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). 


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Ask for help!

     Remember way back when, I said “do as I say and not as I do... “ well here’s another one of those stories. 🙂
     One of my greatest weaknesses is to bite off more than I can chew.  Then doubling down on my choice by being stubborn to the point of hurting myself.  I will not ask for help when I should, even though I know I should.  There are a thousand things I could have done better in my past, but I have to learn my lesson and become stronger!
     Last quarter, I bit off more than I could chew.  I took close to the maximum allowed course units including very challenging classes.  Some, like computer science, math, and physics, were going towards my major, while some were for potential minors.  One of those classes was the second year of Italian.  
     In high school, I loved learning Latin.  I visited Italy once to see Roman ruins and fell in love with both modern and ancient Rome.  Additionally, ever since I was little, I had a dream of being fluent in more than one spoken language.  I would gobble up books on Spanish, German, Italian, Latin, Japanese, even ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs.  I took the first year of Italian with very few problems.  I loved learning ASL and computer languages too.  My teachers were nice and supportive, but I rarely asked for help.  I struggled to ask for help.
     Last quarter, Italian 2 was much harder.  In Italian 1, we studied from books and spoke to each other (students and teachers) in class very slowly.  Italian 2 was much more intense and immersive in Italian culture.  I treated Italian the same as my other classes – I used the microphone, and sat near the front, but that was a mistake – I needed more help when listening to a new language.  My teacher showed uncaptioned YouTube videos in class.  My teacher assigned movies without subtitles to watch outside of class.  Everyone else learned in leaps and bounds, but I was struggling.  
     I told my teacher I could not watch videos without captioning – he understood, but there were no captioning for the YouTube videos, and we had no idea how to overcome that hurdle.  And I was frustrated because I was having a harder time hearing my peers.  Everyone spoke too fast for me.  I did not know how to ask for help.  Additionally, while trying to keep up with Italian, I was now struggling in my other classes.  Computer science was usually easy for me, but growing more difficult.  Math problem sets were often put off till the last minute because I was watching the Italian news segment for the umpteenth time.  I excel when I have something to read and follow.  I fail when I hear incomprehensible speech and need to back up more than once.
     I stuck with Italian 2 way longer than I should have.  At no point did it occur to me to ask my Office of Accessibility for help.  The office could have found a captioner for the YouTube videos, the office could find movies with working subtitles.  But how could I ask for help?  I was swamped with the maximum course load.  I was stubborn - I wanted to learn Italian like the other students, but in doing so I was putting more strain on my brain and neglecting my other classes.  When I finally did ask for help, it was too late.  I cried the night I dropped Italian.  I cried the day after.  I was so angry at myself for not asking for help.  I was angry at myself for being so stubborn.  I was angry at myself for not accomplishing the impossible, for not being superhuman and getting good marks in all my classes.
     However, my other classes soon begin to bloom.  I was no longer attached to Italian, and I could do my math problem sets with time to spare.  Computer science became my most enjoyable class.  Physics was understandable for once!  By cutting a class and giving my stubborn ego a good blow, I could excel again.  I asked for help in my other classes.  I learned from my mistakes.  My performance and understanding of my other subjects started an upward trajectory.  And I felt much better in the long run, not stretching my brain to the max.
     I still want to learn Italian, but I learned several lessons from this quarter.  The most important lesson is to ask for help not when I am about to have a mental breakdown, but earlier at the first sign of trouble.  Another equally good lesson is to not take the maximum allowable course work, to know how much I can actually swallow at once.


     P.S.  Because I survived this quarter with its ups and downs, I did reward myself by getting Harry Potter in Italian, and am currently reading it and continuing my study of Italian at my own pace.  Arrivederci!

Friday, March 31, 2017

College Journey - Video


Here's a presentation I did last summer on the college process for Hands & Voices New Mexico.  The lighting is not ideal for signing or lip-reading, but I made sure the YouTube captioning works.

College Journey - Text

     This was the basis for the College Journey - Video.  It is not word for word, but it contains my journey to college advice for aspiring college students.

     Hello everybody,  Thank you all for coming here.
     My name is Chloe Keilers, and I’ll be your speaker today.  I’m going to share with you my journey to Stanford and the college application process for someone who is D/HH.  Let me start by saying that I feel somewhat under-qualified for this task.  I have only just barely survived my first year of college and some of the points I will make are more of a “do as I say and not as I do” - for example start on a research paper early and not the week before!

Audiogram
     A bit about me.  This is my credential.  You can see my hearing ranges from some normal hearing in low frequencies to profound deafness in the high frequencies.  This explains why my first word was “uh oh” and why I still struggle with the “s” sounds.
     I wear hearing aids and practically grew up here in Los Alamos.  I used to go to the high school that right across the canyon over there, and managed to fit in with my hearing peers somewhat well.  Academics were easy to accomplish with my FM microphone and classroom accommodations, but social challenges were not so easy to conquer.  More on that later.
     Now I am a Stanford student.  My major is undecided, but I believe it will be something in the science area, astrophysics or chemistry?  I also love Italian and Literature.  Maybe I’ll do a double major?  Triple?  Maybe I shouldn’t spread myself too thin.
     So, how did I get here?
     First, I am very determined and always worked hard at whatever I attempted.  Sometimes with success, sometimes not so much.  Soccer was not my gift.  Violin was challenging, particularly because I didn’t like to practice and my new hearing aids squealed with the violin so close to my ears.  I eventually found what worked for me, cross country running and the cello.
     Second, I had excellent support at school from my IEP accommodations and great teachers and speech therapists, whom I like to call “Team Chloe.”  I also use a microphone with all my classes and am considering using it in social events and groups going forward.  There were occasional glitches along the way, but I always had a teacher, my mom or dad, and even me, to advocate for myself.
     Third, I started my transition to the college process very early.  Some people think it’s all about college apps Senior Year.  Or testing during Junior Year.  I suggest starting to think about it much earlier, even in Middle School!

College Process
     Much of my college transition process was the same for me as for my hearing peers.
     Middle School is a great time to start exploring passions.  Passions may change over time - don’t commit yourself to something you don’t love, but explore various academic, athletic, musical, and community service pursuits to see what makes you happy.  Between seventh and eighth grade I transitioned from violin to viola to cello.  I also started cross country running, which I had never tried before.  And I discovered my love for science by participating in science fairs.
     Freshman Year — I started visiting some colleges while on vacation and by way of attending some academic camps.  For the college camps and visits, I found it helpful to email the schools ahead of time, to let them know about my deafness and that I need them to use my FM microphone in classes or on tours.  You could let them know that you need an interpreter.  These trips are also a good time to find out what kind of accommodations they provide.  Visit the school’s OAE (office of accessible education).  Any school with federal funding has to provide accommodations, but their definition of accommodations may vary widely from what you need.  A fellow deaf student told me she was accepted to another good school, but they were not going to give her any accommodations other than using the FM microphone.  A better question to ask is how many deaf or hard of hearing individuals the school has admitted.
     Sophomore Year — First year of taking the PSAT tests and I needed to make sure I received the same testing accommodations from my IEP on these national tests.  Interesting situation arose when the Princeton Testing (PSAT, SAT, AP) group provided extended time accommodations, but the ACT Test did not.  Their argument was that unless I tested “below average” due to my hearing loss, they would not provide anything other than written copies of the instructions.  Just because you can get by without accommodations, doesn’t mean you should accept that answer.  Just because someone tells you that you can survive without extended time, interpreters, microphones, preferential seating, etc. does not mean you should—does not mean it’s okay.  You need to reach your own potential.  This is when you should be assertive.  I actually took the PSAT without accommodations as a sophomore, then with accommodations as a junior.  This resulted in about a 15% increase in writing and overall scores.
     Junior Year — Started taking AP classes, one of which, AP Language Arts, had the best final ever.  Our teacher had us write the general Common App essay questions as the test.  Brilliant move, because it got all of us thinking about what to write about ourselves to help us stand out.  One of the questions involved “greatest challenge faced.”  Hmmm, what could I write about?  Oh yeah, being deaf in a hearing world!  Pretty much writes itself.  But the important thing is not to whine about it.  Maybe deafness isn’t your greatest challenge, pick something that matters, and share your story from the heart.
     Senior Year — Time to get really serious.  It was also the time to meet with Division of Vocational Rehabilitation or DVR.  This office can help with transition needs such as equipment and career or vocational counseling.  Then there were application deadlines on top of deadlines, and new terms to decipher.  Restricted Decision?  Early Action?  Regular Admission?  And then scholarship applications.  There are a myriad of scholarships out there, many select based on unique interests.  There is a list of scholarships available specifically for D/HH students on hvnm.org.  Then there is the waiting.  Waiting….  And then the news—I’m in!

College
     Stanford was my first choice college, and I was thrilled to be accepted.  You’d think with all the high school work done, I could now rest easy?  That was not the case by any stretch of the  imagination.  There was more work to be done!
     As always, there were classroom accommodations to consider.  Much of what I received at Stanford mirrored my high school needs.  I was excited to try CART, Communication Access Real Time Translation.  Like the close captioning that appears on TV, but sent to my iPad. Excited to try, but in the end, decided it wasn’t a good fit for my needs.
     The biggest transition challenge was living away from home for the first time.  In some ways, my parents often acted the role of interpreter for me.  Going to college and living on my own, meant I needed to pick up the slack and not rely on parents for communication help or that gentle nudge (a.k.a. “kick in the butt”) to try new things.  I met with the OAE, got the classroom accommodations I needed, but more importantly, dorm room accommodations.  Horns/strobe/vibrating bed were in order.  Not gonna sleep through that fire alarm!  Like all freshmen everywhere, I had to do my own laundry and manage my own time.

Final Advice
     What I know now that I wish I knew then…
     First piece of advice - be assertive.  This is a philosophy that goes far beyond college and should be practiced from the womb to college and beyond.  My mom would always tell me be like a New Yorker— a little bit loud, a lot assertive. 
     Second piece of advice - try new things.  College is a time of explorations - when you are away from home and not fully an adult.  So you can watch that superhero movie which your parents deemed too goofy in high school.  It is a time to test your limits and aptitudes.  There will be things you have never heard before- perhaps taiko drums or quidditch teams.  So go out, try things, let nothing hold you back.
     Third piece of advice - do not spread yourself too thin.  Most likely you will have four years to enjoy college and you should not burn yourself out in the first year or even first week.  Again do as I say not as I do - I nearly did burn myself out in the second quarter.
     Anticipate! - There is so much information about college courses, activities, and more, all available on websites and Facebook pages.  I encourage you to check all these resources out BEFORE you arrive on campus.  It will help you transition if you prepare in advance.
     Final piece of advice - Ask for help.  Life at college seemingly operates at 100 mph.  You need to rely on people.  You can be strong but do not be afraid to ask for help.  Roommates, dorm mates, RA’s, Tutors, Professors.  These people can all be part of your team.  Find your “Team Chloe.”  One of my more stressful moments was an impending research paper deadline, but I found great camaraderie in finishing up my paper with seven other dorm mates all feverishly typing away during breakfast for a 10 AM deadline.  Great bonding moment with lots of crying!  And sometimes you might be the person helping someone else.  You might be part of someone else’s team.

Thank you
     I hope this information has been helpful to you.  While I did face some communication challenges, particularly in dorm social settings, I learned a lot about myself my freshman year — I can do it!


Stay tuned!