Posts Tagged ‘growing up hard of hearing’

Savannah: My Deaf Journey

May 30, 2017

aid photo


My name is Savannah. I am a hard of hearing high schooler, and I use a cochlear implant and a hearing aid to help me in my everyday activities.

From birth, I was diagnosed with profound hearing loss in my left ear and moderate hearing loss in my right. I have always known that I was deaf, and this has been a fact of life for me.

My first memories of using technology were in pre-school. I wore an FM receiver in my right ear and the teacher would wear an FM transmitter. Now, this transmitter looked quite different than the transmitters commonly used today. It was a large box, clipped to their hip, with a thin cord running up their chest and a tiny microphone attached to their shirt collar.

My kindergarten teacher named it “Tina the Transmitter.”

I used my receiver, complete with a bright pink mold, all the time. My mother would tape it to my ear during karate practice, so I could punch, kick, and hear while feeling secure.

Then, in first grade, I got my first hearing aid. It had a giraffe pattern on it and I loved it. So much so that my mother fought tooth and nail for my audiologist to allow me to get one in my left ear.

Why was this an issue, you ask? Hearing aids amplify sound and sends the waves through your cochlea and to the auditory nerve. But my left ear, audiologists said, wouldn’t be able to pick up the amplified sound, and would therefore be a waste of time. Nevertheless, we persisted, and a few months later I had bilateral hearing aids.

Throughout my elementary years, my parents would sometimes ask me if I wanted a cochlear implant in my left ear. I would adamantly refuse – saying I didn’t want to be deaf but rather hard of hearing.

In seventh grade, my tune changed. Middle school brought new challenges and new experiences. I began debating the pros and cons of a cochlear implant. I still used my hearing aids as well as a newer version of an FM transmitter.

The summer before eighth grade, I got the surgery. It was such a rewarding experience. While I was definitely scared going into the operating room, that fear dissolved quickly. I knew that I had made the right decision.

Master ear

Being turned on was really interesting. There were all these new gadgets and computer programs that controlled my head! My hearing rapidly improved from initial beeps to normal sound. While aural therapy was boring, it was worth every second to be able to hear new and exciting sounds. I learned a lot about sound booths and frequencies in that year!

Finally, I reached high school, where I use Cochlear’s Mini Microphone as an alternative to the transmitter I had once needed. Today, I am able to hold conversations at lunch and collaborate with classmates using this technology.

Being deaf is an important identity to me. I have changed a lot since the days when I rejected the very idea of getting implanted. While I may not understand everything people say to me, I can hear much, much more than I ever realized I could.

An interesting thing about being deaf/hard of hearing and using technology is that you live on the border between the deaf and hearing worlds. I really enjoy explaining to hearing people about my ears and my needs, and hopefully educating more people about my community and myself. But being on the border of my two worlds mean that my “people,” so to speak, are a select group of individuals. While I do try hard to connect with my deaf identity (learning ASL and deaf culture), and I try and integrate into hearing culture everyday, I have come to realize that my world is the border.

Being deaf is challenging. I have to deal with projects involving music and with watching videos without subtitles and with bad audio. Yet being deaf is rewarding as well! I have the ability to share with people my stories and spread awareness for deaf/hard of hearing people.


I even created an Instagram account, @mydeafjourney, that I use to share my everyday experiences with deaf and hearing people alike!

So, if I had the chance to stop being deaf, I wouldn’t take it.

Being deaf is who I am. And I don’t want to erase my identity.

<3 Savannah


The Importance of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Adults on the Parenting Journey

July 9, 2014

Let It Go walking

“I want to be a fireman, Mom.”

At one of our Illinois Hands & Voices parent meetings, a mom shared a conversation she had with her five-year-old son during bedtime the night before. Like many young kids, her deaf son was excitedly sharing his vision of what he wanted to be when he grew up.

His mom, however, started crying as she shared the story.  Her voice cracked.

“I know he can’t be a fireman,” she said.

I had news for her. Just two towns over from where she lived, there was a full-time fireman who happened to be deaf. Out east, Neil McDevitt worked as a volunteer firefighter for several years.  Over in Pennsylvania, Mark Kite is not just a fireman, he’s a fire chief. And yes, he’s deaf.

Suddenly, with this new information, the mom’s whole paradigm for her son changed. She could now see the future in possibilities, instead of limits. Someone else had blazed the way. Yes, her son could be a fireman if he wanted to. The journey might not be an easy one, there might be barriers along the way, but the choice was there for her son if he wanted it.

When I was growing up, I had very little exposure to deaf and hard of hearing adults. Sure, I read about a few people here and there. There was that Miracle Worker movie with Helen Keller. Beethoven was deaf. The Incredible Hulk was hard of hearing. The people on TV were far removed from my every day life.

From the time I was 11, I wanted to write. In high school, I took a journalism class. I had visions of working for a major newspaper. That idea was soon crushed as I struggled through one interview after another trying to get the story I needed. It was difficult for me to accurately gather facts and information and attempt to write notes at the same time.

When I became deaf as a teen, I  struggled even more. I transferred from a community college to a large university. During a session with a career counselor, I casually mentioned I wanted to become a Labor and Delivery nurse. The counselor gently but firmly guided me to an easier path, one with less communication challenges. I went down the path of becoming a Rehabilitation Counselor, something I really didn’t want to do. I attempted to quit college three times but each time, others encouraged me to stick it out.

After I graduated from college, I met a nurse who was hard of hearing. To top it off, she worked in the surgical unit at the local hospital, handing instruments to doctors. A small  pang of regret bubbled up inside of me. I decided to return to school and study ultrasound. Fortunately, I went to talk to the Director of Nuclear Medicine at the hospital and shadowed an ultrasound tech for a few hours. By the end of the day, I knew that was not the career path I wanted. I ended up volunteering to care for boarder babies at the hospital and studied to become a doula. The ability to support moms during birth was just what I wanted to do.

As the years passed by, I met doctors, lawyers, veterinarians, pharmacists, engineers, film animators, business owners, pilots, and of course, more nurses. All of them D/deaf or hard of hearing.

Imagine what my life might have been like had I known all of this while growing up. I might have grown up seeing the possibilities instead of the limits.

Lydia Denworth, a mom of a deaf son, discovered the powerful influence of deaf and hard of hearing adults in her son’s life while at a basketball game. During a game between Texas Tech and the Brooklyn Nets, Lydia’s son spied a cochlear implant on Luke Adams, a Texas player.  At that very moment, everything shifted for her son. His dream of playing in the NBA suddenly became even more real of a possibility just from seeing Luke on the court. Lydia introduced her son to more deaf and hard of hearing athletes–the Gallaudet football team, Derrick Coleman from the Seattle Seahawks. Lydia writes about this experience in her Huffington Post article, Seeing is Believing: 

Role models matter. It’s as simple as that. My husband and I tell Alex regularly to go for his dreams. But the power of seeing a string of successful deaf athletes in action has done more to drive that message home than anything we could say. Sometimes seeing really is believing.

With three deaf and hard of hearing kids of my own, I wanted the same thing for my kids. I wanted them to meet and know as many deaf and hard of hearing adults I could connect them with while growing up. I also wanted them to know that if they had a dream that had never been done before, maybe they had to be the first deaf or hard of hearing person to make it a reality.

If you look back to the early 1900’s, you’ll discover the first pilot to fly a plane from New York to California was Cal Rogers. And guess what… Cal was deaf in one ear and hard of hearing in the other. The first woman to swim the English Channel, Gertrude Ederle, grew up hard of hearing and later became deaf. Oh, and the internet that we all use so much? You can thank Vin Cerf who is known as one of the “Fathers of the Internet” and is the Vice President of Google. Vint is hard of hearing and served on the board of Gallaudet University.  In just about every profession, you can find a D/deaf/hard of hearing person out there. Many of them are just going about their jobs virtually unknown.

At Hands & Voices, we’ve added a new pilot program that connects D/HH Guides with families early in the parenting journey. This pilot program gives families a chance to meet a variety of D/HH adults and ask questions. You can find more information here:

The Hands & Voices D/HH Guide Program

As for your kid, whatever their dream may be, encourage the possibilities rather than the limits. You never know what’s possible. If your kid has a talent, skill, ability, or passion that simply hasn’t been seen or done before–perhaps your kid has to blaze the way.

Maybe your kid has to be the first.


Karen Putz

Karen is the author of “The Passionate Lives of Deaf and Hard of Hearing People.”