Thursday, December 24, 2015

First Book Review! - El Deafo by Cece Bell

     I recently read El Deafo, by Cece Bell, in just under an hour.  While I knew I should have been studying for my math midterm the next day, the book was so good I couldn't put it down.  I had been wanting to read this book for weeks ever since I have learned of it. 
     El Deafo is a graphic novel about a girl who wears hearing aids and goes to a mainstream school.  It is based on the author's own life, and parts of the book resonate with my own life.  I highly recommend reading this book.  It is a light read, very enjoyable, and especially suited for someone looking for a fun study break or a bedtime read.
     Here is another review from the New York Times, written by author Katherine Bouton - El Deafo in New York Times.  Check out the author's other children's books and a writer's blog - Cece Bell's Page.
     Inspired by this book, I decided to try my own hand at drawing some scenes from my childhood.  There was one particular quote from the book that struck close to my heart - the "bubble of isolation."  This was a phrase that I have often used, even before I read this book, to describe how I felt, and still feel, about my hearing loss and my interactions with hearing peers.
     Here are three illustrations (no where near as good as Bell's illustrations in El Deafo) that show my "bubble of isolation."
  • My Bubble of Isolation  This is my bubble, which not only protects, but also isolates me from children's paradise.  Being inside the bubble is not too bad.  Much like in the book, I can't always understand what everyone is saying 100%.   Everyone is so full of life and yap-yap-yapping away, but inside the bubble it is so quiet, that it almost seems like everything is dead, like the lawn in my bubble.
  • Broken Bubble  There are two possibilities of what happens when I "burst my bubble."  Sometimes this happens when someone speaks to me; I might become really frightened and scared of miscommunication with fellow human beings.  Other times I choose to venture out and try to engage in communication with my peers.

  • When I Go Out  This demonstrates efforts I take to leave my bubble.  It is similar to deep sea diving or conducting long extra-vehicular activity (EVA) in space.  EVAs can be very dangerous, but the reason why astronauts take risks in their protective gear is that they have an entire world, nay, universe to explore.  This is the same attitude I have when I take my bubble for a spin; the hearing universe can be scary and frightening to someone who can't hear, but it is a cornucopia of endless wonders that I want to explore! 

     When I was drawing these pictures, a hearing colleague walked by and noticed them.  He pointed to the bubble and said, "Oh, I feel you there.  I have that same problem too!"  This bubble of isolation is not unique to deaf children, but to nearly everyone.  Everyone might have his or her own bubble of isolation, although it may come in different forms; the concept is the same.  But always, beyond that bubble is a universe of endless wonder.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Freshmen Orientation

     If you become a freshman at any college, there will generally be some sort of freshmen orientation.  My orientation lasted nearly a week, during which time I met all sorts of new people, learned the layout of my school, and discovered student activities.  It was fun and exciting for the most part, but incredibly chaotic. 
     Before I go into all the specifics of my freshmen orientation, let me tell you about what I did before I arrived on campus.  First, I researched the Office of Accessible Education.  This office takes care of things like accommodations in class and living in dormitories.  They make sure I have a strobe and horn fire alarm, that also vibrates the bed, and that my resident directors know about my hearing loss.  Second, I found out that there was a second Office of Diversity and Access.  This office takes care of communication access at recreational events, such as the freshmen orientation.  They make sure organizers know that I need the speakers to use the microphone and they arrange CART for some of the large lecture events.  I emailed and met with both offices before the start of orientation; however, it was still up to me to tell my peers about my hearing loss.
     Hearing loss can be an invisible disability, especially for someone like me, who is primarily oral and has long hair that hides my hearing aids.  People do not realize that I might need help communicating.  It was tough to figure out how to share this with my fellow freshmen, without sounding like I am looking for sympathy.  I have learned from past experience that it’s much easier to let people know in advance of communicating, because once the communication starts flowing, it’s hard to interject “Help!” “Slow down!”  “Please repeat that!”
     My school created an accepted freshman FaceBook page long before school started.  Many freshmen posted short intros about themselves, e.g. where they were from, their hobbies and other interests.  I decided to take the plunge and put it out there…
Fred Flintstone
     I was nervous, but in the end, I received many thoughtful questions and offers from people to help me.  By posting information this way, I let all 1,719 other freshmen know a little about me before we even met!
     The orientation was very tiring and wore me out, not necessarily because of my hearing loss as my hearing peers were equally worn out, but because of the huge quantity of information and activities covered in such a short time span.  There were campus and building tours aplenty, move-in day itself, first lecture of the year, mini sex and alcohol education play, encouraging diversity lecture, meetings with advisors and teachers, attending dorm meetings, crazy-late-night-playing marching band, and much more.  I should not forget to mention meeting my peers and especially my roommate.
     This was all very exciting, but my advice to future freshmen, deaf or not, is to communicate in advance what you need, sleep as much as possible so you don't fall asleep during the showcase of science classes, find some quiet places to regroup, and you don't have to follow the band until 2 am (even though it is fun)!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Revised Contact Info and Update

     Hi everyone!  Happy Thanksgiving!
     I set up an email for this blog:  If you don't want to ask a question or make a comment in public, then shoot me an email!
     Also, as a reminder, I am now a freshwoman in college, struggling with midterms and time management, the woes of all freshmen.  Rest assured, I have a few good ideas for blog postings in my mind, but the real trick is finding the free time and putting them down on paper (computer).
     Will write soon!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Safety First

     Recently, I was working alone in my office building.  Normally it is full of college students, but nearly everyone had left for the summer to return to college.  My hearing aids were off so I could focus on writing a simple computer code.  The fire alarm went off.  Of course, I only heard a beeping sound, which sounded like it was from someone’s computer.  If my hearing aids had been on my ears, I would have heard the shrill voice of the alarm.  I didn’t think anything was out of the ordinary until people came back and a co-worker entered and asked “Were you inside for the entire drill?”  “Aaaaah!” 
     Yes, I definitely could have gotten into BIG trouble there.  Here are some things I could have done to avoid getting burned up in a building inferno.  These are things I will do and highly recommend for everyone.
  • Communicate with the health department or office at your company.  Sometimes offices will assign someone to help in case of evacuation, especially for people with physical disabilities (or in my case, people who won’t hear the fire alarm as a result of a hearing loss).
  • Communicate with your co-workers and tell them you cannot hear any alarm and so you will need to be alerted.  My co-workers who knew about my deafness were already at college that day.  I needed to inform the people who stayed about my deafness.
  • Move my desk to a place where I could see the fire alarm.  For example, from only two desks over I could see one of the building’s fire alarms.
  • Inquire with the facility manager if it is possible to install horns and strobes nearby.  That's what I have in my dorm room to alert me.
  • Lastly, but most importantly, wear my hearing aids!

     These suggestions are applicable everywhere - in an office, school, even hotels.  Most hotels have a “deaf kit” that includes fire alarm, alarm clock, and a hotel alert system for assistance in the case of emergency.
     Knowing when the fire alarm goes off is a critical safety skill.  You don't want to be in a burning building; not only is your life in danger, but anyone who comes to rescue you will also be put in danger.  Being proactive and knowing what to ask for and do in the event of an emergency situation is a critical skill that not only benefits you, but everyone else around you.
     Be safe!

Safety first, safety always!

Friday, August 21, 2015


     Hello everybody!  August 1st is a very important date!  First, and foremost, it’s my birthday!  Second, it’s the day that the Common Application ( opened its doors for all potential 2016/7 college applicants.  If you’re a senior and just now thinking about college, you better go faster than the speed of light!
     Whether you are deaf, hard of hearing, or neither, you really should start thinking about colleges during middle school or freshmen years.  Here’s a tip for parents – take us out on exploratory college tours to learn what the process will be like early, i.e. long before junior year spring break.  And teens – listen to your parents and teachers, they really want more for you than to clean your room and do your homework; they want you to be happy and successful.  My parents took me on my first official college visit when I was a freshman.  They had been telling me what I need to do for college all through middle school (but, you know, I didn’t really pay attention then); it really helped to have everything they were saying reiterated by an admissions officer.
     Getting serious about applying to college starts in junior year – i.e. taking standardized admissions tests (SAT or ACT) and researching college options and environments. 
  • Start practicing the SAT (or ACT); you don’t need an 800, but still put your best foot forward.  If you have testing accommodations in your IEP, make sure to send that information to the testing centers early.  If you’re unhappy with your scores, you can always retake the exams.  By starting the testing process in junior year you give yourself time to take another test during the fall of senior year.
  • There are so many good colleges out there, but you can’t apply for all of them (Darn!).  At a minimum you should pick at least three: a dream school that you would love to get into, a medium school that would likely accept you, and a safety school (but don’t tell the schools you’re applying to that they are anything but dream school). 
  • In addition to academics, you should think about what environment you want to live in.  Do you want immersion in the Deaf culture?  Try Gallaudet (  Mainstream with very inclusive D/deaf culture?  Try RIT/NTID (  Or mainstream?  Speak to your guidance counselor, favorite teachers, and parents for other college recommendations.  There are TONS of online surveys that will suggest a list of colleges based on your interests, size of school, population of city, geographic location, greek systems, etc.  In the end, you want to make the decision based on what’s right for YOU.
     Senior year is when the real fun begins!  Applications ask you to enter all your demographic data, courses, grades, activities, awards (only since high school, don’t enter the third grade art award you won), and everybody’s favorite, essays.  And more essays.  Many schools have supplemental essays required in addition to the Common App.  There are schools that don’t use the Common App, and have their own essay questions.  Essays allow you demonstrate something unique, something the admissions office wouldn’t know from glancing at the rest of the application.  This is where you can talk about your challenges as a deaf or hard of hearing teen or some other aspect of your life.  The essays are where you put your best foot forward after it has been pedicured, fussed over, and pedicured again.  Strain over every little detail of your essays, because words (and sometimes characters) count.  Literally.  Most college forms have a word or character count, so you need to be succinct.
     In addition to the application itself, you’ll need to ask people for recommendations, get copies of your transcripts sent to the colleges, and for some schools, set up an interview.
  • One important thing about recommendations – be grateful.  Make it easy for your recommenders by giving them information summarizing what you’ve done.  They should know you from a class or some other activity, but since they are also writing other students’ recommendations as well, help them recall the highlights of your time with them.  As one of my teachers (and recommenders) stated, no one is paid to write a recommendation; so show you appreciation in the form of heart-felt thank you notes, a batch of cookies, and maybe a small gift.
  • Be aware that your high school registrar is sending off transcripts for most of the seniors, so be kind and don’t wait until the last week or day before they are due.  I advise doing everything well before deadlines for submissions.  Full disclosure: while I asked for recommendations and transcripts in August/September of senior year, my own application and essay submissions were sent 12/31 for a 1/1 deadline!
  • Be prepared for interviews, although not all schools require them.  Most of my interviewers suggested meeting at Starbucks, where it would be too loud.  I suggested a better place to meet, a conference room in the library or at school, where we could have a quiet, one-on-one interview.  I had one phone interview, but we did that via FaceTime, which worked quite nicely.  Just be yourself, be nice to the interviewer, and send a thank you note afterward.  I found that the most common question the interviewer will ask is “So Miss Chloe, tell me about yourself.”  After that, the interview is more like a conversation.  You can ask the interviewer questions about the school and they will share their experiences at college.  Taken as a whole, an interview is both informative for both you and the school.
      Once you have submitted your application, you might want to take a breath, but don’t stop!  Up next are applications for financial aid, scholarships, and college updates. 
  • Financial aid deadlines frequently occur before you find out if you get into that college or not.  Even if you miss the deadline, you should complete the application – they might still consider it.
  • Scholarships can be like mini-college applications.  Some ask for recommendations, transcripts, and even more essays!  Scholarships may be based on anything: school specific, professional goals, majors, geography, sports, passionate issues, and guess what? there are even some scholarships specifically for deaf and hard of hearing!  Not all are open to everyone, some are specific to hearing aids vs. cochlear implants, degree of hearing loss, state residency, but here are some places to start looking:
  • College updates are relatively simple, and give you an opportunity to supplement your application with everything you did since the actual submission.  Some schools have specific mechanisms for collecting updates, others do not.  For those that don’t offer an update form, send an email update.
     I hope my helpful tips for applying to colleges helps you.  In summary, start early!  Good luck!
     And yes, I got into my dream school and will be off to college next month!  If you're wondering why I am not posting in September, it will be because I am getting settled, figuring out classes, signing up for too many clubs and having fun!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Airport Adventures!

     I just completed my first solo flight - perfect practice for college!   And in doing so, I have some funny stories, some tips, and some links to helpful sites.
      Now allow me to say, I don't think going to the airport is all that stressful, unless you're going with my mom.  That's not to say there are not about a bazillion things that could go wrong, i.e. you forgot about that large shampoo bottle in your carry-on, you need a pat-down, or you missed your flight!  Nevertheless, I found airports to be less stressful when I am prepared, early, and relaxed (relax Mom!).
     The entire airplane journey could be summed in seven basic steps:
  • Purchase ticket, 
  • Get boarding pass (optional, if you printed your boarding pass beforehand),
  • Check bags and pay baggage fees (optional as you might only have a carry-on bag, Southwest Airline up to two bags are free, or may pay online in advance),
  • Show documents to security agent (not optional),
  • Go through scanner (also not optional),
  • Board the plane
  • De-board flight (is “de-board” a word???)
     When purchasing the airline ticket, most airlines have a spot to check if you need assistance.  Checking this box includes options such as wheelchairs, blindness, and my personal choice, “deaf/hard of hearing.”  This clues in the airline that I might not hear everything, although I have to say the only time anyone took notice of this checked block was in Italy.   Air Italia asked if I needed an escort to get on the plane; a very kind offer, but no thanks.
     Usually I print out my boarding pass at home, or have a digital boarding pass sent to my phone.  One less thing to worry about at the airport!
     As of yet, I've had no mishaps checking in bags.  It's relatively straight forward - go in with your bag, tap in at the kiosk or tell the counter attendant your name, check your bags, tuck in the straps, make any necessary payments, and go!
     There are many opportunities for miscommunication going through security.  First, I show my government ID (passport or driver’s license) to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent.  They say the same things over and over, so it can be a blur of speech spoken quickly, while looking down at the documents, and without looking at me so I can lip-read.  If I don’t understand what they are saying, I tell them I am deaf and need to read their lips.  Now I know (mostly) what they are going to ask, and am prepared for the standard questions.  Although here is where one of my funny travel stories begins.
     My mom and I were flying home on a flight out of Germany.  Given that my mom is stressed out traveling on a domestic flight, imagine the exponential factor applied to an international flight!  We had to wake up extremely early (around 4:00 AM) on a Sunday morning and catch a cab to the airport.  Do cabs run that early?  Will we be able to get to the airport in time?  (All questions that Mom asked; I just nodded to humor Mom without knowing the answers.)  We waited to go through security and then it was our turn.  The German security guard looked at our passports, looked at us, checked the boarding passes, looked everything over one more time.  Instead of saying the usual “where are you going,” he said "Happy Birthday."  Not the response we were expecting.  I should mention that it was August 1st, which happens to be my birthday.  I was still drowsy, so I mumbled a “thank-you,” but my mom turned bright red.  She had forgotten it was my birthday!  Her one and only child!  I lived the good life in the all airports we passed through after that.  While there was no birthday cake at oh-dark-thirty in the Berlin airport, I did manage to score all the strudel, New York cheesecakes, and muffins I could eat in Berlin, New York, and Houston.  As we were traveling west, it was the longest birthday day I've ever had, 32 hours!
     Second, after the document identification stage, it’s time for the scanner.  Again, look at the TSA website for more details, but you can wear hearing aids or cochlear implants through the imaging machine.  The website suggests calling ahead 72 hours so that the TSA agents know to be prepared for communication issues.  I've never done that, partially because I usually travel with someone, but also the TSA agents are pretty visual.  Airports are very loud, and not everyone speaks the same language so there are bound to be communications issues, and not just for people who are deaf.  When going through the scanner, I wait my turn, look for the agent’s wave to step into the imaging scanner, wait for the green or red light telling them I’m cleared or the need for a pat down, and, when the need arises or I anticipate a problem, I tell them I am deaf.  And I always, always wear my hearing aids.
     Next up, finding the gate and boarding.  All airports list arriving and departing flights on some screen or board – be sure and check the departing flights board to get to the correct gate!  Once we accidentally read the arriving gate information.  Luckily, since my mom is a stressful traveler (did I mention that already?), we were at the airport hours in advance, so we had plenty of time to get to the correct departing gate.  I highly recommend checking the board often, just in case there is a gate change.  For the boarding process, you can look at the airline's webpage to see what their policies are.  Let the person at the gate know you have a hearing loss, so that they can let you know one-on-one about announcements.  For example, that one time when the plane was too small to allow carry-on bags in the cabin, it would have been nice to know that as someone was taking my carry-on bag to put the cargo via a tube.  I was thinking, “Huh?  Where’s my bag going?”  In some cases, you may have a pre-board opportunity - just ask.  Personally, I love Southwest's method of boarding, where they show the letter (A, B, C) and numeric order for the people boarding.  Delta's all right, but some airports are too small to have the plasma screens showing which zone they're loading, and so they have to make an announcement over the loudspeaker, which I can’t hear.
     During the flight, you could let the flight attendant know that you are deaf and they will tell you if something happens during the flight and if there's a destination change, although a Deaf friend of mine had a destination change during the flight, and while they announced it over the loudspeaker on the plane, no one communicated that to her.  She only knew about the change when they landed at a different airport and she looked out the window!  That would be frightening.  Also, at big airports, they frequently announce over the loudspeaker which baggage carousal the luggage will be on, or where to find the gates connecting flights.
     Finally, the TSA links for a more information:
     And, of course, please check your personal airline's webpage.  It may have more information on what you can expect or do to ensure a successful, happy, stress-free (unless you're traveling with my mom!) flight.
     Have a safe flight!

Me, after security, not looking at stressed out Mom!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Music to My Ears

     My musical history started well before I was talking, before anyone knew I was deaf.  Music is how I told my parents I could not hear.
     While I cannot hear high frequency sounds at all, even with hearing aids, I can hear low frequency tones fairly well.  Knowing this now, it's not surprising that when I was one and stumbled upon my grandparents' piano, I only played the very low end of the piano.  My family, who did not yet know I was deaf, thought it was quite odd that I never played anything above Middle "C."
      Despite not being able to hear all the notes of music, I appreciate the sounds I do hear, both with and without hearing aids.  I look up lyrics to sing along, albeit off-key, and I like making up my own music, listening to music, and playing a variety of instruments.
     I loved music classes in grade school, and I was excited to start orchestra in fourth grade.  Playing my mom's vintage (sorry mom!) violin with the orchestra was fun and exciting, but practicing was not.  My orchestra teacher suggested taking some private lessons, which helped me a great deal.  I learned about rhythm, counting, reading notes, clefs, measures, and a wee bit of Italian.  Forte!!!  Staccato! (Loud!!!  Short!)
     Until middle school, I had a rocky, but stable working relationship with my hearing aids.  Once I received new hearing aids, the violin became an unintended casualty.  The E-string, so close to my ears, made my new hearing aids go cray-cray.  My music teachers then helped me transition to the viola, which has a lower pitch.  This worked until my hearing aids were tweaked so I could hear more high frequency sounds.  Great for speech--not so great for music.  Once again, the high notes became painful, so at last I transitioned to the cello.
     My middle school orchestra teacher then taught me cello, and my hearing aids gave no complaints.  Why would they?  The cello sounds beautiful and is nowhere near my ears.  After getting new hearing aids, I often joke, maybe I need to go to the double bass!  But why would I?  My hearing aids are happy with the cello, and the bass would not fit in the car!
     Music to my ears!

P. S.  In case you didn't know this about me already, my favorite color is orange.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Intro to Turtles

     Woohoo!  The end is near!
     But before blissful moments of summer, there are tons of obstacles in the way, in the form of AP exams and finals.  Groan.  Due to preparing for these exams, I have not been able to keep up my regular blog posting schedule for the past few months.  Please accept my most sincerest apologies.  But I have big plans over the summer to write fantastics blog postings and maybe even write twice a month!  Oooh!
     April's blog is an essay written by yours truly.  This story was written in response to an unusual college application prompt, where I was able to create my own question then answer it in 500 words or less; it goes like this:
     "The Chinese calendar assigns animals to different years on a twelve-year rotation.  The Greek zodiac assigns a constellation that represents an animal or legend according to the month of your birth.  Some pagan religions have spirit animals.  All these animals are supposed to represent traits and influence your personality.  Describe what animal most defines who you are or want to be.  Why?"
     My response to this prompt is aptly title "Turtles," and once you read, you'll see why.

Thursday, April 30, 2015


     I am an Ox according to Chinese zodiac year.  I am a Leo according to the Greek zodiac.  I am a butterfly according to an on-line spirit animal questionnaire.  I used to be a turtle, but not any more.
     In middle school, I was a turtle.  Physically, I looked like a turtle.  I hunched over my books, made myself as small as possible, and avoided any eye contact.  Mentally, I behaved like a turtle.  I was so afraid of miscommunicating, of being myself, of making any mistakes, of expressing my personality, and just being around other people.  I was paranoid that everyone would misunderstand my speech, or vice versa.   I was fearful that people would bully me or reject me.  So I closed everyone out, too afraid to come out of my shell.  All I wanted was a quiet little corner with a book.
     My mom fussed at me daily to “stand up straighter” and “get out of your shell.”  Her voice became ingrained in my head and I started to venture out little by little.  Over time, I realized that my shell was more than a little unnecessary.  I underwent a transition from not talking at all to saying hello to people in the hallway.  I still had my armor on, but my head was out; and I learned that not everything I was afraid of was justified.  Not all people were bullies, my friends were not bullies, and I realized I was making myself be rejected by closing everyone out.
     By high school, I was a little bolder, more socially active.  I challenged myself to speak up in class, and to greet everyone who passed me in hallways.  Eventually, I almost outgrew my shell.  Almost.
     I am still a little bit hesitant in new or odd or strange situations.  For example, none of my closest friends wanted to go to prom, so I went alone.  I was fearful of going, but went anyways.  (Read April 2014 and May 2014 blogs.)  Completely nerve-wracking, and I made more than one trip to the bathroom to calm down when I started to panic.  If I still had my turtle shell on instead of my fabulous prom dress, I probably would not have gone at all, or would have stayed five seconds tops.  But I wanted to challenge myself, and live the whole prom experience.  I managed to stay there for an hour and even spent 20 minutes dancing without freaking out!  When I reflected on my experience I realized that my inexplicable fear was, in fact, irrational.  When I came upon this phrase from Franklin D. Roosevelt's first inaugural address, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” it resonated with me.  This mantra also helped me get through my first job interview; I paced back and forth outside the interview room about five, six, I lost count of how many, times before I worked up the courage to walk in.  I told myself “the only thing I had to fear was fear itself.”  Outgrowing my shell, my fear, is a work in progress, but it is how I now approach the world.
     If I am outgrowing my shell, I can’t exactly be a turtle anymore.  So what am I?  There is one animal that I aspire to emulate every day.  An animal that is excited, enthusiastic, loving, and thinks everyday is his birthday.  A dog, more specifically my 18-pound bundle of love, Oreo.  Everyday I try to be excited and enthusiastic about what I am doing, to be friendly with people and live in the moment and be happy.  Underneath the too-small shell is a little puppy just waiting to break out and enjoy the world.