Philip Powell – Current Hands and Voices Mentor in AL and future parent
I was born with a profound hearing loss due to Connexin-26 and received a cochlear implant in June of 1991, at the age of 4. My older brother, Will, also has the same genetic hearing loss, and has a cochlear implant too. My parents are both hearing, and there was no history of hearing loss on both sides of the family. Due to the experience my parents had with my brother, they knew immediately to have my hearing tested, and once it was confirmed that I am deaf, they had me fitted with hearing aids and started speech therapy. Due to my profound hearing loss, the hearing aids did not help as much. One of my earliest memories is having the surgery for the implant in Houston, TX.
I was mainstreamed through public schools up to college and was fortunate enough to be in a school system that gave me the support I needed to excel. Until the age of 13, I attended speech therapy. In high school, I was on the debate team, and represented the state of Alabama in the National Debate Tournament my junior year. Debate opponents would always be surprised when they would find out that I am deaf. I played on the high school lacrosse team, helping lead the team to the first lacrosse state championship in Alabama. I was also the only deaf person in my class, from elementary school to high school. I was fortunate enough to grow up in an environment where people did not treat me differently due to my hearing loss. My parents always made sure to let me know that they believed in me, and that nothing was out of my reach.
I attended The University of The South, a small liberal arts college in Sewanee, TN. The small liberal arts environment helped me continue to excel and grow. I joined a Greek organization and other student organizations on campus. I was also a student government representative. I was also fortunate in never feeling like I did not belong due to my hearing loss. One thing was that pointed out to me recently by a close friend from college was that everyone in our friend group watches TV and movies with subtitles, because they were so used to me having them on whenever I watched something. They say it is a much better experience watching something with subtitles. I found that to be very endearing, and it showed me how fortunate I am to be surrounded by people who accepted me for who I am.
I graduated from Sewanee in 2010 during a tight job market, and had difficulty finding full-time employment. I worked in several sales positions, a lot of which involved phone sales. There were times I had difficulty understanding people on the phone and feeling frustrated. There were also times I wondered if I was not being hired due to my hearing loss. I started to realize that I could not control how others may judge me due to my hearing loss, but I could control the work and effort I put in. I decided to go back to school and get my MS in Agricultural Economics and Business from The University of Arkansas.
After graduating in 2019, I went to work for an organic fertilizer startup in Alabama, where I continue to work at to this day. I started as an executive assistant and worked my way up to Product Development Specialist, which involves overseeing farm field trials and testing our fertilizers.
I married my wife in 2018, and we are expecting our first child, a girl, this summer. We do not know yet if our child will have the same genetic hearing loss as I do, but we are prepared. I know that she will be in a much better situation that I was. The resources and technology offered today are so much more than I could have ever imagined when I was a child, and I know my daughter will benefit greatly if she is deaf. I know that she will face hardships, as I did, but she will have our support, and will be able to succeed. Being a part of Hands and Voices has been a very fulfilling and rewarding experience. I did not have the opportunity to be around other deaf people growing up. Hands and Voices allows me to get the perspective of people in the Deaf community, people that use sign language, hearing aids, or other methods of communication. No matter how we communicate, we all share a common purpose in educating parents about the multitude of resources that are available to them. It has also prepared me as a future parent. I know that not every deaf person has been as fortunate to grow up in the environment I did, and I feel now that I have a duty to help others in our community by lending a helping hand to make sure they have the tools to succeed in life and achieve their dreams.