow your child to experience something new and unknown, both of you grow in the process. Yes, your child may make mistakes or chose poor outcomes as a result, but the lessons learned can strengthen both of you. You can actually stunt your child’s growth by holding back instead of letting go.

Connect with Other Parents:

One of the easiest ways to handle the letting go process is to connect and talk with other parents who have been there or are going through the same process. You will often find that “hindsight advice” is spot on and this will help ease the parenting transition. Knowing that you aren’t alone in the “letting go” process can be comforting.

Connect with Deaf and Hard of Hearing Adults:

When you’re early in the parenting journey with your Deaf/Hard of hearing child, it can be difficult to see into the future years because you’re just trying to get through the day to day stuff. Take the opportunity to meet Deaf/Hard of hearing adults. This is a wonderful way to get questions answered, to see different perspectives and experiences, and to gain knowledge that would otherwise be difficult to find on your own. Take some time to scour the web for stories of Deaf/Hard of Hearing adults in various professions and activities and share them with your child.

 

Karen Putz is the mom of Dave, Ren, and Steven. She is the Co-Director of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Infusion at Hands & Voices. For fun, she walks on water

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Matthew Morgan: A Deaf Magician

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When Matthew Morgan entered the stage to open his magic permformance, there was no applause. Instead, everyone in the audience raised their hand in the air and wiggled their fingers. He, who is deaf, began the show by pulling four doves from four different silk scarves, and then turn themn into three ducks.

Born on January 17, 1974 in West Allis, Wisconsin, only two miles west of Milwaukee, Matthew Morgan is the only deaf member of his family, which includes his parents and one brother. he grew up in his hometown, and attended the Wisconsin School for the Deaf in Delavan.

His maternal grandfather, Carl Andress (his stage name was Waxie), who at one time worked in a carnival, first introduced some simple magic tricks to him at a very young age. Every time his family and he visited Carl’s home or when he came to visit them, Matt ran to him and begged him to do one or more tricks. He loved watching Carl’s magic shows from time to time. Matt has not forgotten how his jaw hit the floor in astonishment, every time his grandfather pulled a coin out of his ear.

At around the age of six, Matt had to know how his grandfather pulled a coin out of his ear. Carl agreed to teach him all about magic things. From that time on he was fascinated with magic. His grandfather encouraged him to practice as much as he could. Matt very determinedly practiced and practiced tricks in his bedroom.

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One day during practice he confronted a mistake by trulym aking a coin vanish right into his ear. He panicked an thought it must be real magic. He became entirely upset and scared. Crying, he ran to his mother and told her what had happened. She reassured him that it was just a trick. He went back to his room, looked for the coinf or several hours and was still confused. Later he found it on the floor, with a big sigh of relief. He never gave up practicing after that.

Whenever Matt and his brother went to the public library for the Readers’ Club, he always went straight to the section that had magic books on the shelf. he borrowed a lot of magic books from the library and created different new tricks for himself. he still remembers that Christmas Day when he received his first magic kit from his grandfather. He studied and learned more tricks to bring to school to perform for his fellow students and teachers.

When he was eleven years old, a young hearing friend led him to the House of Illusion, a magic shop. He entered the store and fell in love with the place. From then on, he started going there every day. He would watch different people come and go; they were fans, beginners, amateurs, or professional magicians. He became addicted to this magic shop and ended up buying lots of new tricks. As he got older, he attended the Wisconsin Schoolf o the Deaf as a residential student. He came home every weekend and headed straight to the House of Illusion. He never missed a weekend and faithfully did that until he went to college. at that time he was disheartended to learn that the magic shop had to be closed for good. But he still has fond memories of his frequent visits there through his childhood days.

At the age of eleven, Matt gave his first magic performance, in a church for the congregation members. everyone seemed to enjoy it, eh recalls, and the church people gave him $150. He was very surprised with such good pay. He was happy to be able to use the money to add to his inventory of magic tricks and supplies.

When he was sixteen years old, his aunt presented him with a sports coat with his new stage name, “Magic Morgan” sewn on it. It was her idea, and Magic Morgan has been his stage name ever since.

The first animal he ever worked with was his old friend Powder Puff, a white bunny. As a boy, he had gone to the Wisconsin State Fair one day and played a game that was offering a stuffed animal or a live baby bunny as a prize. he won and brought Powder Puff home to his very surprised parents. he started to train Powder Puff to play deaf! It really worked. He deceived his mother and everyone at his shows as he hypnotized his rabbit to lying down “deaf.” Powder Puff grew bigger than a very fat cat–almost fifteen inches in girth and about thirty pounds of pure white fur. She performed with Matt in shows for six years until she passed away of old age. He never found another funny that he couldn’t rain to play dead like old Powder Puff. he tried training four other rabbits. but it never worked. It was very rare to find just he right rabbit flexible enough to work with humans and perform in shows.

While still young, Matt met Ron Fable, himself a famous Houdini straight-jacket escape artist of the 1970s. He often invited Matt to visit his home, and he first showed Matt the Zip Bag. It was an empty bag out of which came the most beautiful glowing white doves. He marveled at this trick and Ron kindly present him with two doves and a zip bag of his own. He also sent Matt home with some variations for the dove trick. Matt greatly appreciated Ron’s tutelage. Ron had watched Matt’s progress in performance since age eleven. Currently, Matt still performs on a regular basis with four or more doves.

When he became fourteen, Matt wrote a letter to Simon J. Carmel, secretary-general of the Society of World Deaf Magicians, with a videotape of himself performing magic. Simon responded with lots of advice on better techniques and changes to make in Matt’s magic routine. For example, in one trick Matt made silk handkerchiefs appear of out of thing air and float to the floor. Simon watched this on Matt’s videotape and clucked at him like a mother hen who is all out of sorts. he said never “throw” silks onto the floor because it looked bad. he caught many of the young Matt’s mistakes and admonished him to practice not to make mistakes and to learn how to cover them up with a  subtle skill on stage. From this point on, Matt practiced a lot until he made no more mistakes and dropped nothing more to the floor.

A few years before he graduated from high school at the Wisconsin School for the Deaf (W. S. D.), he attended a warm-up summer school for newly-enrolled and transferred students int he schools kindergarten-twelfth grade program. One day Matt decided to give a little impromptu show for a few young students and a teacher. He made a one dollar bill vanish before their eyes. They wanted him to show this feat to other young students and teachers. Soon the word spread that they had a young deaf magician on their hands. Later he was invited to join the Sing Song Dance Troupe on their fall/winter/spring show tour. During intermissions, Matt appeared on stage and performed with his doves. He was a hit.

After his graduation from the W.S. D. in the spring of 1992, he went to a college for a while with an undeclared major. In his heart, he knew he loved his work in the community as a magician and performer, so he decided to leave college and pursue magic as a career.

His first big-time out-of-state show took place in New Orleans in 1993. Since then he has been invited to appear throughout the United States and abroad. he has traveled and performed in forty-six states and five foreign countries. He has performed at Milwaukee’s famous Summer Fest many times, at numerous and varied state fairs, as well as at many public libraries, schools and universities, and other public sites.

From the rear of the school auditorium, a superintendent of the Mississippi School for the Deaf who had watched deaf students’ excited faces during Matt’s magic show, exclaimed, “This is an opportunity not only for the kids to learn, but also to set goals for life. Matt’s performances say; ‘You can be an entertainer. You can be in the arts.’ You see how kids’ eyes light up. It’s fun to watch them!”

From 1993 to 2006, Matt participated in diferent antional and internaitonal deaf magicians festivals in diffent states and the European countries of Leipzig, Germany, and Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia. he won tow grand prix awards and first place awards, respectively.

He is a member of several magic organizations, including the Academy of Magical Arts, Society of American Magicians, international Brotherhood of Magicians, Society of World Deaf Magicians, U.S. Deaf Magicians Society, and the Fellowship of Christian Magicians. Currently he is president of the U. S. Deaf Magicians Society.

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In 2002, when he participated in the World Deaf Magicians Festival in Moscow, Russia, he met and fell in love with a lovely young Russian deaf conjuress, Liliana. The following year he married and brought her to the U.S. Now they have two hearing children–a son, Elijah and a daughter, Samantha.

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His favorite magic categories are dove and ducks acts, illusions, and rope tricks.

He looks up to his role models in magic: Lance Burton, Dough Henning, and Kevin James, the celebrated world magicians who have inspired and gradually shaped his future career as conjurer in spite of his deafness.

Matthew “Magic” Morgan combines the arts of Illusion, Close-Up Magic, and comedy Magic, along with live animals He uses his unique blend of humor and mime to thrill any audience.

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Update:

Matthew and Liliana own the Little Magic Theater, which will be opening in February at 231 Cook Street in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.

Theater Opening in Lake Geneva

The post above is reprinted with permission from Simon J. Carmel.  Silent Magic: Biographies of [59] Deaf Magicians in the United States from the 19th to 21st Centuries.  Eustis, Florida: SPS Publications.  2008: 101-103.

To purchase Simon’s books here:

Silent Magic

Invisible Magic

Dr. Simon J. Carmel is often considered as a “modern Renaissance man,” due to his many diverse interests and skills.  He is a writer, professor, physicist, cultural anthropologist, folklorist, editor, illustrator, linguist, astronomer, self-publisher, polyglot, world traveler, athletic and other related roles for Summer and Winter Deaflympics, storyteller, actor, international community leader, life-time magician as well as magic lecturer and workshop presenter, ski racer, instructor and patroller, miniature-kite flyer, Deaf Holocaust researcher and lecturer, Sukodu enthusiast, and 1994 U.S. Fulbright scholar/lecturer in Moscow, Russia in six months.  He was a secretary-general of the Society of World Deaf Magicians (1990-2013).  Currently, he is president of a hearing monthly magic club (Assembly #274 of the Society of American Magicians) in Boca Raton, Florida.   Dr. Carmel retired from teaching at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York but being enlightened he continues to write articles and books in different areas today.  He resides in West Palm Beach, Florida.   

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Rhonda Bergsma: And This Was the Easy Part

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It was a frosty morning that April in 1982, the middle of the month– you’d think it would be warming up here in the Pacific Northwest. But maybe it was my nerves that was sending chills thru my body. We arrived at the Hospital early in the morning to get my labor started. This was my third baby and both previous births were not easy.  I was a bit nervous.

All settled in and ready to go, here we go , one more time, I can do it. This was me self-talking my way thru this ordeal called giving birth. The nurse came in to hook up the drug that would get my labor going, a must since my “water” broke the day before. In those days most people never knew if they were having a boy or girl, but then it really didn’t matter to us since this baby would have a brother who was 5 years older and a sister who was 3 1/2 years older.

To fast forward over all the gory details, labor was extremely hard but not too long, about 8 hours from start to finish. After much struggle, baby boy Bergsma was born. I noticed that all the doctors jumped up and looked concern at the moment of birth. I was so exhausted I could barely whisper “what’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” said the doctor.

But I noticed the umbilical cord was tightly wrapped around the baby’s neck and he was not breathing. He looked very pale and limp, dead-like really. After all that work, was he even alive?  It seemed like an hour went by but I’m quite sure it was only 20 seconds when I heard a wonderful newborn cry.

Whew.

As I looked over at him, he was nice size–I thought, maybe 9 pounds.

I was close he was 8lbs 14 oz and doing pretty well by now. Andy and I were ready to introduce Mitchel Kent Bergsma.
At home, Mitch was spoiled by his sister who loved to sit and hold him. He was a very good baby.  I didn’t know what a good baby was like since both his older brother Tyler and sister Tandi were always crying. They cried so much I didn’t know if I could handle another baby who cried. The first week we are doing good, no crying, and on we went , no crying.

I can’t remember exactly when I took Mitch to the doctor in concern. I laid baby Mitchie on the table and said, “There. Take a look at him, something must be wrong.”

Dr Johnson, our kids’ pediatrician, looked at the baby and said, “What’s wrong?

I told him it’s been months and I’ve not heard him cry yet, so something must be wrong with him. The doctor took the baby and checked him out thoroughly. He turned to me and said, “Well, I’m not sure what to tell you.”

I knew it, I thought, something is wrong!

“I think you have a good baby this time” and then he smiled.

I think I actually cried, never had I actually enjoyed the newborn stage of my other two babies because they cried all day. At this point I don’t actually believe it to be true but I went home and told my husband what the doctor said.
Baby Mitchie was such a good baby that he would sleep 12 hours at night and take a couple very long naps during the day. When he was awake he was always happy. He seemed a bit different though and I chalked it up to being such a good baby. And remember, we had never experienced this up till now.  He was extremely visual, he would watch and copy facial expressions, if you smiled big at him he would do the same back to you with his two huge dimples.

As he lay in the little seat on the table he made such a loud noise that we all covered our ears. It was a weird sound coming out of a small baby I thought. But I had a good baby this time and that’s what they are like I  guess. Looking back, I now know different but at the time, that’s what I thought.
Baby Mitchie was a very huggable baby, so lovable and very happy, always smiling. I can’t really ever say I remember him crabby or crying. When he was around 8 months old when I carried him in my arms he would always put his hand on my throat when I would talk. He did such cute things, so different from his brother and sister.
One time we left him with my sister and her family when he was around 15 months old.  It was over the Fourth of July and they took him to a fireworks show. My sister mentioned that he sat the whole time with his eyes shut and seemed scared. It seemed that whenever he was scared or not sure of what was happening he would just shut down and close his eyes. Months later we know why he behaved that way, but it seemed odd at the time.

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Months went by, he was still a good baby, but now I’m noticing that he seems to look me in the face and follow my expression but doesn’t really respond to anything I say to him. If I would say “Daddy’s home” and by this close to a year old he should understand some of what I’m saying and respond to me. Sometime he wouldn’t even look at me when I’d talk to him. Again I thought was he just good-natured or a bit odd? Actually I hate to say this but I did think at one point that maybe he just wasn’t very bright.

It was time for his 9 month check up. One thing I really liked about Dr David Johnson was that he never rushed thru the visit, he would sit and listen to any concerns I had. He didn’t disappoint this time either. The doctor asked how everything was going, I hesitated to say this, but I had to get my concern out

“I think maybe this baby is not very smart.”

Doctor J. sat down next to me and said   “Well, tell me about it, why do you say that?”

I went on to tell him how the baby ignored me when I was trying to get his attention or how he didn’t respond to me correctly.

The doctor thought for a few minutes, and said, “Maybe he doesn’t hear you.”

Doesn’t hear me I thought? What, everyone hears, especially babies. After some thought I said, “Okay, then maybe he needs tubes in his ears, I hear that fixes most babies ear problems?”

“Well…” The doctor looked through his files.  “He hasn’t had any ear infections. So that’s not the problem.”

My mind was running wild.  What!? Doesn’t hear me! What, everyone hears!  What’s happening here?  The doctor said to go home, talk to my husband Andy, think about it and come back in a few months for the next check up and we’ll see what we think then.

As I am driving home, I can’t stop thinking about it and it is starting to come together.  After talking it through with Mitch’s dad, it didn’t take long for us to realize that its possible that Mitch doesn’t hear. I am thinking of all the things that were different: the strange noises he made, so loud we covered our ears and he made weird little noises in his throat, and always focusing on our faces.

I put me hand on my own throat, as Mitch always did, then made a sound.  Oh man, it hit me, he was feeling my voice!  Now I get it, he would feel my voice and then look me in the face. He liked the vibration in my throat. He knew something was happening, he was a smart baby, so very smart, really!  At such a young age he was already adapting! I think he was figuring out his surroundings in his own way and learning to deal with them.
That night, Andy and I were going over all the details of this baby’s short life so far and all the ways and funny things he did differently than the other two kids. We knew that night, we might have a deaf baby. We bonded together and decided that we would find out everything we could so we would know how to help this truly delightful baby.
I can look back today and say we never had the dreaded “why us” thoughts. We had hard times and a new path to fight through but seldom a pity us syndrome. We thanked God for that first wonderful year of Mitch’s life without the wonder of something being wrong.
And this was the easy part….

Half Full or Half Empty? 

Of course there were times we wanted to have a pity-party about having a deaf child. Not often, but it did happen. The sadness of something that never will be, things that we love that he will never have the opportunity to hear, like music, birds chirping. Things, I thought at the time, he would never be able to do; drive a car, go into a store alone and function alone in this big world. The dangers are everywhere for a deaf child. I didn’t really know any deaf kids or families for that matter so this whole deal was new to us. We had no knowledge or experience; what we should or shouldn’t do. But then it’s that way with every parent, but at least your family can guide you along. This was a whole new world for us and we were going to just have to “wing it.”

Luckily we had a very happy child, he only knows his life as it is; not as it could have been.

When Mitch was around 6 years old. our family went camping at a Washington State Park. That summer they had a few ponies for the kids to ride. We rented a pony for the kids. Mitch’s brother  Tyler and sister Tandi didn’t want to ride one, but Mitch sure did. He climbed up and of course they only let you ride it in a circle with the owner holding tight. Mitch loved every minute of it!

Then this little girl and her mom came up to ride a pony. The girl was blind and as they put her in the saddle, her mom described the pony to her. She told her the pony was black and guided her hand around his mane and head as she petted him. The mom was really good with her. We stood back in awe, as the complete opposite was happening right before us from what were experiencing with Mitch.

On one pony there was a deaf child and the other pony was a blind child; who has more of disadvantage?

Mitch couldn’t hear the clip clop of the hooves, the sounds the pony makes; snorts, whining, the owner talking to the pony. But he could see the color, he knew what black was and what the horse looked like, how tall it was, the coarseness of its hair as it flew up in the wind, the fullness of its mane, its big beautiful eyes and eyelashes. I don’t remember her name, but this little girl could hear the sounds; the snorts, the whining, the clip clop, the owner as she guided the pony around the circle. But she has no idea that the color black is very dark, what the actual animal looks like, where she was riding or who is even guiding her. She must have so much trust in those around her.

We told Mitch the little girl couldn’t see, and her mom told her  daughter  there was a little boy on the other pony that couldn’t hear. She could hear us talk but not see us sign to Mitch. Her mom explained how we used our hands to talk to him. Mitch was fascinated by her and the fact she couldn’t see and wondered why. And she was just as fascinated about him. He just couldn’t imagine not seeing, and she couldn’t imagine not hearing. They both asked why the other couldn’t hear or see.

It was an experience I will never forget; who was better off, who has the advantage? I’m sure each thought they were the one better off. As most of us enjoy both  sight and sound, our glass is half full, is theirs also half  full or is it half empty. If you asked each one of them today they would probably say they are the lucky one. She was so happy to hear her mom’s voice and the noises around her and Mitch was really happy he could see the things around him.

One day, Mitch told his dad he wanted to play hockey. He was around 10 years old at the time.

“Hockey!” we said. “Why? Why would you want to do that?”

But Mitch was very insistent, so  Mitch’s dad and uncle George took him to a Canucks game in Canada one day. Mitch came home even more excited to play. We signed him up at the local arena, bought all his gear. Then we realized that he has never been on the ice, what if he hates it or can’t skate? Too late now, we are $500 deep into this thing. He is playing even if he hates it.

Well, on his first day on the ice, he came to me and said, “Mom, you can’t know the feeling, its like floating!” He was hooked. He took to skating like he’d done it for years. I think he played for 6 years then it became a whole different game, more serious.

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By this time, Mitch was more interested in water sports. I always say he went from solid to liquid; ice to water. One of his high school friends had a wakeboard boat  and Mitch would go every weekend. He found a new love in this sport. He did seem to excel at this sport too. He would go on to be very skilled on the water, but in Washington the summers are short and only a couple of months of warm enough weather.Then his friend and family moved back to Colorado.

When Mitch was around 20 he decided to move to Colorado to live with his friend and his family so he could get away from our small town and get back on the wakeboard. I didn’t think he would actually do it as he had never driven a car to the next town let alone across the country. And now he was talking about driving his car and pulling a U-Haul trailer with all his motorcycles in it across  5 states to Colorado. He must be nuts!

The night before he left, I was in absolute disbelief and utter stock. I cried like a baby, worried myself absolutely sick, literally shook with fear and really thought I would never see him again. Had we prepared him enough for the world?  The things he might come in contact with were too much for me to bear. What if he gets lost, or an accident? How can I stop him from going?

Mitch was not afraid. He was totally prepared, with his laptop in the car with his journey all mapped out and every stop tagged. He knew what he was doing and where he was going and why. I was forced to trust him at this point and let go. My husband Andy didn’t seem to have the reservations and fears that I did. He assured me that he would be fine.

Well morning came, I had cried all night.  Mitch loaded up his car and drove away with me filling a river with tears. He said to me, as he stood in the driveway, “Do you want me to stay here forever or go live my life?”

(I have to say this is the only time that I tried to use the “deaf card.”) “Mitch! Did you forget you’re deaf?”

This sent him in a laughing fit and he assured me that he would be fine, and that I can stay in constant contact with him along the way. Which I did.

(Mitch took up competition and became a wakeboard pro. Check out his skills:

A YouTube Star is Born

Today, as I look back on this, I can be so thankful that his glass was half full and that Mitch was willing to step outside the safe box, go explore the world. He was full of life and wanted to experience so many things and adventures away from the safety net of home. But at that time I gained a few gray hairs and shed a bucket of tears. My husband would remind me that’s how we raised him and not to try to hold him back now. But at that moment, I sure regretted the independence we instilled in him.

Mitch started creating YouTube videos and all of a sudden, he attracted a large audience.  Mitch’s success on YouTube and notoriety around the world really gave him even more richness in his life. For some reason it seems to be “cool” that he is deaf. Would he have had the appeal if he was hearing? He found an outlet in this digital world to really explore his talents in videography, bring it to the world and actually make money doing it. We bought him a video camera for high school graduation because he loved photography. We had no idea he had the “eye”. He told me he did when he was younger but I didn’t really believe him.  So many doors have opened for him because he has explored this avenue.

When I traveled to Brussels with Mitch in the summer of 2014, while he was there producing a commercial, just the sounds of the languages around me were fascinating. One day at lunchtime we decided to go to the “Grand Place”  at an outside cafe. I wanted to sit next to this park-like spot because this young lady was there playing a song beautifully by Andrea Bocelli on her flute. When Bocelli sings it just makes me stop everything and listen, it romantically represents Europe to me for some reason.   Mitch asked me why I wanted to sit there and I responded that the music was so beautiful that I wanted to listen to it. He looked at me and shook his head like he understood but really he has no idea how music can speak to your soul. When I returned to work after that trip I teared up as I was telling one of my co-workers how the music that day really touched me, and how much I love music, the sad fact that he just doesn’t get the same enjoyment from it and never will. But in respect to that; sign language is a feast for the eyes, it lays out the story and transcends you into the mood and right into the song. I have a hard time watching someone signing a song and not tearing up. The movements just become the words and they paint the story so beautifully. There are times when I can’t help but sign when listening to a song, to me a song is complete when the beauty of sign language is added. A beautiful replacement for sound.

Mitch is definitely living his life to the fullest. He is now married. He still has a long list of countries to visit and things to experience  but he has done more to date than I ever expected from him in his whole life.  My view of success for a deaf child in adulthood was a job, an apartment, a car and hopefully someone to love. To date he can check all those boxes…and more.

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How do we make sure our deaf kids view the glass as half-full? I don’t have any great answers but it seems to me that experiences are what fill up that glass. We were lucky that we had a child who wanted to explore and experience life to its fullest. I think this is to be encouraged–not just our deaf kids–but all kids.

 

Rhonda Bergsma

Follow her on her blog, Deaf-initely Mitch

 

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George Jenkins, Deaf Designer and Engineer

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I became deaf at the age of seven from a number of illnesses that caused nerve deafness which could not be repaired. My hearing is profound deaf. When I went back to the “hearing” class after becoming deaf, I daydreamed because I could not understand a word.

When my family found out that I was deaf from the doctor, some of them cried. The only way I could get ahead in the education is to be outfitted with a hearing aid. We did not have the funds to get the aids. The Indianapolis school for the deaf offered me free aids, so we made the trip there. My mother did not like the idea of sending her son to school there as we lived in Fort Wayne.

Fortunately, Fort Wayne had a class for deaf and hard of hearing students. I was able to get my education through the mainstream. I had to lip read the teachers, take notes, and homework assignments to graduate with a B average.

After fifteen years as a factory worker in a number of business. I decided to gain a college education with an AS degree in Mechanical Engineering and BS in Accounting. I had interpreters throughout the college courses. I also took courses online. 

It was not easy to get an engineer job as a deaf person. I had to find managers who were willing to work with me. I have been an engineer for the last 20 years. My accounting degree helped me to understand how the business functions in the financial department.

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My present day engineering job is to design vehicle seat frames, power and hand jacks for trailers and RV. It is a blessing that my employer provides a videophone to call clients, employees, and suppliers. I wish companies would provide interpreters for meetings at my workplace. My church provides interpreters on the second and fourth Sundays.

An awesome project I have worked on was from one of my former employers, designing everything related to a Class A motorhome, from the chassis to the roof. Another project I worked on with a previous employer was designing robot-operated plate punching machinery.  Two patents are pending for my designs in manufacturing. I also have a woodworking home business; the best project I’ve ever completed is creating a folding game case. 

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Lip reading is not the type of communication for me. I prefer sign language for speaker translation and talking. Even with my hearing wife, I sometimes misunderstand her and she cannot understand some words I say. She has no interest in learning signs so I continue to try my best to lipread.

Each deaf person has his or her own talent to excel in this country.  I believe that higher education will grant better benefits as we have to work twice harder to excel in the employment department.

The greatest challenge for me as an intelligent deaf person is to work my way up to become CEO or CFO of a major corporation. I am willing to complete my MBA if funds are available.

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Pieces of the Puzzle: Jaden’s Story

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At birth Jaden had a hearing test like all newborns in our state and he failed; two weeks later he had a repeat test and he passed (or so we were told). The next several months went by without incident but at about 9 months, I felt he was not developing the way he should. Jaden was making milestones but later than most kids do.

At Jaden’s one year check-up I brought up my concerns to his pediatrician. it was shortly after this that Jaden began Early Intervention services.  Jaden began basic skills, physical and speech therapy.  Closer to 2 years of age Jaden also began occupational therapy.  Jaden’s days became filled with what I call “structured play”; every day of the week sometimes more than once a day, Jaden had one therapy or another.

It was by accepting the fact Jaden was not quite where he should be and by being willing to allow professionals into our home that we were able to start getting Jaden caught up.  He went from a boy not walking to one who could take steps and eventually run.

With the help of his therapists Jadan was making progress in most areas but his speech had not shown significant improvement.  Between 1 and 2 years of age, Jaden had 3 hearing tests all of which came back inconclusive.  Just after his 2nd birthday Jaden had an ABR and that is when we found out about his hearing loss.  Jaden has a severe to profound hearing loss in his right ear and a moderate hearing loss in his left ear.  He was fitted for hearing aids the same day he was diagnosed.  That day I was not upset; rather I felt relieved and almost vindicated.  I knew there was an issue and now I had the answer; we could begin to help Jaden in ways that we had not helped him before.  Finding out about Jaden’s hearing loss is what I call the first half of the puzzle that is Jaden.  His hearing loss did not explain all of his quirks, such as low muscle tone and feeding issues, but it did explain why he was not talking.

Within a week or two of Jaden being diagnosed we were put in touch with a teacher of the deaf for infants; she was a blessing to our family.  She began working with not just Jaden but our entire family once a week and what a difference it made!  Jaden started picking up signs right and left; especially signs for his favorite things like milk and cookies.  Now that Jaden had hearing aids, with the help of his speech therapist, his speech began to improve too.  Okay, so he was not talking yet but he was babbling which is something he had not done before.

In January of 2010 Jaden started at Little Listeners Pre-K class at the NYS School for the Deaf in Rome; since then there has been no looking back.  Sending our not yet 3 year old son on a bus to a school about 30 minutes away to attend a full day of school was an adjustment for the entire family but it has been one of the best choices we have ever made for him.  Jaden was in a small Pre-K class with a wonderful teacher and teacher’s aide.  At school Jaden also continued to get speech therapy from an amazing therapist every day of the week along with getting occupational and physical therapy both several times a week from great therapists.

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It is with the help, knowledge and daily communication that our family had with his team that blessed us with a whole new little boy. During his pre-k years with the help of his teacher and speech therapist Jaden went from a boy whose number of words could be counted on one hand to one who talks and talks and talks.  I never thought it was possible but there are days I crave silence; what a wonderful ‘problem’ to have!

When Jaden was almost 4 years old, he was diagnosed with a genetic condition called 22q Deletion Syndrome; this is the 2nd half of the puzzle that is Jaden.  We are fortunate in that Jaden does not have many of the health issues that others with this condition do.  Though this was not something I considered to be good news, it is something we are fortunate to know for it explains many of Jaden’s quirks; such as feeding issues which he no longer has and weak muscle tone and fine motor skills which we now know he will likely always have.

 

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Over the past several years Jaden has blossomed into a funny, smart, confident and witty little boy in large part thanks to the knowledge that we have been fortunate enough to find out about him and being willing to accept the help and information that others could give us.

Today Jaden is 9 years old and in the 4th grade. Jaden’s newest adventure began in September of this year. Jaden has entered a mainstream school setting in our local school district (New York Mills).  We are fortunate in that Jaden has many of people rooting for him. Our family has had and continues to have tons of support from individuals that have worked with Jaden in the past as well as those that are new to his team. Jaden seems to be settling in nicely to his new school and he’s even joined drama club and band. I’m sure there will be some bumps in the road as Jaden embarks on this new journey however, we have every expectation that Jaden will continue to thrive and excel at his new school.        

I think Jaden’s story shows that the saying “Knowledge is Power” is so very true; accept the knowledge that others can give you about your child, embrace it and use it to help your child.  For our family, it is the knowledge that we have been given about Jaden, both good and not so good, that has allowed us to help him become the wonderful boy he is today.

 

Wendy Roback

 

 

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David Cluff: Inspiring Deaf and Hard of Hearing Teens

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My name is David Cluff and I am deaf, and this is my story.

In March of 1993 I was born with a virus called Cytomegalovirus, which is known as CMV. This virus has many side effects and doctors thought I might not survive. I was born pre-mature and despite what doctors initially thought, I was born healthy. I was welcomed by loving parents and would eventually be the oldest of four children.

My childhood was not like most kids growing up. At age three I was diagnosed with hearing loss and fitted with my first set of hearing aids. At age six, I woke up one morning and any hearing I had the night before was completely gone. Just like that, something that I cherished so much was gone. My world had changed in a matter of moments. I felt broken, unsure, and I missed the way things used to be.

Shortly after losing all my hearing, I was given the option to receive a Cochlear Implant. After lots of prayers and help from family, friends and people I hardly knew, I got my first Cochlear Implant in October of 1999. Shortly after recovery, I got the Cochlear Implant turned on–and very quickly, my ability to hear my parents, my own footsteps and the water running was restored.

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Did that magically make everything perfect again?

Nope.

Rather, it was the beginning of a journey of faith as I re-learned to hear the world around me. It was like a matching game of “what sound goes with what.” As the years went by and after a major move to the great city of St. Louis, Missouri, I was given another opportunity to receive a second Cochlear Implant for my left ear. It was my dream to hear with two ears again. I was once again faced with the challenge of re-learning to hear. Hearing with two ears is not the same as hearing with one.

Back in 2007, I was working closely with my surgeon, Dr. Hullar, on a five-year research study. He became a good friend and a great mentor to me. During one of the meetings in his lab he overheard my parents and I brainstorming on what project I should do for my Eagle Scout rank in Boy Scouts (BSA). Dr. Hullar knew my background in computers and said, “Why not build a website for deaf teens like yourself?” It was like a huge light bulb went off and I found something to be passionate about. Before I could actually start the project I had to get it approved by the BSA board. I was nervous as I really wanted to do this project no matter what and being able to do it as my Eagle Scout Project would make it more meaningful. The board members approved the project.

The project began and I was no longer alone on the website as teens from around the world joined in to help me. Out of all the teens, I created a group of key team members to help manage the project. Team members included JoEllen from Tennessee, Lesley from Texas, Josh from Missouri and Lissa from the United Kingdom. All of them are deaf and use cochlear implants and/or other hearing devices. I could never have done it without their support.  We did not only build this website together but formed friendships. We also had community professionals volunteer their expertise in graphic design, web design and more! It was amazing!  In 2012, I decided to put everything on hold and serve a two-year church mission where I was able to meet and help so many people. Upon my return home in 2014, the servers for deafteens.org had failed and it was lost. As devastating as it was, it was a great learning experience for me.
After months of working on a website design, logo work, and building content, deafteens.org became LIVE once again in May 2016. It was a thrilling moment as I sat with my wife and we launched the website to the public once again. This project is one of my biggest passions. At one point I thought, “I am no longer a teenager, so maybe I need to put it on the shelf.” But, as we can see, it did not stay on the shelf for too long. It was always on my mind and I knew I needed to bring it back.
Because of Dr. Hullar’s mentorship, I developed a confidence that I can do anything. Deafteens.org has become a huge passion of mine as I want to help others, especially teens, gain support to reach their dreams.

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Today, I am happily married to my best friend and a father to an energetic 8-month-old boy. Even as an adult, I am still learning to hear the world around me and cherish every moment I can. I have come to realize that life isn’t supposed to be perfect; rather, it is like a puzzle. When you get a puzzle in a box or bag you now have the choice to either put the puzzle together or let it sit on the shelf. My challenges came like a bag of puzzle pieces. So many pieces that it often felt like it would take years to put each one together to match the master photo. Yet, I had a choice. Am I going to let it sit on the shelf and let my challenges hold me back or am I going to do my best to put the puzzle together? Once completed you see the whole picture; but notice how there are lines going all over the place from each puzzle piece. It is not seamless at all, but it is also not broken. That is like life. We are given pieces of a puzzle and with time, we come to see the masterpiece.

My master puzzle is still in the works and I am seeing parts of it coming together–and that is when I know that everything is all right and that everything will work out.

Read more about David’s story, visit: www.davidbcluff.com

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Helen Mackay: Turning the Tables

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I cried today.

I went to a Deaf community meeting. No interpreter available for signing impaired people like me. I went anyway, keen to know about the new voting options for the local Deaf Society and new club room plans. I took my kids. One hearing. One deaf.

Today. The. Tables. Turned.

For just a few hours I experienced a little of what it must be like for my deaf daughter in a ‘hearing’ world. I think I understood about 30-40% of what was being signed. Enough, I think, to fill in the blanks with context. Perhaps as much as my deaf daughter picks up when reliant on lipreading when people don’t sign to her or caption TV. I will never know if I did understand so there’s a nagging doubt I missed something, but I think I’m OK.

But it was hard. My head hurt so much it is throbbing, still, even as I write this.

I concentrated intently on the signing in front of me, unable to be distracted by kids tapping on my shoulder for me to do something. I simply couldn’t multi-task, I had to focus on the people right in front of me. The note pad in front of me, rendered redundant as I couldn’t take my eyes off the ‘speaker’. The distant but loud noise of a builder banging felt out of sync with what my brain was trying to do visually. I had to close the door to help drown out the background interference. My daughter tells me sometimes she just has to take her hearing aids off at school as she cannot focus with them on “mummy they don’t help, its just noise”. Perhaps this is what I was experiencing inside my brain in reverse.

I felt compelled to get up and ‘sign’ to the community about something I felt strongly about. I was nervous. As a sign language beginner, with every sign I made, I was conscious that it was far from perfect and desperate that people would understand me. Perhaps this is the same experience my daughter has when she has to stand up and speak without hearing her own voice. Without knowing whether her words sound right and looking for reassurance from her friends to let her know she has been understood or turning to me for assistance with a word she struggles with – just as I had to fingerspell words I could not sign. I looked to the crowd who supported me by signing the word I was stumbling on. But I was vulnerable. The emotion of it all – the subject I was signing about and the way I felt, the tears dripped!

When it came time to leave, my eldest daughter wanted to stay. She was at home.

This is not the first time this year I’ve cried at a Deaf community event. A few months ago, it happened twice in a week at events held to celebrateDeaf Aotearoa New Zealand Sign Language week.

The first, was a solo outing for me. No kids, no husband. Just me. A special screening of the British Deaf Association film the “Power in Our Hands” hosted by Terry Riley, visiting from England to attend the World Federation of the Deaf – Official Board meeting.

It’s a powerful film, complete with captions so people like me can follow. It tells the true story of suppression / oppression of the British Deaf community and the gradual recognition of British Sign Language and deaf culture in British society. The film had captions and the signed introduction by Terry was interpreted. I was challenged by the film but linguistically I was still in my comfort zone. My needs were “accommodated”.

However the message of the film was so incredibly powerful it cut me to the core that this might happen to MY daughter. I felt ever so grateful for people like Terry who has been instrumental in the UK to make the deaf voice “heard”. He has been instrumental to the British Sign Language Broadcasting Trust who produce wonderful video directly relevant to the Deaf community (and accessible to people like me with subtitles). I resolved, as I powered down the pavement away from the event, that the “power” was indeed “in my hands”. As a parent I have a responsibility to ensure I do everything to make my daughters’ lives full, and free from discrimination. And to learn more sign. (My daughter is fluent receptively already and has a full time interpreter in her mainstream school where she is the only Deaf child in a roll of 400+. Our family are all learning to sign).

Me and my Deaf daughter

In another event that same week, we went to ‘listen’ to Drisana Levitzke-Gray speak – or should I say sign, to a Deaf community event, about her experiences as Young Australian of the Year. There was an interpreter. Again I was moved to tears and compelled to stand up as she shared her experiences of mainstream schooling, rising above the challenges of isolation and her advocacy for children like my daughter. Her message resonated with me, and both my daughters. Again, I strengthened my resolve to be a ‘hearing’ ally. A partner for good.

But today with no captions, no interpreter, no ‘signing aid’ and no voice, I had no “accommodation”.

I knew there wouldn’t be any, but I choose to go anyway, just as my daughter has had to do every day this week to her wonderful school (her educational interpreter has been away). Except that she doesn’t have a choice, she must go to school regardless, like tonnes of other deaf & hard of hearing kids that don’t have their needs met either. Perhaps they are Cochlear Implant users, denied teaching assistance as they are “cured”, or with an inability to access sign language lessons because the kids are oral and not on the priority list for sign classes. Perhaps they are hearing aid users who are not ‘quite’ deaf enough, but struggle to piece it all together using a combination of lip-reading and technology.

Today, it was just me. Laid bare, in a room of people about the same size as my daughters year 6 class. I felt vulnerable, scared and exhausted as I concentrated to understand and then be understood.

The tables turned, on me, today. But you know what, that’s no bad thing.

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My daughter is deaf. Like many deaf children she was born into a family of hearing parents. Being deafened post-lingually she talks. But she is most at ‘home’ with her deaf friends. They get her. Many many times since she went deaf, I have fought to be sure she has full access and treated equally in society.

Today, I cried because I realize how much load this ten year old carries, just to get through the day with a smile, let alone understand and be understood.

I’ve done deafness ‘simulations’ before and I thought I ‘got’ it.

But today, I really got it. You know the best thing? When I cried, no-one judged me. No-one stopped me and said (or signed) “you can’t do it. I was welcomed, appreciated supported and encouraged. For that, I am truly blessed.

You see, regardless of whether some form of ‘technology’ may help my Daughter now or in the future, she is Deaf. She speaks, she signs, she has choice. She’s Deaf and proud, and I am thankful she is growing in her own Deaf confidence.

I am sure some people will say that I shouldn’t cry about this stuff, and definitely not in front of my kids. But they hugged me tonight and as I signed “I love you” to my Deaf daughter she said “I love you” back. My hearing daughter did the same. I need to be able to switch in the moment, just as they do daily. To see me struggle too helps them both know, life ain’t easy, but it sure is what you make of it.

As I write this, again I cry. But tonight, they are happy tears. I know that my daughter has a community of support who get it much more than me. I too value the friendship and welcome. My hearing daughter also gets to see and play with other children who too have deaf brothers and sisters and that’s cool too.

To everyone that hesitates to get involved in the “Deaf” community, I offer these words of encouragement. Do it! Let your kids have choice.

I know we are all stronger together – Deaf & Hearing. For that, tonight, I give thanks. “Hands wave”.

In case you are wondering, I’ve also made a note to myself. I must NOT cry at the next event!

Helen Mackay

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Tabby Belhorn: There’s Room for Everyone On Our Path

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Thirteen years ago I was grieving the loss of having a child that could hear. My daughter had just been diagnosed with a permanent hearing loss. I was facing a lot of decisions to make about amplification, communication, doctors, and therapies. I left the audiologist’s office that day with a hundred emotions swirling inside.  I realized my daughter had most likely never heard me say “I love you” or calling to her from the another room in the house to say, “It’s okay, Momma’s right here” while she was crying. I also realized that day, that her life was exactly the same as the day before. She was happy, smiling, still had her favorite foods, toys, books, and TV show. Most importantly, she knew she was loved and she knew how to love as well.

My life changed that day, not hers.

Shortly after that day, my husband and I were contacted by  professionals to help us know what to do. We were provided guidance and information, but ultimately, we had to make choices for our daughter and our family. We were not aware of the conflict and controversies surrounding communication and amplification options for deaf or hard-of-hearing children. We simply made decisions that felt right to us for our family and our daughter.

We continued to make decisions that were right for our child and our family. We were lucky though, we knew we had options and choices. Part of this was because of our location, part because we worked with experienced and knowledgeable professionals, and part because we had support–family and friends were beside us to support our decisions.

A couple of years later I found myself working as a parent mentor.  Somehow I had become the parent that others went to for advice and guidance. During those two years, the job brought me into a world of differences and really taught me how to support parents who have a different perspective and those who made different choices than I did. That shift in focus was hard for me. Some days I didn’t understand why parents made the choices they did for their child and family. When I took the time to listen, and I mean really listen and hear what parents were telling me, I realized we were not all that different. We had the same goals for child and family, the only difference was the path we chose to get there.

One of my job duties was to establish a support program for parents and families of deaf children. My job was to provide support without bias for families of all deaf children regardless of the choices they made. This is how I found Hands & Voices.

Hands & Voices was founded by parents who were tired of the communication wars. They quite simply wanted to support each other, because raising a deaf or hard of hearing child alone is hard. The parents involved wanted unbiased and unbridled emotional support. A group of parents guiding parents.

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The first Hands & Voices conference I attended felt like home. In my life as “Reagan’s Mom,” I often found myself explaining the choices we made for our family and why, but when I attended the Hands & Voices conference, there was no need to explain myself. No one there judged us, disagreed with our choices, or disrespected our choices. Everyone had open arms and welcomed me and my family, because now we were all family.

Hands & Voices has shown me that it is okay to have my own opinion and personal belief system, but also how to set those aside and walk beside any parent of a child who is deaf or hard of hearing. Hands & Voices has a wonderful way of respectfully accepting individual differences, while focusing on our common goals to achieve success-individually and collectively. We do not let our differences separate us, but instead our differences bring us together.

Thirteen years on my path raising a deaf child and 11 years into my role supporting parents has made me realize two things; there is no fork in the road and we are all sharing the same path. We all want happy, well-adjusted kids. The path we walk is shared with parents, families, children, friends, Deaf adults, doctors, audiologists, speech-language pathologists, teachers, interpreters, and more. I urge you to take the time to talk to and listen to the people sharing your path and find the shared respect and support we all need.

There is room for everyone on our path.

 

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ASL at the Super Bowl: A Mother’s Request

Attachment-1 (1)Dear CBS:

I write to you as the hearing mother to my 4-year-old daughter Sarah who is Deaf. On Sunday evening my daughter, her father and grandparents were getting ready to watch the National Anthem prior to the Super Bowl. Why was she watching? Because last Tuesday the website for the National Association for the Deaf explained that Marlee Matlin would be performing the National Anthem in American Sign Language along with Lady Gaga. Here is the link to that announcement – https://nad.org/news/2016/2/nad-nfl-pepsico-and-cbs-announce-marlee-matlin-perform-asl-super-bowl-50. I do not have the statistics regarding how many people who are Deaf and hard-of-hearing were watching the Super Bowl on Sunday night. However, according to a Gallaudet University website, “Across all age groups approximately 600,000 people in the United States (0.22% of the population, or 2.2 per 1,000) are “deaf.”

We can assume with good reason that a great many people who are Deaf and use American Sign Language in order to fully access communication were watching the game and anticipated seeing Marlee Matlin’s performance. I watched it, and by my calculations she was on the screen for not longer than 2 seconds. This is unacceptable.

CBS has a civic responsibility to provide equal access to communication for all people. I know that the interpretation was on the Jumbotron during the entire performance but what about broadcast television? Surely, additional cameras could have been utilized to guarantee equal access to communication.

I have some confusion regarding why this situation has occurred in the first place. Yes, Lady Gaga is an international celebrity. People want to see her sing. I myself enjoy her performances. However, Marlee Matlin is also a very well-known celebrity and an Academy Award winning actor. She currently stars in the acclaimed television program ‘Switched at Birth’ and she recently starred in ‘Spring Awakenings’ on Broadway. Deaf and hearing people alike should have been given the opportunity to see her ASL interpretation during the Super Bowl.

I think our largely hearing society forgets or just does not realize that for smart, capable, educated people (like all of the Deaf people who I have met, been educated by and befriended since my daughter was born in March of 2011) American Sign Language is not just something that would be nice to see if it’s possible. It’s like spoken English for people who are hearing. It is purely and simply necessary in order for a full access to communication to take place.

CBS: you had an immense opportunity during the Super Bowl–an event with far reaching magnitude–to show my daughter and so many other children and adults who are Deaf that society recognizes them. All the cameras needed to do was shine their lights on both the singer who was performing in English and on the performer who was using ASL in a poetic and equally beautiful performance.

I hope that CBS can do better in the future. I hope that my daughter can begin to see more of herself in society. I believe that change and growth is possible and I hope that in the future we can bring that to fruition. I will be submitting this piece to other organizations in hopes of continuing a conversation that greatly needs a voice.

Thank you.

 

Sharon Lynn Clark

Mother, Teacher, Writer

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