I am so grateful for the insights bestowed by my deaf adventure. I am a better man than I have ever been because of it.
“ALDA” is the Association of Late-Deafened Adults—a global membership of people who are deaf or hard of hearing; and most who, like me, lost the gift of crystal sound in their adult lifetime. Their, er… our 2012 International “ALDAcon” annual conference was held in Columbia, South Carolina.
On Friday, October 19—on my 51st birthday it so happened— I presented as Keynote Speaker at the kickoff luncheon. I also gave a workshop on “Perseverance” later that afternoon.
And so I stood, giving a speech to an audience who mostly couldn’t hear me, but who understood every word I said; and imploring triumph over disability, isolation and prejudice to courageous fighters who know far more about those subjects than I.
I am a newbie member but was welcomed as if I had always belonged. Indeed, ALDA’s claim to fame is outreach to deafened individuals regardless of age or onset or communication mode. The wonderful idea is to provide late-deafened adults of all walks a forum to interact without being uncomfortable about our deafness. ALDA accepts, respects and applauds how we with hearing loss choose to handle it. “Whatever works!” is the ALDA mantra.
What am I doing here?
It certainly worked for me. Still it was surreal. I never imagined in my wildest dreams that this would be my stake. The sensation hit me often during the conference—What am I doing here?
I still wake each morning startled by silence. I get a pang, “My God, I’m deaf!” then start my day.
See, I am also an amateur deafened adult. Two years deaf is not a long time. I still wake each morning startled by silence. I get a pang, “My God, I’m deaf!” then start my day. And, to my own detriment, I don’t interact enough with deaf and hard of hearing friends. Instead, I muddle and strain to stay connected with a world that can hear just fine, thanks—the only world I knew, until it went suddenly and profoundly silent.
I offer a message of perseverance and triumph and I mean every word. But I am still stunned a bit that I am where I am as I am.
I was an ambitious careerist, righteous debater for high-performance workplaces and bottom-line guy. Now I scrape for myself and speak to advocacy groups about what it’s like unable to hear. Yes, I offer a message of perseverance and triumph and I mean every word. I strive to live it too. But I am still stunned a bit that I am where I am as I am.
And so it was at ALDAcon as I concluded my workshop on “Perseverance”. I thought, it went well, but I honestly wasn’t sure. The vast majority of my audience relies on CART captions or sign interpreters to “hear” me and I don’t know how that comes off. I know how it looks to me when I am in the audience ‘listening’ to another lecturer via captions—and it’s not anything the same as hearing a speaker, you know, speak.
Who Inspires Whom?
Thus pondering my fate and my performance, I was shaking a few hands as people were leaving. That’s when Kristin K. Stansell introduced herself to me. I noticed Kristin earlier at the conference. She was alternately using an electronic wheel chair and elaborate walker, ever accompanied by caretakers—her parents, I think.
It’s obvious that Kristin has multiple physical challenges beyond deaf and hard of hearing, including with vision, mobility and vocal coordination. She communicates primarily using an electronic display and type-pad affixed to her wheelchair. Kristin had tapped out a message and seemed childlike-eager for me to read it.
The gist was that she enjoyed my presentation and felt inspired. She spoke of her own passion to overcome obstacles. She mentioned that her deafness and other physical difficulties were the result of an accident many years before. She said, like me, that she aspired to write a book about her adventure. Miracle Girl, she called it.*
And then Kristin with exuberance and ingenuous enthusiasm thanked me for inspiring her to continue to persevere.
I looked up from the type-pad display to Kristin’s expectant beaming smile. Inspiring you? That dreamlike sensation (What I am doing here?) came strong, punctuated by joyful realization that there was no place on earth I would rather be.
That sensation (What I am doing here?) came strong, punctuated by joyful realization that there was no place on earth I would rather be.
I swallowed hard as my heart connected with the sound of success in a way that my ears once-hearing never did. My gratitude for that very moment was…is, well, impossible to describe. All I could manage was, “Thank you Kristin. You inspire me too.”
Thus, at the tender age of 51 on my birthday, I am blessed humble again at what true success is really all about. And I am so grateful for the insights bestowed by my deaf adventure. I am a better man than I have ever been because of it.. *Miracle Girl Kristin Stansell was 25 years old and a graduate student at University of St. Andrews in Scotland when she was seriously injured in a motor vehicle accident on March 23, 2005. She was in a coma for four months and suffered traumatic brain injury (TBI). Her courageous battle and ingenuous, often inspiring account are chronicled on her CaringBridge.org web site at http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/kristinstansell A synopsis of her own story—A Journey of Recovery—is here: http://www.braininjurypeervisitor.org/index.php?p=1_63 The title of the book that Kristin aspires to write is “Miracle Girl.” I’ll say. Be Inspired!