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)!