Everyone Should Be Able to Hear the “Music of Life”

No-one knows the value of hard work better than a hearing impaired individual struggling in the face of adversity to achieve her dreams.

Zoe Kress was awarded the second Help America Hear Scholarship in the recent essay contest held by the Foundation for Sight and Sound.  Below is the winning essay.

Zoe KressBy Zoe Kress

What is a hearing loss? To me this means a difficulty in distinguishing sounds. It’s something that has affected my speech and learning. I have a speech impediment and have trouble pronouncing the letter “r” and the “r-l” combination. Through speech therapy from the time I was three years old, I have successfully mastered d, s, l, f, and v. But the “r” still eludes me. Part of the problem is that I am unable to differentiate the correct sound from the incorrect one. I can say that my “r” has greatly improved, but I don’t feel it is perfect. As I much as I try to speak normally, I need to remind myself to sharpen my speech, lift my tongue and remember not to have what my mom calls “a lazy L”. Having a hearing loss has affected my singing voice as well. I am tone deaf and an’t distinguish between different keys or notes, which is especially troubling, as I love to sing and perform in musicals. I have to graphically see the note spacing on a scale and learn the tones by memory. I may not get the lead roles, but I am always happy to perform. I’m also a visual learner as a result of my hearing loss. Because I don’t hear well, I need to actively learn new materials. I don’t pick up information through what I like to call osmosis. Rather, I learn what I read and study. It is sometimes difficult for me to relate a topic to something I have already learned, or to utilize prior learning to expound on a new subject.

For years, my friends have crowded around my desk engaged in my FM system. “Testing, testing 1-2-3,” or “can you hear me now?” are just a few of the common phrases my friends whisper into the microphone. It was about ten years ago, in second grade, that I was diagnosed with a congenital hearing loss and central auditory processing disorder. Wearing a hearing aid and carrying around an FM system soon became part of my daily academic life.

Rather than exploit this diagnosis as a way to hinder my life, I used it to strengthen and foster my determination to succeed. I have become a very proactive student, constantly contributing to classroom discussions and taking advantage of every opportunity to learn at my school. While sometimes I get frustrated with the amount of extra hours I need to devote to my studies, I still challenge myself to take risks. I know that with a little time, effort, and patience, I can achieve my very best work. For the past four years, I have taken a rigorous curriculum that has challenged my mind and has helped me work toward exceeding the standard. Now and then, I admit I find this all so discouraging. It is sometimes hard to find the extra hours that I need to devote to my studies, but I persevere and push through.

I am often asked what I hear with my aid or FM system. It’s hard to explain, but I definitely notice a perceivable difference when wearing my hearing aid versus when I don’t wear it. When I’m without a hearing aid, I need to turn the music a little bit louder, ask my teacher to repeat the question one more time, and try that much harder to ignore the chatter in the background when someone is talking to me. Wearing my hearing aid is similar to the Claritin commercial – “I can see clearly now, the rain is gone.” The difference is I can hear clearly with my aid and the foggy layer is unveiled. Everything is sharp and audible; the blurred noise becomes focused. Having hearing aids improve my quality of life. New hearing aids will make my life easier by not always worrying if my aid will break or become obsolete, but rather being able to focus on my career goals and other future goals I may have.

It is interesting to me what insurance companies decide is important. A person with insurance can receive coverage for eyeglasses and even cataract surgery in order to see well. But a person with hearing loss can only receive coverage for cochlear implants, and not the lesser cost of hearing aids. It’s as if one sense is more valued than another. I am not profoundly deaf, but I know the value of hearing. When there are sounds that are made, shouldn’t a person be allowed to hear them? Hearing sounds can so often be taken for granted until the sounds are missing. To those with a hearing loss, just the simplest sound of, say, the leaves blowing in the wind can be music. I think everyone should hear the music of life.

Having a hearing aid also empowers me. It is a reminder that I can overcome whatever challenge I encounter. As I face the everyday obstacles of overcoming my hearing loss and wearing a hearing aid, I have developed a passion to assist others who, like me, have had to surmount different hurdles. Volunteering gives me a rewarding feeling, but having a hearing loss adds a personal connection. I feel that through volunteering I am able to help others conquer a challenge just as I have been able to overcome my own obstacles.

I hope I will be able to use my new hearing aids when I pursue the study of Mandarin Chinese. Studying Chinese has been a dream of mine ever since I can remember. I was born in China 18 years ago, but I’ve attended a Jewish Day School where Mandarin isn’t offered as a language. I have studied Chinese in the past, but I hope to seriously pursue the language in college. I know, however, Chinese is one of the most difficult languages. Especially for me, it’s difficult to pronounce the different tones, as I cannot distinguish them through my hearing. Hopefully, new hearing aids will assist me by sharpening the sounds.

The most frustrating part about having a hearing impairment is not realizing what I’m missing. When I take my hearing test, I think I’m passing and hearing all the frequencies with flying colors. But then I see my chart and the sounds I’ve missed as my audiologist says, “Well the good news is you’re hearing hasn’t gotten any worse.” It’s annoying to not know what I’m not hearing especially when I think I’m doing it right. I don’t know if my life will change with new hearing aids, but what I do know is that it would be nice not to have to wonder what sounds I’m missing and struggle with my congenital hearing loss.

Through compensating for my learning disability and my hearing impairment, I have grown into a confident learner, someone who is her own educational advocate. While I have to work just a little bit harder than the rest of my peers, I have learned that hard work prevails. I know that at the end of the day, when I have tried my hardest, done the best that I could and have triumphed over this challenge, I have truly earned my success.

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