Sunday, December 30, 2018

The Talk, Part II


Many of you might have read my high school essay assignment written in second person called The Talk, which was one of my very first blog posts (May of 2013). 

A short summary of The Talk: in third grade, my dog, Oreo, chewed up my hearing aids. My parents were disappointed and told me to take better care of the hearing aids. I loathed the hearing aids and did not care that the dog chewed them up, but was still upset that my parents were disappointed in me anyway.

There were a couple of lessons I learned that summer evening - 1) just because you absolutely loathed something does not mean you can let the dog eat it, 2) hearing aids are very expensive equipments and needed to be treated as such, 3) under no circumstances, put the hearing aids where the dog can get it!

We pick up the story ten years later:

The Talk, Part II

You took lessons learned from “The Talk” to heart. You never left the hearing aids unattended where they could get lost and whenever you did lose your hearing aids, they were usually in someplace that was really obvious and secure, but would be the last place you would ever look for them!

Sadly, Oreo died a little over a year ago. He was a good dog who never lost his taste for earwax as evidenced by how he loved to lick Dad’s ears.

You welcomed a new member to your family last summer. His name is Orion and he’s smaller and blacker than Oreo, but still just as sweet.  And mischievous. He likes earwax but not nearly as much as he likes feet. Honestly, socks and shoes are in more danger than any hearing aids. He’s ten months old and you have not have a single incidence where he even sniffed at the hearing aids.

Until last night…

You took your hearing aids off for the day and placed them on your bedside table, in your official hearing aid plate, also known as a spoon holder.  This is supposed to be a relatively safe place as Orion had shown no interest in sniffing around there though he does join you each night on the bed. You joined your family in the living room for a Sherlock marathon. Everyone's relaxed. Dad drifted off to sleep in his chair, Mom knitted a belated Christmas present, Orion napped on the little comfy chair Mom made for Oreo.

Orion got up from his comfy seat and wandered off for a bit. When he returned after a few minutes, you thought he had a bone. Good for him you thought. Wait … that tiny little bone is a little too shiny to be a rawhide … noooooo!

You dove for Orion as if he had chocolate in his mouth. He stopped chewing, but it took some force to get his jaw to release the hearing aid. You freed the lone hearing aid and hastily turned it on. You waited — one Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi, do do do doooo do do do doooo, wah. The hearing aid squealed a bit and started broadcasting the air as they always do before your ears get use to it.

You let out a sigh of relief … until Mom asked where was the other hearing aids. Your heart jumped back up to pounding level. You ran for your bedroom while praying the dog did not have enough time or interest to swallow the other hearing aids.

You reach the bedside table and looked where the hearing aids were supposed to be … and you see the other hearing aid resting innocently there. You let out another sigh of relief and sagged on the bed as the rest of the heart pounding tension left your body.

Both hearing aids were safe. You put them on a shelf that was four feet high, well above the reach of Orion. When you finally went to bed that night, Orion joined you and snuggled into your side as if he never tasted a hearing aid in his life. You mentally repeated the last lesson you learned from The Talk while an Elvis Presley song went on in your head:

You look like an angel
Walk like an angel
Talk like an angel
But I got wiiiiiise
You’re the devil in disguise!

(You’re the) Devil in Disguise by Elvis Presley

 




Friday, November 30, 2018

Isn't it obvious?


Every quarter, my dorm invites residents to speak at an event called the Real Roble as the dorm’s name is Roble. It is like a mini-TED talk where each speaker gets 5 minutes to talk about their passion.  There were so many good speakers in our dorm: someone who went above and beyond to reduce their carbon footprint, another who re-introduced Vines and how they share stories and comedy, and another who trained for half-marathons.

People are cool and Real Roble only shows a small fraction of my dorm alone. During Real Roble, people here tell stories that you would only find if you reach out to that person and listen to their story. Before I tell you my Real Roble story, I challenge you to find someone you don’t know very well and learn their story.

Real Roble!

Hi! I’m Chloe. Some of you already know me because I’m the RCC [Resident Computer Consultant, aka dorm IT person] that helped set up your wifi. Some of you know me because I’m the orange girl running through the hall so that I won’t be late for class. Oh and I’m also deaf. Is it not obvious? I thought it was!

I grew in a town that only had one high school and one middle school. We all grew up together and everyone knew each other more or less. So everyone knows I’m deaf, right?

So because I’m deaf, I brought a microphone to school everyday and gave it to each of my teachers. I needed that microphone to hear my teacher, otherwise everything goes over my head. I just can’t understand the teacher without it!

I hated the microphone. I still do! The microphone had horrible sound quality and headache inducing feedback. It is extremely sensitive and sometimes it amplified the teachers’ clothes more than their voice! But the thing I hated most about the microphone was that no one else needed it. I was the only one in my 1000+ person high school who needed a microphone. I was the only deaf person in my school.

Anyway, there was this boy in class a year younger than me, I’ll call him Pi. For three years, Pi and I had been in the same orchestra class. He was a violinist and I was a cellist. I gave the microphone to my orchestra teacher everyday. My senior year, I did not take orchestra, but I took AP Calculus. Pi was also in AP Calculus. Of course, I gave the microphone to my Calc teacher.

Then one day in AP Calc, we had a group project. I was with Pi and one other girl. I took the microphone from my teacher and put it in the center so that it could pick up all three of our voice. Pi looked at me and asked, “What do we need this for?”

"…What?!!”

I couldn’t believe it! We knew each other for three years! And every day, I went up to the front of the class to give the teacher my microphone in front of him. And every day, he had no idea what it was for!

I thought that it was obvious! That the microphone means deaf, that deafness was something obvious, that you could take one look at me or listen to my voice and know I was deaf.

Then I thought, maybe deafness is not obvious, not even to people who had known me a long time. So what should I tell him? How do I tell him something that I thought he knew for three years?

I could make something up - maybe say I’m an obsessive overachiever who records every single moment of lecture to go over later. It would be an interesting story and then I didn’t have to say that I’m deaf.

I could say that, but no I told him the truth. Why? I complained about the microphone, but I don’t really complain about being deaf. I’d even go so far as to say I like being deaf. Sure it has drawbacks - I can’t hear birds whistling without my hearing aids, I ask people to repeat things a LOT - but it also my normal. I never had “good” hearing. 

There are also some benefits too. If I ever get stuck in a boring conversation or lecture, I can turn off my hearing aids and pretend I’m listening. And there’s a really cool culture that’s both silent and noisy called the Deaf world! It has its own language and culture that is completely different from hearing culture and it is just so cool.

So, I told Pi the truth -- that I am deaf and I need the microphone to hear better. Now Pi knows I’m deaf and I know that deafness is not obvious. I have to tell people I’m deaf. Maybe you can guess why I’m doing the Real Roble talk!

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Confidence


As I was preparing for finals, I attended a stress seminar where the aim was to teach you how to look at stress in a less stressful way.  While it was geared towards students frantically studying for finals, it was so relatable that I could draw many parallels to other stressful situations in my own life.

The three things the instructor emphasized we needed to remember just before finals are:
  1. You are not alone!
  2. You got this!
  3. You are worthy!  You are loved, even if you did nothing.
There were times when I was felt like the loneliest girl in the world, when I felt like I could never get anything right, when I had worse self-esteem than a rock.  These thoughts resonated with me — throughout my teenage years, I felt scared, inept, and unworthy.  

It is not hard to feel lonely, even in a room full of people, sometimes especially in a room full of people.  I was the only deaf person in my school, the only girl in some of my science classes, and it seemed that all my friends from middle school were interested in different topics than I was in high school.  Sometimes, you can solve the root problem.  If you’re lonely because you feel friendless in a class or school, then make new friends!  I made friends with the boys in the science classes, found new discussion partners in my literature classes, and enjoyed new friendships in orchestra.  I realized that not everyone is aware of how much communication I miss, so I had to work harder to build communication channels.

But some things cannot be solved so easily, because they are beyond any human control.  If you are deaf or different in any way in your school, you cannot change that, but you can own it.  Owning it can be hard, and ties in to your self-worth, but the point is you exist, you are here, and you should ask for help, make yourself heard, ask others to repeat themselves, etc.  You got this.  No one else can do you like you can.  You are in control of your own deeds.  This can be a difficult point to take to heart, especially if there is a little pessimistic voice in the back of your head saying “It’s impossible,” “I can’t do this,” “I’m not worthy of extra attention.”  Don’t listen to that pessimistic voice!

The last point, “you are worthy” is something the lecturer spent the most time driving home, because it can never be overstated.  Self-esteem is something all teenagers struggle with a lot, regardless of deafness. We, the students, feel absolutely terrible after a bad homework grade or a crummy final.  One ugly final does not define you.  Friends and family do not love you less if you have a bad GPA.  Likewise, friends and family do not care if you cannot hear them.

It is never ideal to fail a class or to accidentally drop your hearing aids in water, but that does not mean you are any less worthy of love and life. Keep these three points in mind.  You may not need them now, but I hope you’ll remember them when you do, especially before a final!

Friday, August 31, 2018

Deaf Female

     I took a Gender Studies class a few months ago and the first assignment was a 150 word essays on what your gender means to you.  Upon reflection, being female alone did not impact me as much as being female and deaf as you will soon read.

     I am female and I am deaf.   I am deaf in a hearing world and to me that is analogous to being female in a male world.
     Just as females used to disguise themselves as males to get jobs and avoid discrimination, I can almost disguise myself as hearing to blend in and interact with hearing people.  It is hard.  When I am hurt, or misunderstood, I most often blame my deafness rather than being female.  Being deaf is not easy – there are so many more opportunities for miscommunication, misunderstanding for me than for most hearing people.
     I believe being female has impacted how I view myself as a deaf individual.  I describe myself as a silly little girl in my own head, not because of how I have been raised or how the world treats me, but it is how I feel with my own deafness.  If I cannot hear someone, if I misunderstand, then immediately I withdraw into myself because I do not feel brave.  I feel clumsy.  I feel weak.  Worse of all, I feel stupid.  All of these are unfortunately associated with the negative stereotype of a silly little girl.  

     Sometimes I find the courage to break the stereotype and ask questions and clarify things; sometimes I do not.  Either way, I feel like this can only be part of being human.  One thing I have learned from being human is that even when the world seems most inaccessible to a deaf female like me I know that there is always an open door somewhere, I just have to find it.  And I will!

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Speechless

     I think the weirdest book I read in 8th grade was The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain.  I thought Mark Twain was a classicistelegant prose, far-fetched adventures.  Thirteen year old me had no idea that one of America’s greatest writers was popular for breaking with classical traditions and writing in dialect.  I did enjoy the read, however Huckleberry Finn also dealt with some dark topics like parental abuse and slavery.  I did not fully appreciate the book until I was a senior in high school and revisited it in AP Literature class.  
     When I read it with more maturity, there was one thing that struck me, perhaps more so in my second reading than my firstthe scene of Jim discovering his daughter was deaf.  Jim tells Huck how much he misses his family, and mentions his worst memory.  When Jim was back at home, he told his daughter Elizabeth, who was four years old and had previously fallen ill with Scarlet Fever, to shut the door.  She ‘ignores’ his order, ‘smilin’’ at her dad.  Jim gets angry because he thinks his daughter is disobeying him and hits her.  

… when I come back, dah was dat do’ a-stannin’ open yit, en dat chile stannin’ mos’ right in it, a-lookin’ down en mournin’, en de tears runnin’ down.  My, but I wuz mad.  I was agwyne for de chile, but jis’ den - it was a do’ dat open’ innerds - jis’ den, ‘long come de wind en slam it to, behine de chile, ker-blam! - en my lan’, de chile never move’!  My breff mos’ hop outer me; en I feel so - so- I doan know how I feel.  I crope out, all a-tremblin’, en crope aroun’ en open de do’ easy en slow, en poke my head in behine de chile, sof’ en still, en all uv a sudden I says pow! jis’ as loud as I could yell.  She never budge!  O, Huck, I bust out a-cryin’, en grab her up in my arms en say, ‘O de po’ little thing! de Lord God Almight fogive po’ ole Jim, kaze he never gwyne to forgive hisseff as long’s he live!’ O, she was plumb deef en dumb, Huck, plumb deef en dumb -en I’d ben a treat’n her so!1

Modern English Translation (roughly): “… when I come back, the door was still standing open, and the child was standing in front of it looking sad and crying.  My, but I was mad.  I was going for the child again, but just then - it was a door that opened inward - just then, there came a wind and slammed it behind the child, ker-blam! - and my lord, the child never moved!  My breath escaped; and I feel so - so- I don’t know how I feel.  I creeped out, trembling, and around and open the door softly, and poked my head in behind the child, quietly, and all of a sudden I said pow! just as loud as I could yell.  She never budged!  O, Huck, I bust out crying, and grab her up in my arms and say, ‘O you poor little thing! the Lord God Almighty forgive po' ole Jim, because he never going to forgive himself as long as he live!’ O, she was plumb deaf and dumb, Huck, plumb deaf and dumb - and I’d been treating her so!”

     This was the first time I saw the phrase ‘deaf and dumb’ and it disturbed me, because I am deaf.  Since then I have seen the phrase ‘deaf and dumb’ used several times in other classical or older literature.  I have never seen it in modern usage—a good thing.  Today, ‘deaf and dumb’ is a terrible term, some might define it as insulting.  In past usage, like in the age of Mark Twain, ‘deaf and dumb’ was a valid way to describe someone who was deaf.  Valid does not make it right, but dumb’s chief meaning in the past was speechless.  Many deaf people signed and did not speak, then or now.
     The current definition of dumb still includes speechlessness, like “the actor was struck dumb with stage fright,” but now it also means stupidity.  I thought that Twain, or the character Jim, was calling deaf people stupid.  I knew it was not true, deaf people are as smart as hearing people, but it rattled me then.  I am very glad ‘deaf and dumb’ is an antiquated phrase, but I found it interesting that ‘deaf and dumb’ existed at all.  The modern definition of dumb means both speechless and stupid.  Did that mean being speechless equates being stupid?
     To hearing people of the past, perhaps this definition was true—being speechless meant stupidity.  If someone could not voice their opinion, state a coherent thought, or recite an eloquent speech, then that someone was dumb in both meanings of the word.  Not everyone recognized sign language as a language.  Even today, some people still question whether American Sign Language (ASL) could be called a language.
     To them I would answer, ASL is a beautiful language.  Understanding ASL is like entering another plane of existence; it opens a whole new world of possibilities and communication.  In the past, people just did not recognize the potential of signing to replace speechlessness.  Their biased views were not limited to signing, but also to other languages.  To them foreign languages sounded uncivilized, barbaricbarbaric comes from the Latin word barbarus ,which means foreign!  
     It is not the language that matterscommunication matters.  It would be too easy to consider anyone I do not understand ‘dumb,’ but if I group people in that category, I would dismiss many glorious minds, kind hearts, and helping hands.  Some examples of people whom I do not understand in their native language:  Doestevsky, Virgil, Rumi, or Zhuangzi.  Do I consider them ‘dumb?’  Of course not!  I do have to overcome a communication barrier in order to understand their philosophy or art, but thankfully, there are translators!  Now I can read (understanding is another thing!) Crime and Punishment, The Aeneid, Rumi’s many poems, and Zhuangzi’s philosophical thoughts.  Never assume someone is dumb, just because they do not share your language.
     In biology class you will learn that humans are part of homo sapiens, which is Latin for wise person.  So humans are smart, regardless of the ability to speak Latin!  Does that leave you speechless?

Footnote

1 - Twain, Mark.  Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Edited by Victor Fisher and Lin Salamo.  (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2001). 201-2.



Sunday, December 31, 2017

Team You!

     If you’re a sport fan, then you probably have a favorite team whom you cheer on every single game.  Or alternatively, maybe you are part of a team and you play the game, cheer on your teammates, take heart from the eagerness of the crowd.  You know that every member of a team is critical, from the coach to the reserve player.  A team is bigger than what is on the field - there are players that are never on the field.  They are no less important and include the team manager, physical therapist, locker room janitor, field coordinator, etc.
     A team can also be a support network.  A team can be a net.  Life is a game and you are the main player, the hero of your own story.  Your team includes all the people who help and support you - family, friends, teachers, neighbors, community, doctors.  Being deaf or hard of hearing means that you have some people with specific roles on your team – interpreter, audiologist, speech therapist, deaf school coordinator, etc.  Everyone on your team wants to help you through the good and bad in life.
     I call my team Team Chloe.  It includes my parents, my teachers, every speech therapist that I had since 18 months old, my neighbors, and many more.  It is a big team and they have helped me so many times.  For example, in my article Difficult Teacher, all the teachers who helped me get through to that stubborn teacher were a part of Team Chloe.
     Sometimes though, life gets tough and you feel alone.  That is a very sad feeling, because you need help but you don’t feel you can ask anyone for it.  The solution is this – you have to reach out, find someone, and ask for help.  Maybe you are having difficulty with a tough class – so you need to ask a teacher, a tutor, or a friend who’s doing well in that class for help.  Maybe you need to open up about something, which can be the hardest thing in the world, in which case you need to find someone you might trust, such as a friend, a counselor or a family member.
     I say that opening up about something is the hardest thing, because I’m not an open person.  Freshmen year of college, I was homesick and felt so alone.  There was no one that I trusted and it seemed like I was drowning in the mountain of homework and social pressure.  I had three separate meltdowns in the space of three days.  Needless to say, I was not in a good place.  This was also a time, when I was geographically separated from everyone I knew.  Everyone who was on Team Chloe was in New Mexico – I was in California.  Then I asked an RA (Resident Assistant who live in the dorm) for help.  It is embarrassing to cry your heart out, but that’s what I did, and the RA listened and helped me work through all my issues.  Mostly I just needed to learn to expand my team with people from my new college.  My RA was a helpful starting point – Welcome to Team Chloe!

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     Your team is only be built by trial and practice.  In life, your team will grow every year.  There will be tough times, and you might fall down more than once, but a team is there to make sure you get up again.  You might even be part of someone else’s team.  Just remember in any case, you have at least one person on your team – me!  I want to help you succeed in life, to be happy, and to achieve your goals.


Thursday, June 1, 2017

Difficult Teacher

     Now for a rare story of do as I say and as I do.  This one has a much happier ending than the previous story.
     I was excited to take an AP class in high school.  The teacher was new, but very skilled.  At the start of every school year, I emailed and met with all my teachers to go through my classroom accommodations, but since this teacher was new, and was not there when I had my meeting, I could only email him.  I thought everything would be fine.
     First day of school, the AP class was my first class of the day.  I had the microphone, a new notebook, and an eager brain – in short, everything I needed to learn.  I arrived early and met my new teacher for the first time.  I introduced myself and gave him the microphone.  He shied away and waved the microphone away, “Oh no, I can’t wear the microphone.”
     This being the first day of class, I was shocked and stunned.  No other teacher ever declined to wear the microphone.  I took the closest seat to the front in silence, wondering what to do.  I knew I could survive a day without a microphone, so for the moment I thought I would be fine.  I forgot to take into account that the lights in the classroom were turned off for computer work, so the only light came from computer screens and the gaps in the windows’ blinds.  I survived that class by some miracle with some introductory notes and concepts written in my notebook.  Immediately, after that class, I went to find my IEP case manager, who fortunately taught in the classroom next door.  I told my case manager about what happened.  He nodded and said he would talk to the new teacher.  I also told my parents about the new teacher and we all hoped for the best the next day.
     Second day of school, I showed up even earlier and talked to my case manager.  He said he had talked to the teacher, the teacher had nodded and agreed in all the right places, but, ultimately, he was not sure that he gotten through to the teacher.  I went into the dark classroom again.  I got a similar reaction from the teacher.  He said, “I don’t need the microphone.”  This time I protested a little, “But I kinda need it.”  I had weak protesting skills at that time.  The new teacher brushed away my comment and again I went to my seat.  Now I was shocked, stunned, and frustrated.  I spoke to the new teacher after that class.  I told him this was not okay.  He said he would try to work something out with my case manager.  I told my case manager what had happened, and he said he would try talking to the new teacher again.  I struggled more and now my next class was affected by my exhaustion from lip-reading in the dark.  
     I told my parents again.  My parents at this point were uneasy and they contacted the principal.  They also said that if the teacher was giving me too much trouble that I could always drop the class, as it was an elective and not a required class.  Here my stubbornness came in handy.  I was taking that class, difficult teacher or not!  I also started preparing for the worse by researching the American Disability Act and disability laws.I looked at other options instead of using the microphone – maybe I could ask for an ASL interpreter (but my ASL was quite weak and out of practice), or an oral interpreter (someone who would mouth the words the teacher was saying), or captioning.  Any of these alternatives would be okay options if the new teacher still did not want to wear the microphone, but using the microphone would be easier and less costly.  Given my stubbornness, there was no way I’m letting a teacher keep me from learning!
     Third day of school, the computer science teacher still refused to wear the microphone.  To this day, I still do not know why he did not want to wear the microphone.  He might have been paranoid that the blue-tooth microphone was transmitting and recording his voice for some sinister purpose (it was not), and I contacted the school’s audiologist for help on that front.  This time the principal was prepared to talk to the new teacher.  He still didn’t get how much I needed the microphone.  My parents were of the mind for me to drop the class, but I wanted to take this class.  This teacher was driving me to crazy stubbornness.
     Fourth day of class, once again without the microphone, it culminated in one big meeting – the new teacher, the principal, the audiologist, my case manager, a supporting teacher who had worn the microphone with no issues the year before, and me.  There could be a variety of reasons that changed the new teacher’s mind – the principal was quite serious, the audiologist and other teacher reassured him that the microphone was only to benefit my learning and understanding, and I was unrelenting.  After that meeting, the new teacher reluctantly agreed to wear the microphone.  Over time it got better the more he got used to wearing the microphone.  I could finally hear what he saying!  Best of all, he never made me feel bad about forcing him to wear the microphone.  I think he understood that the microphone was a huge deal to me.
     At the end of the year, I earned an A in the AP class, and scored high enough on the AP exam to get college credit!  I learned not only the subject of the class, but also stronger advocacy skill from the new teacher.
    If I had had this teacher six years earlier, I would have loved him for not wearing the microphone, but ultimately I would have hurt myself by not using the microphone.  My parents were really proud of me for standing up for what I needed - especially for the microphone - they remembered when I hated the microphone and the hearing aids (See “The Talk,” May 2013 blog).