Deaf & HH Adults

Olivier Jeannel: Three Criteria of Success in Growing Up Deaf

Dear readers,

I’m honored to be able to put in a guest post, at Karen’s request. Karen and I exchanged by Skype recently and we discovered we shared some common traits. Besides being deaf. We both live life with a passion. And enjoy extreme water sports. Karen as a barefoot water skier. Myself as a kite surfer.

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I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. At age two, I was diagnosed with severe hearing loss. The result of a fever which had damaged my nerves. My parents promptly had me fitted with hearing aids. I could have my choice of raising up Deaf culture or deaf mainstream later in life, when I could make a choice. But at two years of age my parents wanted that I should at least be able to make that choice: meaning that I should at least learn to speak and to grasp what I could hear with my hearing aids.

Today I’m 34 and I speak three languages. I now live in Paris, France. I have worked in Madrid, Spain. I enjoy going back to California regularly.

How did that happen ? I like to joke that it’s because I can’t hear the word, “no.”

But I can now identify three strong criteria for my success in growing up as a deaf child:
Family, reading, and sports.


My family gave me a loving and supportive environment. They weren’t overly protective, far from it. I had to face the real world. Growing up, my parents never gave me any excuse to skip classes or to forget my homework. I hadn’t heard the teacher? Very well. They’d ask the teacher or my classmates’ parents for my assignments. There were no games at home till homework was done.

At school, I realized I wasn’t like the other kids. I was probably missing out on things. I was being taunted sometimes. But curiously enough, I had never blamed it on myself. I just thought they were being nasty, and I didn’t pay them much mind. Unlike my siblings and my best friend who were totally cool. My three siblings gave me a world in which I could learn and play games and have fun, without feeling like I was any different.

Today, I marvel at that state of mind, and whenever I need to I sometimes turn to my younger self for inspiration.


My greatest breakthrough came from reading books. Indeed, what better channel of learning for a deaf child ? I picked up reading rather late. I had no clue what the ABC lessons were all about during school. So my parents made an extra effort for me to read, tracing the words on a page with their finger while speaking the words. I also had a tutor to whom I would go to once a week to learn to read. Her name was Miss Simms. And last but not least I had a speech therapist who educated me throughout my public school years, from elementary school to high school.

Miss Liss was patient and I enjoyed her weekly visits immensely. With such a supportive environment, I fell in love with reading. Maths was an abstract nightmare for me, but I loved reading. TV never really attracted me as a child. It was a mess of incomprehensible voices with ridiculous characters that always came with canned laughter or annoying tunes. But reading, ah, that was something real.

During recess period, I would sometimes sneak away to the school’s library and catch up on books. I quickly devoured most of the boring children’s books, and went looking for more challenging material. I was especially fond of pirate adventures, English explorers, and Greek mythology. Those heroes that defied the odds. I really identified with these characters.

Olivier Kite-surf


By sports, I mean all kinds of sports. Team sports, and outdoor sports. I wasn’t particularly athletic. I was just a kid with energy to spend. I invented new challenges for myself all the time. Learning to ride a unicycle. Doing a flip on the diving board. On the weekends my parents would pile the whole family in the car and drive to the mountains and the beaches around Los Angeles. We would hike and swim and build treehouses.

As a deaf child, having a universe of activities to do distracted me from my own condition. I was constantly in action. I had no time to mull over myself. There was always a fish to catch, or the next wave to surf on.

All three of these influences – family, books, and sports – had one thing in common: Passion! It was all about living life to the fullest.

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About Olivier Jeannel:

After a degree at UC Berkeley (Poli Sci ’02) Olivier left for the charms of the Old World. He pursued studies in international relations at Sciences Po Paris (’04), but eventually settled for a career at a telecom mulinational, Orange, working in finance and market studies for 8 years.

Today, Olivier has left his job to launch a startup business. His ambition? To enable the deaf worldwide to be able to make phone calls. Discover his project: RogerVoice Phone




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