Be the Rainbow


By Terri Patterson,
Georgia H&V

In my role as Director of a Hands & Voices chapter, I represent our families in a variety of stakeholders’ groups, task forces and projects in and around Georgia.  One such project is the Georgia Pathway to Language and Literacy in which I have been involved since its inception two years ago. Georgia Pathway to Language and Literacy (Georgia Pathway) is a Community of Practice (CoP) of professionals, advocates, and parents who serve deaf and hard of hearing (d/hh) students throughout the State of Georgia.  The mission of the CoP is to advance the literacy proficiency of Georgia’s children who are d/hh and achieve grade-level reading proficiency by the end of third grade for all Georgia students with hearing loss, regardless of their communication modality.  As a member of the executive committee, I had the opportunity to co-present this project at the recent 2012 National ASHA (American Speech-Language-Hearing Association) Convention here in Atlanta.

What does this have to do with rainbows? At this convention of over 6000 attendees, I also had the amazing opportunity to witness the opening presentation by Dr. Maya Angelou. The theme of her speech was how to “Be a Rainbow in Someone Else’s Cloud.”   I wish I could convey this amazing woman’s energy and insight so that you could share in the awed experience of the audience. The essence of her speech was about being a light for another’s path.  She said, “God puts rainbows in the clouds so that each of us-- in the dreariest and most dreaded moments-- can see a possibility of hope.”  She went on to say that, we, as individuals, have the ability to put rainbows in the clouds, as well, just as others have revealed rainbows to us throughout our personal journeys. 

As a parent whose child happened to receive the unexpected medical diagnosis  of a hearing loss at a very early age, our family learned how to adapt our life to include all of the new information, new challenges, new people and new visions of our future.  During those early years, there were quite a few figurative cloudy days, and one still surprises me from time to time. Further down the path we have hit a “new normal,” and we have been blessed to witness some breathtaking rainbows. I think of the rays of hope that warmed us during those early years:  Maureen, our first audiologist, who was so excited to see us every time we came in that I learned to  look forward to those appointments rather than being scared by them; Kathy, a speech and language pathologist, who helped my stomachaches disappear when I found that both my son and I could actually have fun in therapy; Lisa and Clare who supported and guided us through our decision-making without giving us “answers,” and  who modeled for me how to serve in my role today; and the extended Hands & Voices family that continues to, on a daily basis, shine a rainbow over my head.  I could write a book (as long as I had a really good editor) just to list all of the rainbows I have experienced. How about you?

I accepted Maya’s quest. I want to be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud. Will you join me? I bet it’s already happening.  Whether you helped a newly identified family connect with critical early intervention services in their area, or answered the late night email with a distraught and confused parent who “just needed to talk to someone who is raising a deaf child,” you brought the rainbows. If you sit with a family in a first difficult IEP meeting, or help them find funding for hearing aids, you can be a light for someone else. Maybe your actions at a parent event let someone else know that this raising a deaf or hard of hearing child thing is doable and can even be a source of unexpected joy… you are modeling that rainbow for another.  I always flash back to a family retreat we went to when Riley was about six years old.  We sat at lunch with a family with a newly diagnosed three month old, sharing our stories and our experiences. Riley sat at a table laughing with two other little boys, bouncing and “talking”. What I mean by “talking” is that there was different hearing technology and no technology being used, there was spoken language, gesturing and sign language being used, and they were finding a way to communicate and having a ball at the same time.  (I believe there was also some food flying too, sigh.) That invaluable opportunity to come together with other families was a bright, enlightening moment in my life (picture the prisms scene in “Pollyanna”). My kid was going to be just fine, and so were we. I want to make sure, as a parent and as a leader, that I can help create those kinds of moments. Let’s not wait for the metaphorical rain to fall and then attempt to respond.  Let’s be pre-emptive and initiate some hopeful, positive connections in someone else’s rising storm. If we are in a place where we aren’t just looking for the next cloud, we can do that for others.

I am sure I have not done justice to Dr. Angelou’s analogy. I only hope that a trickle or two of her wisdom has impressed upon you the notion of hope and a sense of responsibility. She shared that she approaches every day with an “attitude of gratitude.” I realized that looking up in gratitude is the only way to catch those fleeting rainbows.  

For more information on the work of The Georgia Pathway to Language and Literacy, see

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