Note: Ralal Wysoglad shared this interview which was first published in Poland.
From the world of silence to the world of IT – interview with Rafał Wysogląd on disability, life, and professional career
Today I present my interview with Rafał Wysogląd, whom I met on the occasion of the launch of his book “From the World of Silence to the World of IT”. He openly shared his thoughts and experiences that influenced his current professional career and personal life. His development was not hindered by disability; he was persistent in striving to achieve his goals. The story of his life so far can be an example for parents and caretakers of hearing-impaired children: of enjoying life despite difficulties and determination in working towards a better tomorrow
Lidia Wasielak: You wrote and published the book “From the World of Silence to the World of IT”. It’s the story of your life to date. Who is it for?
Rafał Wysogląd: My story is mainly addressed to parents of children with hearing impairments, so that they do give up on their children and the fight for their rehabilitation, so that they can learn to communicate freely in the world of the hearing. Through my story, I wanted to give them hope and faith that having a deaf child is not the end of the world, especially nowadays, when the possibilities are so much better than in the 80’s. And then, when it was already published, I realized that my book can actually be good for anyone who has contact with deaf people. I think everyone can find something in it.
What do you remember about your childhood? What made you happy? What were you dreaming of?
I have very fond memories of my childhood. It was a fascinating period of being blissfully carefree and exploring the world that a lively village has to offer, where physical work was an everyday thing and duties depended on the changing seasons. Unfortunately, this dream life only lasted until I was about 7. That was when we moved to a spa town 8 km away from the village. And so we cycled on weekends or during the holidays to our grandparents and uncles living in the countryside. Learning to ride a bike gave me the greatest joy, thanks to my brother. I had so much fun riding it that my grandfather had to keep fixing the inner tubes. I remember that I was dreaming about Lego bricks, which back then could only be purchased with dollars. When I finally got the desired Lego bricks from my godmother, they became my greatest treasure. Lego helped me to develop my imagination.
But your childhood was also the time of intensive work in therapy. What was the most difficult for you?
My visits with the speech therapist were always demanding. I had to complete a certain set of tasks. My mouth and tongue always hurt afterwards, and at home I had to repeat it all with my Mother, every day until the next appointment with the speech therapist. My Mother always received guidelines from my therapist after each appointment. This went on nonstop for at least a decade. Surprisingly, I had no problems with it – after class I always got some candy or some other sweet treat, and at that time when everyone had food stamps, sweets were a rarity.
You were an excellent student in primary school. You must have had strong motivation to learn. Where did it come from?
With individual extracurricular classes in mathematics and Polish that started in fourth grade, I was able to develop my visual and logical skills in math and enrich my vocabulary in Polish. Sure, I was ambitious, and an average grade wasn’t acceptable for me. I wasn’t actually the best in my class, but I was always one of those who finished the schoolyear with merit. Maybe I wanted to show all my colleagues and teachers that I was as valuable a student as anyone else and my hearing impairment couldn’t be an excuse for lower grades or a reason for special treatment.
You wanted to prove your value to others. To yourself as well…?
There are two sides to every coin. Apart from proving my value to others, I also wanted to prove to myself that I could be a worthy student. Now I no longer need to prove to myself that I’m a worthy human being but `I still remember one thing: it’s necessary to develop in any field.
You went to a public school, every day surrounded with the hearing. Were there moments in your education when you experienced intolerance or other people distancing themselves from you?
People always fear what they don’t know. It’s inevitable. In primary school, my older brother was a great support in crisis situations, when someone was intolerant or aggressive towards me. Sports played an important role during the school period for me, as I was able to release all the tension and frustration. Interestingly, throughout the entire period of my education, some teachers also sometimes behaved in ways that showed lack of acceptance. Such situations were rare, but extremely memorable.
How did you handle such situations?
In some crisis situations, my Mum had to explain the behaviours of a deaf child. The speech therapist who conducted my speech therapy classes also played an important role in primary school. She was able to come and talk to those teachers who displayed intolerant behaviours. Those were hard times. Corporal punishment was still used in schools during the communist era.
After primary school, it was time to choose the next path in your education. It’s always challenging for a young person. What were your motives when choosing your studies?
I started thinking about going to university quite late – during the final exams in high school, when most of my colleagues were talking about their further education. I was unable to define my interests, and it was a hard and stressful situation for me. I lost two years attending an academy of economics, where I wasn’t really learning, and I treated it as a temporary thing. During that time, I was getting to know myself and looking for an idea of what I wanted to do professionally. I knew perfectly that an unsatisfying job would lead me to mental and psychological burnout very quickly. An additional challenge was the fact that there were very few professions where it wasn’t required to use the telephone. There isn’t even a list of such jobs anywhere. And that’s a shame, as such complete list of jobs available to the hearing-impaired would surely help in making a decision. Eventually, I was able to name two areas of science that I was interested in: economics and IT, so I applied to studies in this field. Looking back, if I were to make that decision again, I would choose IT with 100% certainty.
So what makes phone conversations difficult for you?
Many hearing people are surprised that I never talk through the phone and that’s how it has always been for me. My personal observations show that people with hearing impairment up to 50 dB don’t have such problems. But when the impairment exceeds 50 dB, that’s where it gets hard. Just a reminder, normal human hearing range is 120 dB. Of course, I’ve tried to have conversations through my smartphone multiple Times, but that always ended in frustration: either my hearing aid squealed due to air feedback, or I couldn’t understand the other person, so every conversation failed with my bilateral hearing impairment of 85 dB. Hearing people find it hard to understand, as I do have hearing aids. So just as a comparison, will a person with leg prosthetics be able to walk or run perfectly well? The situation with hearing aids in my case is similar – they help me to hear, and I can hear someone speaking through the phone as well, but it’s so difficult for me to distinguish words without looking at the other person’s mouth that it exceeds my hearing abilities.
So now, as an adult person, what do you have to say to hearing impaired or deaf children and teenagers?
To never give up in trying to fulfil their dreams and desires, and not be afraid to look for their own way. And to not let themselves be limited by the stereotypes adopted in society. When I was finishing my book, just out of curiosity I started searching the internet for information on the number of people with hearing impairment in the IT industry. I was really shocked when it turned out that there were only 0.8% of people like me in IT in 2019. The first available data, for 2017, shows only 0.5%. This shows how slowly the changes in thinking are taking place in society around the world. Unfortunately, I haven’t found such information and statistical data for Poland so far, but thanks to one portal: niepelnosprawni.pl I found out about the situation of deaf people in Poland, where only 20% are professionally active and the remaining 80% are sitting within the four walls of their houses. It’s horrifying. Therefore, I can only quote the words “Learn, learn, because science is the key to power.” I also sincerely hope that some deaf and hearing-impaired people will find it easier to make decisions about their future or be considered a possibility in accordance with their interests.
Parents of children with disabilities are often very anxious about the future of their kids. What advice can you give them?
I completely understand their concerns about their children’s future in Poland. It’s hard to count on any government support for independent existence, contrary to the USA, where there is a policy that apart from their salary, disability grants them rights to earn for the expenses proportional to the needs of their disability and existence, and they can also earn without limits to their salaries. In our country, most people prefer to live with their parents and receive a small disability pension until the end of their lives, rather than go to work and lose their pension. I think such policy doesn’t work. Nobody is gaining anything in this way. Parents who hide their children in golden cages, protecting them from the outside world, are partly to blame as well. Their children will never learn how to live like that. I was always aware in the back of my head that my Mother wouldn’t live forever, and I didn’t want to be a burden to anyone. And so I had to think about my future, about becoming an independent man making my own living.
What are your plans and ideas for the future?
I’m always careful about planning, as life can surprise you. You never know what might happen. Looking back, I never would have thought that I would finish my studies, get a rewarding job, drive a car, let alone publish my own book as an e-book and paperback. I thought I would just self-publish and that’s it. Then I was surprised that suddenly there were more ideas and dreams related to the book, such as publishing in different languages or making an audiobook. Life gave me ideas for new chapters for a second edition in the future, and I’m honestly terrified. I’m really glad that I chose to self-publish, which gives me complete control over everything as author and publisher. All I know is that having no purpose in life is quite demotivating in my case. Sometimes, when it is missing, a new goal appears on its own.
Thank you for our conversation. I wish you a good road ahead in life, filled with things that allow you to be a happy person.
Thank you so much as well, for my first ever interview and for your wishes. I hope my life story can inspire people with similar problems to make some changes in their lives and look for their own path towards fulfilment and happiness.
Paperbook or ebook : https://www.amazon.com/world-silence-Against-all-odds-ebook/dp/B093K2Z6CG/
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A note from Rafal:
This book was born out of my heart’s desires. I’ve decided to tell my own story – the story of a man who has been dealing with bilateral hearing loss since the age of two. But, despite this and against all odds, he’s marched on, finding his own place in society and in the IT industry. Among the stories and reflections in this book you will find pieces of advice for deaf people and their parents. I hope that my book will encourage you, improve your self-belief and show that you should never give up in your fight for a better quality of life.
he book production was also very interesting as the team who made it happen was made up of Poles living all over the world: the author is in Poland, the translator in Sweden, the proofreader is in London and the typesetting company is in Japan.
I am a university graduate. At the age of two, I fell ill with the mumps, which resulted in bilateral hearing loss (85dB). I work in the IT industry, which is my passion. I am successfully fulfilling my ambition in several areas of testing and automation, especially in DevOps. I come from the charming Kotlina Klodzka and a love of nature is in my blood. That is why I spend every spare moment on a mountain trail by a lake, close to a wooden holiday house. I like to sit in silence and indulge in the beauty of nature. I am a fan of excursions to far-away and not-so-far-away places, cycling and all sport activities.