Thursday, December 28, 2006

Remembering Who Helped You

This morning, while waiting for an email to show up, I did my usual surfing the net for new writers who are deaf and hard of hearing.

I stumbled upon Stephen Hopson's Squidoo Lens: Adversity University. This lead me to his blog which stated: I'm a former award-winning Wall Street stockbroker turned motivational speaker, writer and pilot. In Feb 2006, I became the first deaf pilot in in the world to earn an instrument rating.

I especially enjoyed his article, "Remember Who Helped You Along The Way." There are two itinerant teachers who stand out in my memory: Mrs. Rellis and Mrs. Sweeney. Mrs. Rellis worked with me during my first two years in high school. At first, I did not enjoy our sessions. I didn't like being pulled out of class for "extra help." Mrs. Rellis didn't give up. She quickly learned to make our sessions fun and informative. She taught me a few words in Italian as she related her plans for a trip to Italy. She found ways to talk to me about my feelings and gently made me face the issues I had with being hard of hearing. She connected me to Shawn, another student who also had hearing aids and she became my first friend that I could truly relate to about hearing loss.

I was heartbroken when Mrs. Rellis told me that I was getting a new teacher two years later, but I learned to enjoy Mrs. Sweeney as well. Mrs. Sweeney discovered my love for writing and she encouraged me to write in different ways. During our final session at the end of high school, she took me out to lunch and presented me with a blank journal. That journal is one of my treasured possessions today.

So, as Stephen Hopson suggested, remember who helped you along the way. Do you have a story to share about a special someone?

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays to everyone!

We just returned from Michigan and Oak Forest, spending time with both sides of the family. I'm looking forward to having the kids at home for the next two weeks. The house is filled with the usual after-Christmas chaos, half of the stuff here and the other half there and one happy chew-anything dog who is getting into everything. The kids are already clamoring for batteries, screwdrivers and scissors and it's only eight a.m.

I'm crawling back into bed instead.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Working as a Deaf Mentor

When people ask me, "What do you do," I usually reply that I work in early intervention. I work as a Deaf Mentor. The definition, from the Hearing and Vision Connections website is: Deaf Mentors are enrolled under Family Support, but are not credentialed. They are available to go into the home, ideally working in close coordination with a DT(Developmental Therapist)/Hearing provider, to share personal experiences, teach sign language or the family's chosen method of communication, and introduce information about having a hearing loss, the Deaf community and Deaf culture.

I have been doing this for three years, serving about 25 families from birth to age three. I am seeing a major trend: the majority of families with babies with profound hearing loss are choosing implants. In Chicago recently, a seven-month old baby received two cochlear implants . Some of the kids with implants take right off with listening and spoken language. For others, it's a slower process and the results are not as immediate. For some families, the implant does not work for their child.

I really do enjoy working with the variety of families on a weekly or monthly basis but I'm sometimes the resource of last resort. Sometimes I will receive referrals to families when the children are almost three. Some of the families are quite a distance from my home, so I'm often on the road for long periods of time. I'm self-employed, which means that I handle my own billing and take a tax write off on the number of miles I commute.

The most rewarding aspect of the job is seeing the communication and language development that happens with each child and family. I love it when a mom or dad tells me, "My child said/signed 'I love you!'"

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Reflections of a Basketball Game

Steven, my youngest kiddo, had a basketball game on Saturday and we headed over to the gym a few minutes before game time. The night before, he came up to me and said, "I don't want to go to the game, Mom."

So we sat down to talk about it.

Turns out, he becomes extremely nervous before the games. He's an excellent athlete, but the jumbling of nerves gets in the way of his playing skill. "I don't want to play basketball anymore," he declared.

My heart sank. I knew that he really loved to play because he was a totally different kid at the local YMCA, when playing for fun with his family. What was really going on? Could it be, I suspected, the difficulty with understanding what was being said during the game?

Steven has a moderate-to-severe hearing loss. He is able to use his voice well, which leads others to think that he can understand conversation at every level in every situation.

Not so.

Let me share my experience. I teach a class in Conversational Sign Language at the local community college. A few weeks ago, we combined classes with another instructor and showed a video by Peter Cook. During the discussion afterwards, a question about varying types of hearing loss came up. I explained that I was completely deaf without my hearing aids but that my hearing aids gave me access to environmental sounds. I rely almost 100% on lipreading in conversations.

"But how can that be," asked one student. "You speak so well."

So I asked the student to say something to me while I turned around. "Eye Are a oyee ahin ee ah."

Turns out she said, "Hi Karen, thank you for teaching class."

The student had a speechless look on her face. Suddenly, she understood what things sounded like to me and how much information had to be delivered visually for communication.

I hear mostly vowels. Lipreading/speechreading gives me visual clues which I piece together with the sounds coming in and fill in the blanks by understanding the context of what is being said. You can read more about it here: Yo, I'm Deaf!

While Steven hears much better than I ever did while growing up, I suspected that he was losing his ability to discriminate words. I was right; a recent hearing test showed that his ability to understand words by hearing alone dropped to about 38 percent.

It was too late to grab an interpreter for Saturday's game so I talked with the coach. I explained about the drop in Steven's ability to comprehend speech. The coach shared that he was totally deaf in one ear, something that he didn't tell us before. So he took Steven aside and told him and Steven's face lit up. He suddenly had a connection with the coach that he didn't have before and it seemed to put him at ease a bit.

Yet, the jumble of nerves was still there as Steven started the game. I had to sit back and remind myself that he was kid, that perhaps this would be the same thing we'd face even if he had normal hearing. Sometimes it's hard to figure out the difference.

But anyway, let me brag. Steven's team won the game and he made one beautiful, swish shot from near the three-point line.

That's my boy.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Karen Meyer-- A Chicago Reporter Who is Deaf

Tune into WLS Channel 7 in the Chicago area on Thursdays and Sundays and you'll find Karen Meyer reporting on people with disabilities.

Karen is deaf and has been doing the news since 1991, producing 104 stories per year. The current news segments can be viewed weekly, with the links to older stories found here: Karen Meyer News Segments.

For more information about Karen: Achieving Dreams Through Persistance.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The BookHands Holiday Pick

On Saturday night, ten of us from the BookHands book club gathered at my house for our annual holiday party.

The book for the night was Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog a beautifully-written story about a loveable yellow lab named Marley. Everyone gave it a thumbs up, including the gals who never had a dog as a pet.

During the discussion, we shared stories of our own pets. One of the gals, Patti, brought in pictures of her dogs. Years ago, she owned a lab named Penny, who was so like Marley that she felt she could have written the same book. She was newly married and her husband wasn't particularly fond of Penny. One day, Penny tugged at some newspaper on the floor and tipped over a can of white paint that was loosely covered. Paint seeped into the wooden floor. Patti cleaned up the paint the best she could, but they ended up refinishing the floor. Her husband wasn't too pleased, but over the years, he learned to accept Penny as part of the family.

If there's one book that you buy for the holidays-- pick up Marley and Me. I enjoyed this book so much that I had to share an Epinion: Marley and Me, Your Heart Will Be Captured.

On another note, this weekend was a weekend of splurging on chocolate and cookies in a major way. Lauren attended a birthday party where the girls made cookies for several hours. Here's what she brought home:

Needless to say, there isn't much left on Monday morning.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

A Mother-Son Bonding Moment

I had a bonding moment with my 13-year-old son recently. A few weeks ago, I casually mentioned that he might like the Weird Al Yankovic videos and songs. He gave me his customary eye-roll and his "W" sign for Whatever, Mom.

I loved the Weird Al parodies of Michael Jackson's Eat It and Thriller songs when I was a few years (ahem!) younger. Back then, I had to beg a friend to write down lyrics to songs and none of the videos were captioned on MTV.

Then a few days ago, David excitedly motioned me to come into the office. "Look mom, you gotta see this. It's hilarious!" On the computer screen he pulled up Weird Al's White and Nerdy. Being the typical clueless Mom, I had never heard of Ridin' Dirty by Charmillionaire, the song that is parodied by Weird Al. David pulled up the lyrics and started the video.

They see me mowin' my front lawn
I know they're all thinkin' I'm so
White and nerdy

Think I'm just too white and nerdy
Think I'm just too white and nerdy
Can't you see I'm white and nerdy
Look at me I'm white and nerdy

I wanna roll with the gangstas
But so far they all think I'm too
White and nerdy

And there's Weird Al, dressed up quite nerdy, extending his hand out to the gangsters in a convertible, who desperately try to lock the door and peel away quickly.

Hilarious indeed!

We watched the video several times together, laughing so hard that the other kids came in and joined us. We watched Another One Rides The Bus, a parody of "Another One Bites The Dust. "Hey kids," I said, "Do you want to see a video that I used to watch when I was in high school?"

"You mean Weird Al was around back then?" they replied, incredulous.

It was my turn to roll the eyes.

So we watched "Beat It." (The kids were amazed at how normal Michael Jackson looked back then!). Then we roared with laughter at Weird Al's "Eat It."

Yes, it would have been much better if the video was captioned on the internet. I'm just so glad that my kids can instantly look up lyrics. I'm glad that they have the ability to adapt the Ipod for use with their hearing aids.

And I'm very thankful for the incredible bonding moment that Weird Al brought us.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

A Very Rare Photo-- Wash Hung Up to Dry

Look closely. Yup, your eyes are not deceiving you. Yes, there's snow on the ground. Someone hung the wash outside on a beautiful, sunny, wintery day.

My mom and my sister are down in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri visiting some relatives. Yup, those are the people that hung up that wash. Relatives of ours.

I grew up helping my mom hang out the wash several times a week. We had a working dryer in the basement, yet my mom chose to hang up the wash on sunny days. She had a system: sheets were hung on the outside lines, our unmentionables were hidden on the inside lines. I used to grumble about having to go outside, gather up the dry clothes and help her fold them. Little did I realize that I was getting my daily dose of Vitamin D and fresh air, a combination that does a body good.

Monday, December 04, 2006

A Weekend of Fun for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Kids

What a Saturday! West Suburban Association of the Deaf and Harper College ASL Club hosted a Holiday Party for 110 kids. Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus were there and gave out stocking stuffers from the WSAD/ASL clubs and frisbees donated by i711/GoAmerica. The kids had a blast jumping in a castle, making crafts, playing games and hitting pinatas. Hotdogs, pizza, salad and cookies were served non-stop. Judging from the smiles on the kids' faces, everyone was having a good time.

Later that night, the Seven Bridges Ice Arena hosted the Disabled Hockey Games, which included a team from the American Hearing Impaired Hockey Association. Somewhere in the blur of skaters, you will find Kurt Bernabei, a future Deaf Olympic hockey player. On another rink there was a sled hockey competition for hockey players with mobility disabilities.

Friday, December 01, 2006

I MacGyvered the Snowblower!

This morning, we woke up to several inches of snow. The kids excitedly jumped into their snowsuits at eight in the morning and began shoveling the driveway. When I arrived outside, I was amazed at how much snow covered our cul-de-sac.

The hubby tried to start the snowblower last night to no avail. I figured I would give it a try. The primer button was all cracked, but the electric starter roared to life. The machine just wouldn't start and get going. With no way to prime it, I couldn't get the gas moving through.

"What would MacGyver do?" I muttered to myself. For those of you with no clue, MacGyver was a show in the 1980's that featured Richard Dean Anderson as a special agent who used common objects to fight crime and get himself out of tight situations. Candy bars, paper clips, gum were some of the items he used, often with just seconds to spare before disaster would happen.

So I looked at the primer button and discovered that I needed to create some kind of suction or forced air to get the gas moving. The bicycle pump! I searched all over the garage but couldn't find it. My eyes settled on the leaf blower. Nah, too powerful. I looked at the primer button again. There was a hole as wide as the end of a paper clip. A straw, I thought to myself. I can blow through a straw...

On the way to the kitchen, I suddenly realized that I had the perfect tool to use on the primer: the hearing aid tube blower.

And sure enough, one squeeze of the bulb blower and the snowblower roared to life!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Are Restaurants Your Second Home?

I recently discovered and it is a great site to get gift certificates for local restaurants at deep discounts. No gimmicks-- simply purchase a $25 gift certificate for $10 and head out to any of the many restaurants listed on the site. Click the link above for details on restaurants covered by this program.

Joe and I like to eat out often and this is a great way for us to sample different restaurants without paying full price.

Fortunately, Domo 77 is not one of the restaurants listed-- because I certainly won't be going back there: What Are We, Chopped Liver?

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Deaf Doc is In!

It's that time of the year when we get hit with the usual alphabet soup of winter ills: bronchitis, colds, flu and more. Dr. Carolyn Stern has a brand new medical website, DeafDOC, filled with information on a variety of health topics. Dr. Stern is a board certified family physician who practices in Rochester, New York. The unique aspect of this website: the information is given in American Sign Language as well as voiced and captioned.

I first met Dr. Stern when she practiced at Lutheran General in the Chicago area several years ago. I was filled with a lot of questions, such as how to hear a heartbeat (she uses an amplified stethoscope) and how to measure blood pressure (it can also be measured manually through the hands). At that time, I was learning how to become a doula and had the opportunity to attend several births, including a home waterbirth. I was toying with the idea of a career in the birthing field. Dr. Stern was an inspiration, as she was catching babies and serving entire families with her practice. As it turned out, I pursued early intervention instead and got involved with Hands & Voices.

Dr. Stern has a section on her website where you can Ask the Doc and get some feedback on your health concerns. She is also available as a speaker and a consultant.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Midwest Center for Law and the Deaf Fundraising Bash

On Thursday, November 22, the annual Midwest Center for Law and the Deaf fundraiser was held at Prairie Rock restaurant in Schaumburg. The Midwest Center for Law and the Deaf, or MCLD as it is known among Chicagoans, was created by Chicago attorney Howard Rosenblum. The non-profit organization:

--Trains and recruits attorneys to serve the unique needs of deaf and hard of hearing clients
--Educates deaf and hard of hearing people on their rights
--Trains interpreters on how to deal with the unique challenges of working within a courtroom or other legal settings
--Provides resources to families and friends of deaf and hard of hearing people
--Prepares law enforcement officers to effectively communicate with deaf and hard of hearing people
--Aids courts in ensuring full access to the justice system by deaf and hard of hearing parties, attorneys, witnesses, jurors, and spectators.

The annual fundraiser covers the cost of a part-time staff person and services offered by MCLD. Howard works tirelessly year after year to ensure that deaf and hard of hearing persons have access to legal representation. And, as Howard jokes, "so that deaf people can sue other deaf people."

So this year, if you're looking for a charitable contribution, the Midwest Center for Law and the Deaf is an organization worthy of donations.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Mom's Night Inn-- What a Blast!

The 2006 Mom's Night Inn hosted by Illinois Hands & Voices was held on Friday, November 17th and Saturday, November 18th. Thirty four moms of deaf and hard of hearing kids gathered together for a night of connecting, sharing and laughing.

We started off with introductions and then jumped right into an interactive presentation, "Taking a Trip Down Guilty Lane, How to Arrive in Paradise Instead." Motherhood and guilt, they go hand-in-hand. To ease any guilt that remained, we finished off the evening with massages, manicures, crafts and food.

After Saturday morning's breakfast, we sat back to listen to a group of panelist share their life's experiences. Ben Lachman, Erika Lohmiller, Tony Abou Ezzi and Carol Nemecek answered question after question from the moms and gave some great advice. The panelists had a varied background: Cued Speech, American Sign Language, spoken language and simultaneous communication.

The feedback from the moms echoed the same sentiment over and over: "It was so wonderful to connect with other moms of deaf and hard of hearing children."

And of course, everyone enjoyed the huge wicker basket filled with chocolate that we served non-stop throughout the event.

Check out the experience of Juliet Martinez, one of the moms who attended: I Just Needed a Slumber Party!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Lions Club

This week, I was invited to attend a Batavia Lions Club meeting and introduce Illinois Hands & Voices to their members. The Lions provided a delicious dinner and an interpreter.

There were thirteen Lions in attendance, with the majority of them over the age of sixty. The Lions president, Todd McPencow, however was a young guy who fit right in and seemed very comfortable with his ability to lead. As I sat there watching the proceedings, I was struck by a sense of honor and commitment from the men in the room. The Lions Clubs are known for their fundraisers and support for people with vision and hearing loss. It is considered an high honor to be invited to join as a member of the Lions.

Each local Lions Club sends funds to the Lions of Illinois Foundation which runs the Camp Lions in three locations in Illinois. This year, Camp Lions of Illinois will be celebrating their 50th year of camp. With 700 Lions Clubs around Illinois, the fundraising covers the cost of camp for every camper; each camper is required to bring just $15 to spend at the camp store and cover the cost of a camp group picture.

I worked as a camp counselor back in my college days and I have fond memories of camp. My kids have attended Camp Lions for two years in a row, and it continues to be one of the activities that they talk about the most throughout the year. At Camp Lions, it doesn't matter whether you sign, speak or cue-- the most important thing is fun.

The Lions have always been a generous group, including the Bolingbrook Lions Club which provided hearing aids for my family one year and a laptop for our local deaf club, West Suburban Association of the Deaf.

After I shared information about Illinois Hands & Voices and Hands & Voices National, the Batavia Lions concluded the meeting with a very generous donation.

To all of the Lions who work tirelessly to help the communities they serve, thank you.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Chicago Hearing Society Celebrates 90 Years

Chicago Hearing Society hosted a 90th Anniversary celebration on November 9, 2006. Chicago Hearing Society has a special place in my heart because I did my graduate internship in the Social Services and Counseling department almost twenty years ago. It was there that I met Ed Hudson and we had lunch together nearly every day. Ed died in a plane crash several years ago, but when I look back at my time at CHS-- I always remember Ed.

I. King Jordan was scheduled as the keynote speaker, but due to the events at Gallaudet, he was not able to attend. Instead, Bill Graham, one of the founders of the Association for Late-Deafened Adults filled in. I first met Bill back in the early 90's, when I attended one of the first ALDA conventions in Chicago. I've always enjoyed his wry humor and his wonderful way with words.

Chicago Hearing Society put together a slide show covering 90 years of its history. The early pictures showed a group of deaf, hard of hearing and hearing persons gathered in a room. The vision back then was simple: to provide a social connection and a goal of working together to improve the lives of deaf and hard of hearing persons. That goal is still alive today, with CHS providing a variety of services to every segment of the deaf and hard of hearing population.

One person who simply doesn't get enough KUDOs is June Prusak. June is the Youth Coordinator at CHS and she has tirelessly planned events for deaf and hard of hearing kids all over Chicagoland. Someday, the kids she serves will be pushing her wheelchair and June will still be leading them with a smile.

Howard Rosenblum-- Chicago's famous deaf attorney

Karen and Bill Graham

CHS Volunteers

Friday, November 10, 2006

Lowell Myers-- A Lawyer Who Inspired Another

Lowell Myers, a deaf attorney who practiced in the Chicago area for years, has passed away. Myers was known for handling a case for Donald Lang, a deaf man with minimal language skills who was accused of murder. The case was later chronicled in the 1979 made-for-TV movie titled, "Dummy."

His obituary can be accessed here: Lowell J. Myers.
Chicago is home to another deaf attorney, Howard Rosenblum, who credits Myers as his inspiration to become a lawyer as well.

"Lowell Myers was a pioneer," says Howard. "He became an accountant AND a lawyer at a time when many deaf people were unable to overcome barriers to education. Mr. Myers just did not see barriers, only opportunities. Even when the Dean of John Marshall Law School told him that he could not be a lawyer because of his deafness, he did not see a barrier. Mr. Myers simply convinced the Dean to give him a chance. Not only did he graduate from law school, but he did so well that he was among the top students in the school. He did this without interpreters or any other kind of accommodation. He worked as a lawyer for many years without the benefit of the ADA or other disability rights laws. Mr. Myers just did not let such barriers stop him.

Mr. Myers also helped others see opportunities. When he came to speak about his experiences as a lawyer at an event in 1978, a twelve-year-old deaf boy saw the same opportunity that Mr. Myers saw for himself. That boy was me, and thanks to Mr. Myers, I became a lawyer 14 years later. Lowell Myers, wherever you are now, thank you for being an inspiration."

Howard works for Equip for Equality in Chicago and runs the Midwest Center for Law and the Deaf.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

When the Kids Grab the Camera...

I was going through the photo files this morning in an effort to weed out some bad photos and back everything up with a new external hard drive we recently purchased. After wading through a couple of thousand photographs, I discovered that the kids had grabbed the camera and played around with it.

It's a little late for Halloween, but they came up with some good ones:

Friday, November 03, 2006

Ten Hearing Aids-- Never a Dull Moment


Come here.

Want a hot stock tip?

Invest in a battery company.

In my household, we have to keep track of ten hearing aids. The hubby and I have four, and the three kids have six hearing aids. We have an entire kitchen drawer that is devoted to packs of batteries and extra tubes. The drawers are littered with the little orange tabs that are stuck to each battery. Try as I might, I haven't been able to successfully train my kids to walk over to the garbage can (which is right across from the very kitchen drawer I spoke of) and dispose of the sticky orange tab. Instead, the drawer organizer and the cardboard packages are decorated in a random orange pattern.

One day, I took the hubby's car and on my way to a presentation, a battery went out. I changed the battery and stuck the little orange tab on the front of the steering wheel, intending to toss it when I arrived home. I promptly forgot about it until the next time I got in the car a few days later. The bright orange tab was still stuck to the middle of the steering wheel. Apparently the entire family suffers from "Orange Tab Disorder."

Despite their inability to locate garbage cans, the kids have managed to keep track of their hearing aids pretty well. Occasionally, we do have to play "Hunt for the Hearing Aid" around our house. My husband is especially good at initiating this game, for he frequently takes off one hearing aid and forgets just where he put it. This wouldn't be a problem if I kept an immaculate house, but I tend to favor piles of books and papers in random places, so we're often sifting through things around the house to try and locate a hearing aid.

With the addition of our puppy in January, we've had to be more vigilant about keeping hearing aids out of Kaycie's reach. This past summer, I was giving David a haircut outside and he placed his hearing aids on the patio steps. He went inside to take a shower and came out looking for his hearing aids. I had let Kaycie outside, not knowing that his hearing aids were out there. You guessed it-- we found Kaycie outside munching on an earmold. The hearing aids were nowhere to be seen. We located both earmolds, torn to shreds. After hauling everyone outside to join in the hunting game, we located both hearing aids. Despite a nice bite mark on one of them, they both were in working condition. This is the same kid who jumped into the lake with one hearing aid on during the previous summer. The hubby also had a lake adventure with his hearing aid: he had placed his hearing aid on a towel in the boat and accidently flung it overboard. I was able to locate the hearing aid with a scuba mask a few hours later. Today's hearing aids seem to have nine lives, as we were able to bring them all back with a Dry-Aid kit.

With ten hearing aids to keep track of, it's a miracle that we've only lost one of them. My daughter Lauren was at the library one day (this was when she was 9) and her battery went out. She didn't have a back-up battery with her, so she took off her hearing aid and put it in her sweatshirt pocket. While she was waiting for Daddy to check out the books, she decided to do some gymnastic maneuvers on the floor. When she arrived home, the hearing aid was gone. We scoured the library and the parking lot, but the hearing aid with the bright blue earmold, was never found.

When David was three, I noticed that his hearing aid was missing. We were playing outside, so we figured the hearing aid had to be out in the backyard. Joe and I started searching through the grass. We must have looked pretty comical pacing up and down the backyard trying to locate a tiny hearing aid with a tiny earmold. Soon, the neighbors joined in and we covered every inch of the yard, continuing the search into the night with flashlights. We finally gave up the search two days later and had to order another aid. Many months later, we discovered the hearing aid in the bottom of a wicker toy hamper that had never been emptied.

Five people, ten hearing aids and an earmold-loving dog-- never a dull moment in this household.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Are You a Bluffer?

Have you ever been caught in a conversation where you weren't sure what was going on yet you nodded along, laughed along or excused yourself to head to the bathroom?

Social bluffing. Everyone does it, my neighbors with hearing in the normal range have shared with me. "I'll be at a party," says my neighbor Denise, "and I'll miss something that's being said or my mind is elsewhere and I'll just nod along with the conversation."

Social bluffing is pretending to hear or understand something that is being said, and behaving in a way that shows you understand, even when you have little or no clue as to what is being said. I grew up hard of hearing and it was physically impossible for me to participate in group conversations with school friends, so I learned quickly to bluff my way through conversations just to get through the day.

I can remember this skill emerging back in second grade, when a group of us gathered around the teacher to read about "Curious George." The teacher called on me, but I was so enthralled with the pictures of the monkey and the man in the yellow hat, that I had no idea of the monkey's name or just what the story was about. So I nodded along with the teacher's question and apparently it satisfied her because she kept on reading and calling on others.

I continued to bluff my way through school and in high school, I met another student who also had hearing aids. Shawn and I became fast friends in high school. During our senior year, the high school newspaper published a story on us. More than one student came up to us that day and said, "I didn't know you guys had a hearing loss!" We had bluffed our way through so many situations that others around us didn't realize how much we actually missed.

When I transferred to Northern Illinios University in college, I had become deaf just a few weeks before. As I gradually learned to sign, I found myself using the same bluffing skills in an effort to fit in. I nodded along, pretending to understand someone's signing while desperately trying to soak up the meanings of all the signs. It didn't take me long to figure out that I couldn't bluff with my deaf and hard of hearing friends, and I didn't have to. Once I became proficient, for the first time in my life, I was able to experience full access to a group conversation. Parties took on a whole new meaning. In high school, I would avoid parties and group gatherings, but with my new deaf and hard of hearing friends, I couldn't wait for the next one.

It took a long time to acknowledge a lifetime of bluffing and change the way I access communication. As Lenny Kepil says, "It's a survival skill." I often employ communication strategies and occasionally ask people to write things down. Communication is a two-way street and today, I'm much more assertive in making sure that communication happens the way I need it to.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Gallaudet-- The Board Votes

Gallaudet University's Board of Trustees met on October 29 and voted to terminate the selection of Dr. Jane Fernandes as president.

Perhaps now Gallaudet can get back to the business of educating students. But sadly, the weeks of mudslinging has left Gallaudet with a host of issues that will need to be addressed before any true progress can be made.

The next president is going to have to be one heck of man/woman with an iron heart (to deal with all the stress) and be someone who is going to be able to handle the laundry list of issues that have been showing up in blogs/vlogs around the internet.

Hopefully the next president will be one that embraces every student who attends Gallaudet, regardless of communication ability, use of technology or amount of hearing.

Only then, can true unity begin.

Photo courtesy of Maureen Conroy / Daily Nexus

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Gallaudet-- Chicago Tribune Article

This morning, a friend sent me the link to Listening to the deaf [this is the exact way the title appears on the page] by Clarence Page. It was printed in the Chicago Tribune yesterday and it shows a large picture of smiling protesters and a smaller portrait of Jane Fernandes.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Found a Rather Interesting Thing Outside

As I walked down the driveway to get the mail the other day, I did a double-take:

No, that's not an X-rated picture. It is a pair of mushrooms growing in my yard. Mother Nature has a great sense of humor!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Another Kid, Another Birthday

Eleven years ago, I was hooked up to pitocin and laboring away with my second child. My first child, David, was born via cesarean and I was hoping for a VBAC (vagnal birth after cesarean). I had labored all day and all night. The doc came in at four in the morning and tried a couple of tricks, but nothing worked.

Lauren was born via cesarean and after my husband said, "It's a girl," that was the last thing I remembered. Despite my birth plan of staying awake and not being tied down, the anesthesiologist refused to allow one hand free and he ended up drugging me through the rest of the surgery. I woke up in recovery two hours later shivering, breaking out in hives from the epidural and feeling terrible. What should have been a joyous time with a new daughter got off to a rocky start.

It became even rockier for several months-- what was diagnosed as the "baby blues" was actually post-partum depression. You can read more here: What You Need To Know About Post-Partum Depression.

Thanks to a VBAC support group, I was able to work through my feelings and enjoy my baby daughter. Today, Lauren is celebrating her eleventh birthday. She's a girl after her mother's heart-- a budding writer and a lover of books. She recently taught herself to knit and has discovered volleyball, a sport that I played for many years.

Lauren was born with hearing in the normal range and when she was four, she became sick with a high fever and ended up with a moderate-to-severe hearing loss at the same time her two-year-old brother, Steven did. For Lauren, this was a hard blow. She quickly became frustrated because she couldn't hear her friends on the phone. There was a long period of adjustment, but today, she's a happy kid who learned to use the phone again (love that Captel!) and regularly runs up the phone bill yakking with her friends. She loves email and IM, and uses the videophone to chat with her deaf and hard of hearing friends.

So Happy Birthday to my Pumpkin!

Monday, October 23, 2006

SIGNews--A Newspaper Worth Reading

I discovered SIGNews by accident one day after doing some heavy internet surfing. Browsing the site, I saw a link for a free issue and I promptly signed up for it. After receiving the first issue, I quickly sent in a check for a subscription and I've been enjoying it ever since.

SIGNews has a writing style that is similar to the Deaf Success magazine that ran a few years back but discontinued publishing after the first few issues. In every issue, you will find inspirational stories of deaf and hard of hearing persons in many different kinds of jobs. The current issue features nurses who are deaf.

SIGNews is a publication of CSD (Communication Service for the Deaf) based in South Dakota. While the focus is on those who use American Sign Language, I have found the newspaper to cover a wide variety of communication styles, including a recent article covering a conference for those who use Cued Speech.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Construction Worker Gets An Eyeful

I had lunch with my friend Mary recently. Mary grew up hard of hearing and became deaf as an adult. She is one of the early founders of ALDA--the Association of Late-Deafened Adults.

Mary lives in a beautiful old home that was undergoing some restoration by a company that they've used for several years. One early afternoon, the crew took a break for lunch and Mary decided to take a shower. She looked out the window and saw that all of the trucks were gone, so she figured she was alone in the house. Since it was a short distance from her room to the hall shower, she stripped buck naked, grabbed her clean clothes and headed off to the bathroom.

She came face to face with a lone construction worker who stayed behind to finish up some work.

Startled and red-faced, she continued her short run to the shower.

Fortunately, Mary has a great sense of humor and was able to look back at this and have a good laugh.

As for the construction worker, he probably had a smile on his face the rest of the day.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Gallaudet--On The Outside, Looking In

A fellow writer from Epinions recently sent me an email asking "Do you know why the students oppose the new president so fiercely?"

I was in a hurry and quickly replied, "Protesters don't like Jane-- they say she can't lead, that she's cold and that she's "not deaf enough"(even when it is denied, this comes up). They're also saying that the search process was flawed and racist (many felt that a person of color should have been one of the finalists) and that Jane was hand-picked by the current president."

In a nutshell, that's what I've gathered from a couple of months of reading blogs.

In 1988, the protest back then was about selecting a president who had one thing in common with the students, faculty and alumni: the absense of hearing in the normal range. When Jordan was selected, it seemed that many gathered together to celebrate and a sense of unity developed from the "Deaf President Now" movement. As a result of that movement, many deaf and hard of hearing students from all over decided to enroll in Gallaudet and some of them were students who would have never considered Gallaudet before the protest.

Many people like my friend from Epinions are expressing confusion at the selection of the first female president who has an impressive resume and happens to have a hearing loss. Mike McConnell recently posted Not Deaf Enough--What The World Sees on his blog and his post echoes the feedback that I'm getting from others on the outside.

One of the major differences between the two protests is that anyone off the streets has the ability to blog and post things on websites. The internet is now one huge information source, including vast amounts of gossip and postings that amount to slander. It is difficult to sort through factual information and the stuff that should appear in National Enquirer instead.

What started off as a complaint about a flawed search process has turned into a protest that has a list of issues that are popping up all over and it all has me wondering-- is Gallaudet going to be a place that my three deaf and hard of hearing kids are going to consider? Will Gallaudet be a place of diversity that embraces every deaf and hard of hearing student that wants to attend there?

We'll have to wait and see.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Jordan Cancels "Talk of the Nation" Broadcast

I. King Jordan has been involved with Gallaudet University for forty years and I'm saddened to see the turn of events as he prepares to leave Gallaudet. I have found him to be a wonderful leader who has done a lot for Gallaudet. I recall meeting him for the first time during a visit to campus and he graciously made time to talk with a group of us who were Deaf Services Coordinators from all over.

He was scheduled to be involved with "Talk of the Nation," but canceled due to the escalating protest on campus. A transcript of today's talk can be found here: Talk of the Nation.

I hope that Gallaudet students, staff and alumni can work together to restore peace at Gallaudet soon.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Out of Puppyhood-- Into Adulthood

Early in January this year, we brought home a new family member. On October 6, Kaycie, our West Highland White Terrier celebrated her first birthday. The little puppy is now a full-fledged, potty-trained adult.

There were days when I thought the potty-training would last forever. This was pretty much the same feeling that I had with all of my kids. At least with kids, you can put on diapers and protect the stuff around the house. Puppies like to decorate white carpet with yellow puddles. Kaycie was especially fond of making nice little circles under the dining room table whenever one of the kids left a gate open.

Kaycie joined our family in the middle of winter, which meant several trips outside during very cold weather. The little bugger was smart. She would wait until I gave up on her and we'd head inside. As soon as no one was looking, she would deposit a brown gift on one of the rugs. She eventually learned that she could make the family members very happy if she squatted outside instead and was quickly awarded a treat.

Kaycie amused herself one day by unrolling the toilet paper in the bathroom. She took great delight in rolling around in it. For a couple of months after that, we had to store the rolls on the counter. After a party one day, we discovered that she no longer messed with the toilet paper. Around the same time, we realized that she had stopped decorating the carpet and left the rugs alone. Apparently the mischievous puppy grew up.

Kaycie was quite the escape artist and loved to take off running. We had a close call one day when she headed for a busy road near our house. She was just a few months old and wouldn't respond to the "come" command. As she neared the busy road, I felt my heart leap and I started to scream. Each time I came near her, she would run away. I tried to run away from her to entice her to follow, but she kept edging closer to the road. Cars were zipping by. I continued to scream, and the neighbors came out and tried to help. Fortunately, one little neighbor girl called out to Kaycie and she came running right to her, jumping all over. Someone else grabbed Kaycie and right at that very moment, I was reminded how much I truly loved the bundle of fur.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Wasting Life Away?

My cousin sent me the following:
(read through it, I've got some thoughts at the end!)

The first day of school our professor introduced himself and challenged us to get to know someone we didn't already know. I stood up to look around when a gentle hand touched my shoulder.

I turned around to find a wrinkled, little old lady beaming up at me with a smile that lit up her entire being.

She said, "Hi handsome. My name is Rose. I'm eighty-seven years old. Can I give you a hug?"

I laughed and enthusiastically responded, "Of course you may!" and she gave me a giant squeeze.

"Why are you in college at such a young, innocent age?" I asked.

She jokingly replied, "I'm here to meet a rich husband, get married, and have a couple of kids..."

"No seriously," I asked. I was curious what may have motivated her to be taking on this challenge at her age.

"I always dreamed of having a college education and now I'm getting one!" she told me.

After class we walked to the student union building and shared a chocolate milkshake.

We became instant friends. Every day for the next three months we would leave class together and talk non-stop. I was always mesmerized listening to this "time machine" as she shared her wisdom and experience with me.

Over the course of the year, Rose became a campus icon and she easily made friends wherever she went. She loved to dress up and she revelled in the attention bestowed upon her from the other students. She was living it up.

At the end of the semester we invited Rose to speak at our football banquet.

I'll never forget what she taught us. She was introduced and stepped up to the podium. As she began to deliver her prepared speech, she dropped her three by five cards on the floor.
Frustrated and a little embarrassed she leaned into the microphone and simply said, "I'm sorry I'm so jittery. I gave up beer for Lent and this whiskey is killing me! I'll never get my speech back in order so let me just tell you what I know."

As we laughed she cleared her throat and began, "We do not stop playing because we are old; we grow old because we stop playing.

There are only four secrets to staying young, being happy, and achieving success. You have to laugh and find humor every day. You've got to have a dream. When you lose your dreams, you die.

We have so many people walking around who are dead and don't even know it!

There is a huge difference between growing older and growing up.

If you are nineteen years old and lie in bed for one full year and don't do one productive thing, you will turn twenty years old. If I am eighty-seven years old and stay in bed for a year and never do anything I will turn eighty-eight.

Anybody can grow older. That doesn't take any talent or ability. The idea is to grow up by always finding opportunity in change. Have no regrets.

The elderly usually don't have regrets for what we did, but rather for things we did not do. The only people who fear death are those with regrets.

She concluded her speech by courageously singing "The Rose."

She challenged each of us to study the lyrics and live them out in our daily lives.

At the year's end Rose finished the college degree she had begun all those years ago.

One week after graduation Rose died peacefully in her sleep.

Over two thousand college students attended her funeral in tribute to the wonderful woman who taught by example that it's never too late to be all you can possibly be.

Whether or not this little ditty is true or the stuff of urband legends, it sends a valuable message to us all. I hear the same thing over and over from friends who are in their 40's and 50's: "If I start a new path in life, I'm gonna be too old and who wants to hire an old, deaf/hard of hearing person for a job?" I've encountered frustrations with job hunting and I know there have been some situations where discrimination probably happened, but I sure as heck hope that I never stop living and allow my life to waste away.

I want to be like my Grandma Griffard who kept herself busy until the day she passed away at 91. My mom is more fit in her 70's than she was at my age. My father is 82 years old and still works on a farm. Just a couple of a weeks ago, we were taking my boat out of the lake and he was able to crank that baby on to the trailer as if he was twenty-five. And there I was behind the boat, huffing and puffing away. Go figure.

So, my dream is to live a life of lots of adventure and few regrets. Meanwhile, I'm digging into a brand new box of Fannie May. Want some?

Monday, October 02, 2006

Socialization and Deaf/hard of hearing kids

Last Friday, our school district participated in an Advocacy Day at a local high school. Deaf and hard of hearing students from several districts came together for a field trip to learn how to advocate for themselves and their communication needs. A football coach at a private high school shared his experience of being hard of hearing and handling communication issues in his daily life. In our district, my son was the only one to attend this event.

So this all has me wondering about deaf and hard of hearing adults today--did many of you have contact with other deaf and hard of hearing kids when you were younger? What do you wish your parents had done differently?

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Deaf Education on Talk of the Nation Oct. 12

A parent sent me this announcement:



Special Two-Hour Broadcast to Explore Future of Deaf Culture In Light
New Technological Advancements

Washington, D.C.; September 21, 2006 - NPR's Talk of the Nation will
feature I. King Jordan in a special 2 hour broadcast on the future of
deaf education and culture on Thursday October 12, 2006. Dr. Jordan
plans to retire at the end of this year as president of Gallaudet
University, the world's only university dedicated to deaf and hearing
impaired students. As the first ever deaf president of the
he began the job in 1988 amid controversy and leaves 18 years later in
the midst of more controversy over the appointment of his successor.
In Hour One of the broadcast, Dr. Jordan weighs in on the debate and

Hour Two will examine the shifting debate over the cochlear implant.
Once an issue that divided the deaf community, the use of cochlear
implants is now more accepted. Yet, very difficult questions remain
about how people with cochlear implants can successfully live in two
worlds - the hearing and the deaf - about how children with these
implants should be educated. Guests during this hour will include
documentary filmmaker Josh Aronson, whose film "Sound and Fury" tells
the story two brother split apart by their different approaches to the
implants for their children. Mr. Aronson has recently completed a
follow-up to his film, "Sound and Fury: Six Years Later" and will join
the program with Peter and Heather Artinian who were featured in both

The deaf and hearing impaired community will be able to follow in
real-time Dr. Jordan's discussion with Talk of the Nation host Neal
Conan through live captioning on ; .
captioning technology enabling the streaming of broadcast captions on
the Web is developed and provided by the Media Access Group at WGBH
Boston. Those tuning in to the program through the live caption
will also be able to email questions to Dr. Jordan over the course of
the hour.

The October 12th broadcast will be the second time Talk of the Nation
has employed a captioning service to accommodate the deaf and hard of
hearing audience. On February 2, 2005 for an interview with Dr.
and the authors of the 1990 book, "Inside Deaf Culture," the program
offered real time captioning to enable participation among the hearing
impaired community. Audio and text of the interview is available at ; .

Talk of the Nation is NPR's midday news talk program that explores
topics from politics to pop culture, education, religion, books,
family and music. Through call-ins and e-mails, listeners are able to
join in dialogue with decision-makers, authors, academicians, artists
and newsmakers in the headlines. Neal Conan has been host of Talk of
Nation since 2001. With 2.8 million weekly listeners, the program
on 276 NPR Member stations around the country; for local stations and
time periods, check


NPR Media Relations:
Emily Lenzner, 202.513.2754,
Chad Campbell, 202.513.2304,
Emily A. Lenzner
Director, Communications and Media Relations


635 Massachusetts Avenue NW

Washington DC 20001-3753

w. 202.513.2754 / c. 202.744.9484

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Happy Birthday to my Baby!

Nine years ago, after fourteen hours of labor, my youngest son was born at home. Steven Michael weighed a hefty nine pounds and he had a full head of jet black hair. When he was two, his hair turned a beautiful blonde color. People would take one look at me, gaze over at Joe and wonder just where that blonde hair came from. He's very much his daddy's son and was blessed with legs that can tear up a soccer field.

Birthdays make me feel bittersweet, for each one that passes serves as a reminder that time is ticking away and all too soon, my children will someday be off on their own. I can't believe my "baby" is nine years old. I still feel like I'm 25, so the math doesn't add up.

Happy Birthday to my little sweetheart!

Check out one of Steven's favorites: Steven Michael, Get Off That Bed Right Now!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

A Divine Lunch

In early September, I headed out to the Marriott hotel to sign the contract for the IL Hands & Voices Mom's Night Inn. Across the street from the hotel was my favorite restaurant, Maggiano's. A family that I worked with generously gave me a gift certificate so I decided to treat myself to lunch. Armed with a stack of magazines, I was looking forward to enjoying a Maggiano's Salad.

I walked in and did a double-take. Sitting in the waiting area was the priest that married the hubby and I-- Father Joe Mulcrone. He was waiting for a friend to show up and join him for lunch. So we hugged and I sat down to catch up with him while he was waiting for his friend.

A half hour later, his friend still hadn't arrived. We decided to have lunch together, figuring his friend could always join us. We had so much to catch up on, since we both advocated for many of the same issues but hadn't seen each other in a long time.

We shared a great lunch and Father Joe chatted about his latest mission: a trip to Mexico. Father Joe arranged this trip to Rancho Viejo, Mexico for the 2nd Annual Catholic Deaf Youth in the Western Hemisphere on July 1 -8, 2006. There were 25 deaf adults from the U.S., Trinidad/Tobago, Ecuador and Mexico. Pat Graybill, Father Joe and several others spent the week celebrating various masses and teaching leadership skills to the participants. Communication was quite a challenge: Two spoken languages: English and Spanish. Three sign-languages: American Sign-Language (ASL), Venezuelan, and Mexican.

Halfway through our lunch, we stopped and had a good chuckle. Apparently Divine Intervention had arranged for us to meet and have lunch together-- how else to explain how a priest from Chicago and a gal from the western suburbs arrive in the same restaurant at the same time and a companion doesn't show up?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

BookHands: For the Love of Books, Chocolate & Open Communication

Every six weeks, there are ten of us who gather and share an evening of desserts that almost always include chocolate of some kind. We fill our plates with the goodies, grab a drink, and gather around to catch up on the latest news and a brief update on our kids.

Then the host implores everyone to sit down, grab their books, and make one final trip to fill up a plate. So begins an evening of BookHands, a women’s book club located in the Chicagoland area. The discussion begins by describing a brief reaction to the book that was selected weeks ago. One by one, we share our perspectives of the book, answer questions prepared by the host, or conduct an analysis of characters or events.

BookHands was the creation of Karen Carrier Kurt, a deaf mom who realized that a night out with other deaf moms often turned into a discussion about current books. She thought it would be fun to have a few moms over to do just that. In May 2003, Karen invited a few deaf moms that she knew and others that she met through “friends of friends.” The first meeting was held at her house, and the selected book was Lucky Man, an autobiography of Michael J. Fox.

Over the years, the books have evolved and so have the discussions. Some of the members use American Sign Language and some use simultaneous communication (signing and speaking at the same time). The name BookHands is a natural fit and an apt description of our group.

We have covered books such as The DaVinci Code, My Sister’s Keeper, Deafening, The Three Mrs. Parkers, and The Devil in the White City to name a few. We have met in each other’s homes and occasionally in a bookstore. For The Devil in the White City, we attended a slide show at a local library that covered the World’s Fair and had a discussion afterwards.

Our backgrounds are diverse: a former assistant director of a non-profit agency, two college instructors, librarian, a medical records technician, an accountant, a former legal assistant, teachers, an insurance agent, and a former computer programmer. BookHands fills a social niche for the ten of us because we are scattered geographically and often spend our days caring for little ones or at work communicating with those who can hear. To be able to combine a love of books and discuss them in an accessible medium allows for comfortable group dynamics. We certainly have the option of joining a local book club and using interpreters, but the group dynamic and communication style simply would not compare. With each book selection, we are learning more about each other’s lives and we are also being introduced to books that we might not have picked up otherwise.

And of course, you can’t beat the chocolate desserts!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Sound and Fury

When Sound and Fury was released in October, 2000, the movie spurred discussions about cochlear implants all around the nation. The movie covered the story of two brothers who had deaf children. One chose to obtain a cochlear implant for his son, the other decided not to choose that for his daughter.

I saw the movie in Chicago at a film festival with a friend. Never before had I experience a movie that was so raw and up close about the decisions that parents make when raising deaf and hard of hearing children.

Sound and Fury often stayed on my mind, so about a year ago, I decided to get in touch with both families and find out how they were doing. I learned that all of the deaf members of the Artinian family had obtained a cochlear implant, with the exception of Peter. You can read the article here: Sound & Fury: A Family Comes Together Again.
Josh Aronson, the director of the film, has now released a new film: Sound & Fury, Six Years Later. Heather Artinian obtained an implant at the age of nine and the film chronicles her life as a teen. For more information on how to obtain the film, contact Mr. Aronson at:

On another note, the youngest child to receive an implant is three months old: Music to the Ears.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

We Are Hands & Voices

About four years ago, I started a website for parents in Illinois attempting to put together resources for parents of deaf and hard of hearing children. During my search of the web, I found an organization called Hands & Voices.

I came across their opening statement:

"Hands & Voices is a nationwide non-profit organization dedicated to supporting families and their children who are deaf or hard of hearing, as well as the professionals who serve them. We are a parent-driven, parent/professional collaborative group that is unbiased towards communication modes and methods. Our diverse membership includes those who are deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing impaired and their families who communicate orally, with signs, cue, and/or combined methods. We exist to help our children reach their highest potential."

I felt like I hit the jackpot. Here was an organization that I had envisioned in my dreams; a collaborative organization that embraced the diversity regardless of communication mode. An organization that valued the contribution of deaf and hard of hearing adults and providing non-biased information to families raising deaf and hard of hearing children.


So I got involved. I contacted the people running Hands & Voices and inquired about the organization. I sent off my membership form and began to receive The Communicator. The next thing I knew, Leeanne Seaver, the executive director asked me to take over the start-up of the Illinois chapter.

It has been a rewarding experience.

In two short years, we've hosted several Parent Connection meetings; two-hour meetings where parents come in and connect with other parents and deaf/hard of hearing kids of all ages get to play with one another. Just recently, we had a good, old-fashioned kickball game with 20 kids. We're having our 2nd Annual Mom's Night Inn this November.

Along the way, I've had the opportunity to meet a variety of families that have chosen different modes of commmunication. I've met kids and adults with every possible type of hearing loss, every possible type of identity, and such a wide variety of life stories to share. Every single family has the same goal: to raise a well-adjusted, successful kid.

We are often asked, how can you possibly be non-biased? In a field frought with communication wars, identity wars and finger-pointing, the idea of being non-biased has people wondering if it is even possible. After several years with Hands & Voices and some excellent training from the leaders, I have learned that it is indeed a reality.

And here, in a nutshell, is the Hands & Voices approach to providing Non-Biased Support.

I invite you to visit the website and check out the articles that we've published.

Everyone is welcomed to join as a member and become a part of Hands & Voices.

Together, we can help families with children who are deaf and hard of hearing: "What works for your child is what makes the choice right."

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Marlee Matlin-- Still Going Strong

It was 1986 when Marlee Matlin trotted up to the stage to accept an Oscar for her performance in Children of a Lesser God. She was the youngest performer to receive an Academy Award. It was just two years after I had become profoundly deaf and was first introduced to American Sign Language. I understood almost nothing of Marlee's signing in the film and relied on the captioning.

Today, after twenty years of signing, I understand a heck of a lot more and I don't have to ask for repetition on a frequent basis anymore. Looking back, I remember the comments that surrounded Marlee, the praise/disdain of her communication style. Whether she used her voice, sign or both, she couldn't escape being criticized when in the spotlight. I always thought it was crazy when people would comment on communication mode and forget the accomplishment or the person behind it.

Today, the supposed "one-shot wonder" has had an acting career that spans twenty years with numerous movies, sit-coms, and guest appearances. She has produced books, been involved with several charities and tonight, she will host the "Extreme Home Makeover" in her second appearance.

And she managed to find time to have four kids!

Today's Chicago Tribune posted an article: Matlin Gets The Last Laugh.

I found myself enjoying the Extreme Makeover Show. Marlee hosted the show with a lot of enthusiam and it was great to see such a deserving family reap so much from a new home. The best part-- knowing that the son and father finally had a way to communicate on a daily basis.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Bernard Bragg Honored as "Father of Deaf Theatre"

On Saturday, September 9, 2006, Bernard Bragg, one of the founders of the National Theatre of the Deaf, was honored as "The Father of Deaf Theatre" at Oakton Community College in Illinois. The event was sponsored by the International Center on Deafness and the Arts.

CBS News Anchor, John Davis, was the emcee of this event. The Traveling Hands Troupe, a group of deaf, hard of hearing and hearing dancers began the event with a dance routine.

In honor of Bragg's mime career as "The Quiet Man", Jonalee Folerynski performed a mime story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears that certainly didn't need any voice interpretation for those not familiar with American Sign Language. Other performers included Michael Schwartz, Kyle Littlepage, Liz Tannebaum, Mike Stark, Gina Matzkin, and Melanie Kaplan.

One of the most memorable skits of the night was CJ Jones' comedy routine. Deafinitly a routine that'll make you laugh your butt off. Heck, just one look at his publicity picture will make you chuckle:

One by one, Bragg's protege's took the stage to demonstrate the skills that Bragg instilled in them through workshops and camps. One by one, they thanked him for his guidance and expertise over the years. Bragg was actually speechless for a very short time, but he quickly bounced back with an eloquent speech and a "thank you from the bottom of my heart."

Monday, September 11, 2006

No, I Just Haf A Cowd, Dank You

Yesterday, I stopped in at the bank that I always patronize and got in line behind a new teller. As I was waiting, I tallied up the checks that I wanted to deposit and didn't realize that it was suddenly my turn. The teller must have said something, as I noticed her gazing at me with a puzzled expression.

Most of the time, I will offer an explanation to people with a simple, "I didn't hear what you said. I'm deaf."

But yesterday wasn't a nicey-nice day. I was in a hurry to head out of the bank and cranky as heck. I was craving some chocolate Sno Caps to stave off the major PMS symptoms that were gnawing at me. Or perhaps some Fannie May... Or Godiva chocolate...

New Teller Gal asked me a question and I thought she asked me how I wanted my money. "Twenties would be fine." I responded. She actually laughed and repeated her original question, which turned out to be, "Do you have any ID?"

Any other day, I would have explained, "I'm deaf," but yesterday, the PMS beast inside of me growled. "I've been a customer for almost ten years and I've submitted a check deposit slip with my name and address on it. My purse is in the car and the hubby is waiting outside. Can you process this without ID?"

Apparently my speech isn't crystal clear. She gazed at me and suddenly asked, "Are you sick?"

There were several other customers behind me. Ahem, is this the kind of question you ask customers? I quickly debated whether I was going to give her an explanation.

No dearie. What you hear is a result of several years of speech therapy and diminished hearing. Very diminished hearing, my dear. As in deaf.

Hmmm, I could add a little more nasality on the end and finish the sentence with a florish...


I could sit back and watch her take a few IQ points off if I miss any more questions that she fires off...

Instead, I smile sweetly and say, "Oh yeah, I have a nasty cold."

And I remember to wipe my nose just before I hand her the pen back.

Friday, September 08, 2006

It's No B.S. Mom, I Love You Too!

I grew up in a family with five generations of hearing loss. My Great-Grandfather, Grandmother, my mom and all of her siblings were deaf or hard of hearing and none of them knew sign language. All of my siblings have hearing loss as well as my children and one niece.

My mother's hearing began to decline in her twenties. All of my brothers and sisters were born hearing and one by one, we each lost our hearing. My oldest sister was three years old when she fell, hit her head and instantly became profoundly deaf. My parents sent her off to live with my aunt and she attended Central Institute for the Deaf, an oral school. My brother Dennis was 36 years old when a wooden beam fell on him at work and he woke up in the hospital two days later with a severe hearing loss. My sister Jeanie began to lose hearing in her 20's and just last summer, she slipped on a rug and became profoundly deaf. My brother Kenny has just recently began to wear hearing aids for a mild loss.

I came along 10 years after the last sibling was born. When I was five, I was diagnosed with a moderate to severe hearing loss. I muddled along in school, receiving a hearing aid in 4th grade and speech therapy. Because I “functioned” so well and was able to keep up my grades, I was pretty much lost in the system. Teachers lavished praise on the “girl with the hearing loss.” My loneliness was often overlooked.

My life stayed this way all through my school years. I made friends with a select few who could look beyond my hearing loss. In high school, I met another girl, Shawn, who also wore hearing aids and we became fast friends. We each shared the horror of dealing with group situations and the anxiety that came with it. We learned to adapt so well that some of our friends had no clue that we wore hearing aids. Of course, we missed out on the punch lines of many jokes while laughing along with the others.

When I began attending classes at the local community college, I started to fear that I had no future ahead of me. I had interviewed for several jobs, but no one had the courage to hire me or deal with my inability to use the phone. I took one job as a dishwasher at a local restaurant and earned money mostly by babysitting. The future began to look pretty bleak. The few guys that I dated weren’t good marriage prospects. I began to wonder just where I was headed.

On a whim, I decided to transfer to a college that had a program for deaf and hard of hearing persons. My mother reluctantly supported my decision. She was afraid to see her last baby go off to the great unknown. How in the world would I cope at a university when I could barely get by at the community college?

Just before going off to college, I was water skiing on my bare feet and I turned to cross the wake. I fell hard, and for the next few days, I kept feeling like I had water in my ear. I had become profoundly deaf.

Going off to college turned out to be a blessing. At first, it was quite a culture shock. I was living on a co-ed floor with people who signed so fast that it was intimidating. Little by little, I was transformed. Slowly, I was introduced to a Deaf life to the point it felt like “coming home.” I was in a world where hearing didn’t matter. It was a world where, if I missed the punch line of a joke, someone would kindly sign it over again until I could join in the laughter. Of course, occasionally I encountered: “Sorry, train gone!”

My mother and siblings began to see a new person blossom in front of them. I introduced them to a TTY, and a new, accessible world began to open for them. My mom admitted that she wished she had known more about sign language while we were growing up so that we could have had access to interpreters.

When my oldest son became deaf, my mom began to ask how to sign certain things. It made me smile to see my 70-year old mom signing to my kids. One of her favorite signs was the sign for “I love you,” which is made with the thumb, forefinger and pinky finger extended and the two middle fingers bent downward.

Every time we got into the van to leave to go home, Mom would flash her “I love you” sign. There was only one problem though…

Mom would occasionally forget and leave the thumb bent inward, which turned the sign into “B.S.”

It is quite a picture to see Mom flashing her “B.S.” sign when we are pulling out of the driveway. It always puts a smile on my face.

It’s no B.S., Mom. I love you too!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Meet Henry Kisor--Pilot and Author

For the last two years, I've been contributing articles to the Hands & Voices Communicator. I'm always looking for deaf and hard of hearing people with interesting jobs.

About a year ago, I came across Henry Kisor, a literary reviewer for the Chicago Sun Times. I contacted him and asked if we could meet so I could do an article. Henry was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for Criticism in 1981 and the author of several books, including "What's That Pig Outdoors, A Memoir of Deafness."

We met for lunch and Henry shared tales about his life's adventures. Henry took a train trip across America, interviewing passengers by lipreading, and the result was the book:
Zephyr: Tracking a Dream Across America.

A midlife crisis had Henry pursuing his dream of flying (a dream that he thought he couldn't accomplish because he was deaf) and he began to take flying lessons. He obtained his pilot's license and began to do some research about flying. A pilot by the name of Cal Rodgers, came up during his research and he discoverd that Rodgers was hard of hearing. Henry purchased a small plane and decided to take a trip across America, similar to the trip that Cal Rodgers took in the early 1900's. He penned the tales of his adventure in this book: Flight of the Gin Fizz. I enjoyed this book so much that I wrote a review: Epinions: Flight of the Gin Fizz.

Henry joined the International Deaf Pilots Association and participated in several fly-ins around the U.S. He also wrote three mystery novels and a children's book. Henry recently retired from 38 years of newspaper writing and is working on another book.

You can read the full Hands & Voices article here: "Mystery Author Unveiled: Meet Henry Kisor."

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Labor Day Bash

We had a Labor Day Bash yesterday, with a handful of deaf and hard of hearing friends, food and lots of conversation.

That morning, the hubby and I were preparing the food. We had hot dogs, brats and a new kind of polish sausage that we've never tried before. I picked up the food from Bobaks, a store that has a reputation for good sausage. The hubby was being very helpful and he cut open the polish sausage from the package, put it in a pan and tossed it in the oven. We both commented on the interesting stripes that were on the outside of the sausage, but we didn't give it another thought.

One of the guys, John Maloney bit into the first sausage and instantly discovered that the sausage was wrapped in plastic.

Apparently the stripes were supposed to alert us to the fact that the plastic casing was supposed to come off before cooking.


Oh well. Sometimes you just gotta laugh.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Club Mom-- Take a Visit There

Connect With Other Moms Like You.

Club Mom is a site that reminds me of the days that I connected with other moms through the AOL groups. I usually visit Club Mom a few times a week to connect with other moms and see what's happening around the world. You can make it as interactive or as private as you want.

This is an excellent site to connect with other moms in your area or for moms who are expecting little ones.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

"Alone In The Mainstream A Deaf Woman Remembers Public School" by Gina Olivia is a book that I could instantly relate to when I first picked it up. Part research project and part autobiography, the book focuses on the lives of deaf and hard of hearing children who grow up being the only ones with hearing loss in their schools.

Gina uses the term "solitaires" to describe such children. I found myself nodding along over and over as Gina described her life growing up, dealing with social situations and then becoming a part of the Deaf community. In this book, Gina offers some ideas of how to successfully include deaf/hard of hearing children in the mainstream. I have included a link in this blog (see sidebar) to order the book if interested.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Epinions-- Why I Still Hang Out There

I've been writing for for six years now and I want to take a moment to share this site here. Epinions covers thousands of reviews of every imaginable product and you will find un-biased reviews by a variety of consumers. You will find information about which vacuums actually suck (ahem, pun intended), movies to avoid, and which strollers are good for two kiddos.

I started writing there as a way to make money. Back in the early days of Epinions, one could easily make a grand per year. Today, free-flowing money has dwindled to a trickle, but I still enjoy the community there. My articles have received an average of 300 hits per review, and my review of a trampoline has racked up thousands of hits.

So the next time you're looking for a new gizmo, check out the product reviews at Epinions before you fork over the money.

Friday, August 25, 2006


I received this little ditty in my email box yesterday and I just had to share it:

by Charles Swindoll

"The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on my life.
Attitude, to me, is more important than facts.
It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do.
It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill.
It will make or break a company ... a church ... a home.
The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day.
We cannot change our past ... we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way.
We cannot change the inevitable.
The only thing we can do is play on the string we have, and that is our attitude ...
I am convinced that life is ten percent what happens to me and ninety percent how I react to it.
And so it is with you ... we are in charge of our attitudes."

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Teaching Babies to Sign

In my email box today, I received a link to the story, "Baby Sign Language--Gimmick or Early Voice?" and of course, I wanted to share a thought. I work with families with children who are deaf and hard of hearing, but I taught two courses in Sign With Your Baby at a local hospital with babies who had normal hearing.

The whole point of teaching sign to babies is not about raising IQ levels or smarter babies, it's about communicating. It's about giving little ones the tools to be able to tell Mom or Dad that they're hungry, that they want to play, that they want some juice, and so on. Infants have control of their hands before the natural development of speech, so they are able to develop signs at an early age. This early communication can be visually measured and seen, which gets everyone so excited about the budding genius before them.

So if you've decided to teach sign to your little one, kick back and enjoy the learning process together. American Sign Language is the fourth most common language in the world. Have fun with it.

A new bulletin board for parents

Hands & Voices now has a new bulletin board for parents of deaf and hard of hearing children and professionals in the field.

You can access the bulletin board at: