Contestants in the Miss America Organization must have a platform – something they are passionate about and advocate for. Miss Michigan 2014, KT Maviglia, says the platform chose her.
KT, 22, was diagnosed with sensorineural hearing loss when she was only 9. She wore hearing aids with an FM system until high school, when she stopped wearing them due to embarrassment and being bullied in elementary and middle school.
“Being hard of hearing and requiring hearing aids and adaptive equipment in my classroom was difficult,” KT said. “The attention that was focused on my hearing loss was something I struggled with. I even tried to ‘boycott’ my hearing aids in high school.”
As a young child, KT’s FM system required a noticeable receiver for school. She would arrive at school early so that her mother and teacher could help her hide the receiver under her shirt. Before her hearing aids, KT said she was only getting about 60 percent of what went on in the classroom. “I felt like I was always a step behind, struggling to catch up and working twice as hard as my peers,” she said.
“I struggled with phonics because I was hard of hearing. My reading difficulties required me to leave class and work one-on-one with a speech pathologist. I just wanted to be like everyone else. I didn’t like the attention, comments and questions from my classmates.”
In high school, KT refused to wear her hearing aids. She tried different coping mechanisms including sitting in front of the classroom, asking lots of questions and lip reading. “I knew I was working harder than my peers, but I wanted to think I was getting everything I needed ... I wasn’t,” she said. “I was the girl that nodded, smiled sweetly, and when I left the conversation would have to review the information with my mother to get the entire message.”
Luckily for KT, heading to college and her subsequent decision to compete in pageants gave her the confidence to return to her audiologist and to be more open about her hearing loss. Looking back on her time in high school, KT said she regrets not wearing hearing aids because they would have helped her perform better in school and interact better with her peers.
“I didn’t have a role model to show me that it’s okay to have hearing loss and that it’s more important to get all the information needed for academic success,” KT said. Her own experience is a large part of why KT’s Miss America platform advocates for those with hearing loss.
Her platform, LISTEN UP: Advocating for those with hearing loss, originally started in 2012 as an endeavor to raise money for a child’s hearing aids that were not covered by insurance. That platform has since turned into the KT Maviglia Fund for Hearing and is a nonprofit fund helping thousands of under and uninsured children obtain the hearing aids they need.
“Initially, I selected another platform because I wasn’t ready to talk publicly about my own hearing loss,” KT said. “As I entered college and got serious about addressing my own hearing loss, it seemed a natural choice to try to help others struggling with the same issues. I’ve made it my mission to be a strong voice and example to others.”
KT’s goal when sharing her story about living with hearing loss is to encourage others to focus on the positive. “My hope is that my story of … overcoming feelings of ‘being different,’ struggling with acceptance and ultimately achieving some of my life goals can serve as an example to youth and encourage them to focus on their abilities,” she said. “I want them to look past their hearing limitations, embrace today’s advanced technology and to know that a hearing loss doesn’t limit them.”
KT was recently fit with Halo Made for iPhone® hearing aids and said they are perfect for her busy lifestyle. “They are compatible with my iPhone and iPad® so I can directly stream calls, music and videos,” she said. “I don’t suffer from ‘hearing exhaustion,’ [and] I do a great deal of public speaking. Being able to navigate one-on-one conversations, answer questions in front of a classroom and hear in large, noisy rooms is amazing.”
That formerly ashamed adolescent is no more. “I always wear my hearing aids when I compete in a pageant,” she said. “It’s no different than someone who wears glasses … my hearing aids are a necessary part of who I am. With my hearing aids, I’m a more positive person and have found a greater purpose in life — to improve the world for those with hearing loss.”
Unfortunately, one of the struggles KT faces in improving the public’s perception of people with hearing loss, is that hearing loss is not considered an issue of national concern. Hearing loss is often viewed as a flaw or an issue of aging and infirmity, yet it is the third most common physical issue following heart disease and arthritis.
“I believe it often comes down to lack of knowledge of the correlation between hearing and academic success and lifelong productivity,” she said of why hearing loss is often undertreated or untreated in children and left to be an “adult” issue. Another obstacle is money.
Lack of knowledge and financial difficulties are why KT founded the KT Maviglia Fund for Hearing. Her goals are threefold: to raise public awareness of hearing loss, to advocate for children who are hard of hearing and to raise funds to help fill in the financial gaps families often face when trying to get the hearing aids their children need. The Fund hosts various fundraising events throughout the year to help raise thousands of dollars for children needing financial support for hearing aids. Potential recipients are identified through an online form, KT’s audiologist, schools and various service organizations.
In addition to her fundraising efforts, KT has been working with Senator Dale Zorn (MI-R) to address the need for improved insurance coverage of hearing aids for children. She is currently co-writing a bill with Senator Zorn that would provide enhanced insurance coverage for hearing impaired children. As of 2014, only 20 states have hearing health insurance mandates requiring various coverage for children or adults. Thirty states don’t have mandates, four of which are currently in the process of passing hearing aid insurance legislation.
“I hated to think that any child would go without the hearing device they needed because of money,” KT said. “I want the quality of life for children with hearing loss to be the best that it can be.