Today’s guest blog post comes from Stef Barber, a longtime friend of ours from Twitter and Facebook, Starkey completely-in-canal (CIC) wearer and wheelchair racer! Stef was born with spina bifida and was diagnosed with severe hearing loss at 16 months of age. She has an inspiring story and a clear love of life. Take the time to get to know her through her own words!
I’m 30 years old and live on Vancouver Island in British Colombia. I was born with a birth defect, spina bifida, along with secondary conditions. I was treated with many antibiotics for infections, causing a severe-to-profound, high-frequency hearing loss. I was diagnosed at 16 months and received hearing aids shortly after that. I began attending an early intervention program before preschool and transitioned into a deaf and hard of hearing class at the age of three.
I have worn numerous brands of hearing aids throughout my life, but when I saw Marlee Matlin wearing CIC devices on Dancing with the Stars in 2008, I knew I wanted to try them; her devices were so tiny and powerful! I switched to a Starkey hearing care professional; because of my severe hearing loss, even my professional questioned how well a CIC device would work for me, but I felt I didn’t have anything to lose!
Little did we know I was about to begin the best part of my hearing loss journey. The directionality feature of my CICs was a great benefit. At age 26, I heard my first birds and crickets. Up until that point, I had done well with my hearing loss in the hearing world, but I never felt I could relate to anyone. I had trouble socializing and depended too much on lip reading, which led to me missing things and being over stimulated every day of my 13 years in school. As a kid, I never wore my hearing aids, doing things like taking them out and hiding them in a tree, and then forgetting where I put them. I took speech therapy and was given coursework from my speech language pathologist, not understanding why I had to be pulled out of class when I already felt like an outsider and already had a full workload. It was tough, but when I reached my 20s, I became thankful I had pushed through it. People who meet me and don’t have a hearing loss themselves don’t even know I have one.
Sports, volunteering and public speaking became a huge part of my life. One of my idols inspired me to become involved with wheelchair racing, and I competed for Team British Columbia. It was through sports that I discovered so much more about my abilities and myself, and gained a sense of pride and accomplishment. Living with a hearing loss has been a great learning opportunity and an area where I keep growing despite the limitations people would expect me to have. Earlier this year, I launched my own accessibility consulting business called Success Ability. I’m also involved in my local government, helping to create more inclusive places within our community. Last year we completed an accessible beach and within the next few weeks a new, inclusive playground will be officially launched. It was critical to me that the playground be a sensory experience for everyone who would visit it – a place to learn and grow no matter who you are. We have included American Sign Language (ASL) and braille panels, along with different musical play areas and panels with vibrating and auditory experiences built in.
If you have hearing loss, I’d like to encourage you to think about a few things!
- Learn about your hearing loss and how it was caused, and learn how to watch for signs of progression. Explore your options for assistance.
- Don’t be ashamed of your hearing loss. Hearing aids aren’t what they used to be. Don’t let the misconception of what hearing aids are or who they’re for hold you back.
- Protect your hearing! You’ll thank yourself later on. Don’t let “being cool” make you lose your hearing. It’s not worth it.
- Educate your family and friends about hearing loss, sign language and what helps you. When you are out in public and something isn’t working for you, let someone know so they can make a change. Be the voice of those with hearing loss! The world needs more out there.
- Don’t feel like you’re alone. Contact local organizations for peer support. Look for others, like Marlee Matlin and Derrick Coleman, who have been in your shoes and followed their dreams despite hearing loss. Bookmark their websites; see if they have books or recommend books; follow them on Facebook and Twitter; and share their content with your friends!
- Donate your old hearing aids to Starkey Hearing Foundation; fundraise for them during your birthday or other holidays instead of receiving presents. I am thankful for the Foundation and its co-founders Bill and Tani Austin, who are making a change one hearing aid at a time!
For those of you who are not hard of hearing or deaf, I challenge you to:
- Accept people for who they are.
- Consider inviting someone who’s deaf or hard of hearing to your next conference or to your school to share his or her message.
- Include students, other kids and adults with hearing loss into your circle of friends.
- Communication barriers can be overcome if you are creative; you’ll realize we are all the same!
- Learn ASL.
- Ask, “How can I make my work place, school or community more inclusive for someone who has hearing loss?”
Thank you for reading my story! By taking the time to get to know and understand each other, we CAN make this world a more inclusive and welcome place for all.