Thursday, October 31, 2013


     In September, Hands & Voices New Mexico hosted a “Back to School” event
featuring a guest speaker, Rachel Kolb.  She is a Rhodes scholar who is currently
studying at Oxford, who happens to be deaf.  To continue this already impressive
biography, she attended Stanford University as an undergraduate; and she is a native New
Mexican.  When I first met her, she was kind and fun, and had lots of good information
to share.  If anyone is feeling down about their own hearing loss, she is an awesome person to connect with.  You can learn from her experience--virtually.
     Kolb has given two inspiring talks that I want to mention.  One is a TedX talk
at Stanford University, “Navigating deafness in a hearing world: Rachel Kolb,” http://  During this presentation she shared some
of the difficulties she faced, and that are common among people with hearing loss, such
as sounding foreign instead of being a native English speaker.  This has happened
to me and will be a story for later, but on the bright side, at least people thinks you are very international.  Another talk that she presented at the New Mexico Museum of Natural Science and History was about self-advocacy:  It is also on New Mexico Hands & Voices website,
     This last presentation I got to see in person.  Self-advocacy cannot be emphasized
enough.  It is perhaps the most important life-skill in the world for everyone to learn, besides
kindness and love.  This is true especially if you have a hardship of any sort, especially a
hearing loss.  Kolb had five key points which I am going to quote here (but you
should really watch the entire video) along with my own thoughts on her points.
            1.  "Find the strategies that work for you."  This could mean anything from sitting
in a certain spot in class or signing versus speaking.  It does not matter what kind of
strategies they are or if it is the same as anyone else's; everyone is different.
            2.  "Find people who support you." Friends and family are people who fall into
this category.  Teachers and classmates should also fall into this category (although in
that case, they would also be your friends, no matter how much homework teachers
gives you).  However, some teachers and classmates don’t always support you.  If they
don't give you the slightest support, then do your best to avoid them.  They are not the
people you want to be counting on.
            3.  "Invest in yourself."  This could mean getting hearing aids, or a sign language
interpreter, and whatever other tools you need.
            4.  "Learn how to express what you need."  This would mean asking for what you
need.  You could ask for something as simple as a set of notes for a class, or speech
therapy, or (I find that this is the hardest) asking people to face you when speaking.
            5.  "Say [or in whatever communication mode that works for you] something:"
This is a reiteration of her fourth thought, but it is important, which is why she repeated it.  You have to speak up in order to advocate for yourself.  You cannot remain
     One last note to make on self-advocacy.  Be patient with your AWESOME Mom, or Dad or guardian as you develop your self-advocacy skills.  They have been advocating for you since you were a baby (since it is kind of hard for a baby to say anything in it defense except look cute).  Sometimes it's hard for them to accept you are growing up!  And be sure to thank everyone who supported you!
     These points are great to know for life, whether you are deaf or hard-of-hearing or
not.  As I said earlier, self-advocacy is a skill that will be used daily!