I went to school differently than most students of a disability do today. Back then, the Americans with Disabilities Act was on the forefront. Some doctors would advise that we be sent away to a boarding school for the Deaf or
“solitary” you say. Just because no one knew exactly what to do with us. Remember, things were waaaaay different back then.
I owe a ton to everyone who fought for me to be as normal as everyone else. Teachers, teachers aides, audiologists, speech pathologists, Family, and mostly I owe all this to my mom. Okay. My mother was the real backbone behind this whole story. Huge deal here okay?
At first, it was at a catholic school called Archbishop Ryan School for the Deaf in Philadelphia. I was probably there for about 5 years. I would arrive in the morning, they’d make me take my personal hearing aids off, put it in a safe place and put the classroom “hearing aid” on. I wore this old school box strapped in the front with strings attached to an extremely hard ear mold that either hurt my ears or fell out constantly. It was connected to the teacher’s mic and the whole class would hear the same thing. Classes were taught in sign language and speech. I remembered it mostly being sign and reading their lips with no sound. It was a blur. I mostly remember the smiles on the teachers faces and felt really safe being around other deaf or hard-of-hearing students. The endless school trips and that one amazing day trip to Disney World. I still come across some of my former deaf classmates to this day. (Facebook is amazing.)
Did I mentioned my single mother drove across the Walt Whitman bridge from work in Philadelphia after a night shift, got me dressed all pretty for school, drive back to Philadelphia from our home in New Jersey, drop me off at school, slept in the car all day long, only to do it all over again. At the time, the school was in a rough neighborhood too.
Few years go by, I’m finally in a public school system closer to home. This time, I’m the only deaf student. The classroom hearing aid technology improved. This time I didn’t have to take my hearing aids out but use those snap on that connected to it and the teacher wore a mic. I was set back a grade behind. I constantly had to be taken out of the classroom to attend speech lessons and all these psychological tests. The kind of tests that would blow everyone out of the water because I’d score higher than most students, even hearing students. I probably acted excited every time but the truth is it killed me inside. I hated the idea that kids were snickering at me and learning new things behind my back. I was also behind on grammar and reading. Comprehension exams were so brutal. Trying to listen to the teacher was like being in a trance because it is effing overwhelming. I had countless in class aides sitting by my side. All I want to do is go home and sleep.
I hated being told “Did you hear that?” “Are you getting all this?” “Come with me now, we’re going to a private room.” “Sorry we don’t have captions.” “Is this loud enough though?” “You need to listen.” And all I hear is blah blah blah! Headache! Poke my eyes out! Everyone wants to patronize you. Daily. Because you’re this small. Tiny little peanut.
It was one reason I look forward to dance at the end of the day. Just dance and dance and dance. Peacefulness and the music is on. Just move and no one is in your face. Therapy all night long.
This went on through high school. The No Child Left Behind Act was just being passed. I didn’t go to my public high school. This high school was a different kind of school. When I was attending, it was still so new they only had a full time dance, drama, business and transportation program. This was a college prep slashed performing arts high school. The kind you have to take some sort of exams and audition to get in. This was a small class we graduated with. It was perfect. I got to dance every day and take regular academic classes. Ever see “Glee”? Sort of like that but without the football team and slushies in your face.
Students accepted were from all over South Jersey. Truth is, I was still made fun of. It was still hard trying to be a part of the hearing world and finding your place with everyone as best as you can. Text messaging was just coming out at the time and I only could use this TTY phone technology where there’s an operator typing up your conversations. Ugh. Still hate those. Always had trouble and constantly got hung up. If I tried calling a credit card company using CapTel phone or InnoCaption app (a newer form of TTY today), I’m still hung up. You people suck so bad. Take note losers.
I was doing pretty well academically, honor rolls almost every semester, college was in my future. I joined a swim slash diving team to look good on my college resume. By Junior year of High School, I really got sick of those IEP (Individualize Education Program) meetings. I constantly had those meetings. Ever since I was in grade school. It was all about how well I could or couldn’t hear, how well or poorly I was doing on certain subjects, always felt like I was a lab project. Being picked on, always had to be that perfect deaf student in my opinion. I pretty much denied speech lessons by then and wanted more independence that I stopped those teachers wearing the “mic thing”. I needed the independence. I needed to learn all this school thing on my own. Everyone was quite nervous and I constantly had paperwork being filled out. Pffft. Burn that shit.
For some reason, I wanted to leave the state. I definitely wasn’t ready for it but how do you know that? I really really got sick of all this so called “rat race” they had me in that I just wanted to leave town and be on my own. College rolled around and we settled on attending Towson University in Maryland which was only two hours from home. Two states away but not too far not to close, just perfect.
I probably took the SATs a million times and could never get that perfect score. We didn’t even have the written portion at the time. Remember what I said about comprehension exams? Awful. My math and english sucked balls. I was never getting into college! I auditioned for the dance program and was waitlisted. What is going on?! Is this for me? How does this deaf Honor Roll student who excelled in almost everything she did not get into college? I applied to several others as well. Can you guess? Rejected! I really wanted to go to Towson University because of how diverse it was and the type of program options they had. I had no idea how hard getting into college would be. There was absolutely no way I could go to a community college. I just didn’t see it in myself. I knew I was way better than that. Yes. Call me selfish.
I eventually got in TU with my mother’s never ending tireless support and help. Both academically and dance. Now I was in for a crazy ride the next four years. Of course, I had to register myself with the disability service. In order to get “help” in classrooms. Roll eyes. At the time, the kind of help was a note taker. This person would be taking the same class but I would have the “privilege” of using this persons notes. They get paid at the end of the semester. For giving me their notes. Teachers had to provide closed captions for videos. Some of the videos they show were very old school that didn’t even have closed caption technology at the time. That wasn’t the worst part. Professors would be from different countries and their English wasn’t very good. Honestly, I almost cried every day. Some don’t even move their lips. I wasn’t going to be the only student calling them out on it.
I switched majors 3 times. I knew what I wanted but didn’t really know what I want to do. Make sense? The medical programs were super hard to get into, even my 3.4 GPA didn’t cut it. In the end, I decided to graduate with Psychology. The kind of degree that was flexible in my chosen career at the time. I even had almost enough credits for a biology and dance minor but honestly, I was done with this school shit. So done. I was even inducted in the International Disability Honor Society. Go me.
Fast forward, almost 8 years later….I went back to school to become a Dental Hygienist. It was probably the hardest thing I ever did. I cried almost every single day. Up until I got my email from the boards that I’ve passed. My poor husband probably had enough tears shed on his shoulder, enough to cause a flood.
But this time it was different. The hands on stuff? Everyone wore a mask. What did I get myself into? I knew this would be a challenge but it was even more of a challenge to explain why they need to be removed when you’re speaking. Especially TEACHING. I get the asepsis stuff. I do.
The classroom stuff was pretty rigorous as well. There was newer technology this time for me. I would bring my laptop in, teachers would wear the mic that’s Bluetooth connecting to this person in another state, another time zone, listening to everything they say and type up word for word. I’d read everything live and get a copy of the transcript at the end of the night. After two semesters of this, I gave up. It was more work for me because this person would be yelling at me to tell the instructors to slow down. Their power is out. Their dog died. They’re sick. They forgot? Ecetera, ecetera! I started realizing everything I needed to learn was in the text books and PowerPoints. Duh. Gave everything back to Disability Service and never looked behind. Peace! And my grades went up. Magic how that happened.
I would usually get in a study group and go over a lot of the stuff anyway. Study groups can be difficult when you’re in a group of 5 or 10 and everyone is yelling at each other. Small groups Amanda! I learned better that way. 3 is good and you’re still learning. I used to be there everyday from 7 am to 7 pm at night. It was always eat, sleep (barely), caffeine, study daily.
Clinical days got better. At first, no one understood me as a deaf student. It was hard enough to explain yourself and the minor need for mask removal was a task. I was constantly judged in front of classmates and patients. They’ve never had a deaf student. That was understandable but again, still faced with the adversity. It was tough. I cried. A lot. I’m pretty good about having a thick skin but some days the cards have been dealt. This time there was no dance class to attend. Crossfit was there. Best stress reliever.
It’s hard enough because when you talk about these things to a hearing person, all they tell you is to stand up for yourself….No one will ever dare walk a mile in your shoes and tell you that again. No one will ever understand and will never be able to really. We have senses that are heightened in other areas and can almost read how cruel a person can be in ways a hearing person doesn’t. Again, gotta be in my shoes.
While technology has improved so much these days, there’s still classroom discussions you miss, everyone talking at once, mouth being covered, while those things seem so minor to you, it’s a huge deal for us with hearing loss. Someone once told me, if it’s not scary, you’re not really going after your dreams. It has been scary all my life!