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Elena’s Story

February 13th, 2008 by | Tags: , , , | 27 Comments »

Elena is Miss Pennsylvania’s Outstanding Teen America 2008. One of her goals as Miss Pennsylvania’s Outstanding Teen 2008 is to promote oral education. She is an inspiration to the deaf community, in particular the oral deaf community! Here is Elena’s story:

I’m Elena and I got my cochlear implant when I was four as a result of losing my hearing to bacterial meningitis. Today, I’m 16 years old and live a completely normal life. I don’t have any hearing help at my 2000 student school and in fact, I sit in the back of the room with no problem for most of my classes! I’m involved in pageantry and currently Miss Pennsylvania’s Outstanding Teen which is the teen version of Miss America. I’ve won over $20,000 in scholarship. The pageant consists of a private interview, talent, onstage question, evening wear, scholastic achievement, and fitness wear. The judges never know I’m deaf until I tell them. I also am a dancer and have competed in competitions as well as participating in numerous dance programs. I also am a singer, actress (and have performed in over 25 professional shows), and a model. I also play in my high school’s percussion ensemble which is nationally known for it’s amazing music. As you can see from my little ‘bio’, I’m leading a completely normal life. Nobody can tell I’m deaf at all until I tell them, and most of the time, they don’t even believe me! I have to show them my cochlear implant. The cochlear implant was the most amazing thing that has ever happened to me and I thank god everyday for giving me the chance to hear.

Also, you can check out my website at www.misspaoteen.org and there’s info on what I am doing as Miss Teen Pennsylvania and how I’m helping the deaf community…’Oral Deaf Education’ is my platform.

It’s difficult for me to put myself in the shoes of a deaf person without a cochlear implant. Sign language is a whole other world apart from the normal hearing and cochlear implant world. One that relies solely on sign language will never lead a normal life like I, and many other CI users, have. My audiologist was telling me a story about a deaf lady that only signed that needed to be rushed to the emergency room one day. After struggling to communicate with the very confused doctors, she was lucky that a CI user, who also used sign language, was at the hospital. With the CI user’s help, they were able to save the other lady’s life. Moral of the story, the percentage of the population that signs is so low that in life threatening situations, if people can’t understand you, you might not be saved.

I’ve seen so much success for those who have the CI’s that it is difficult for me to understand why a profoundly deaf person would refuse to get one. I feel that I am the luckiest girl to be mistaken for a normal hearing person when I first meet someone. I can also guarantee that I’m not the only one. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of CI users that you would never know they were profoundly deaf. The CI is truly a blessing and it saddens me to know that not all deaf people have the privilege of hearing something as sweet and simple as their name being called.

Here is a video clip of Elena speaking on the news:

27 Comments

IamMine

February 13, 2008 at 8:25 pm

Thank you for sharing your story with us, Elena! :)

However, I’d like to point out some points you made here:

“One that relies solely on sign language will never lead a normal life like I, and many other CI users, have.”

With all due respect, I’ve always lead a normal life as a deaf person using ASL.

And I’ve gone to emergency rooms myself and just because sometimes I run into communication barriers does not mean it has ruined my life. I find solutions to solve problems, just like anyone else.

The same is true of deaf people who rely solely on ASL. And they do not feel the need of getting CI to function in life. They do not need to be pitied for not wanting CI to hear sounds.

“Moral of the story, the percentage of the population that signs is so low that in life threatening situations, if people can’t understand you, you might not be saved.”

Wow…this blew me away. I’m sorry but I took this offensive because it’s not true. Sorry.

But Elena, congratulations on your successes but they are due to your passions with persistence and determination in life did you get this far in life.

Thanks again for sharing with us, Elena!

Obsessed

February 13, 2008 at 8:25 pm

Not again with “Normal” thing. *chuckles* Now you see what I mean about cochlear implantees overusing the term of “normal.”

Elan said she didn’t understand why deaf people didn’t want to get fixed. Me too, I do not understand why some deaf people want to have cochlear implant. BUT one thing I can understand is D*R*U*G*S… Painkillers.. Fun tripping, isn’t it? LOL..

February 13, 2008 at 8:32 pm

This is a great success story, truly impressive.

However… the remarks about the Deaf community (the ones implying we’ll never lead normal lives if we don’t get a CI)kind of stung. It appears your audiologist looks down on us and says “See? You’re better than *them.*” Ouch!

I’d like to point out — as a fellow Pennsylvanian — that the CI and oral skills by themselves are not a prerequisite for success in the world.

In my closest circle of friends — all of us Deaf, all of us ASL users, none of us with a CI — you’ll find a firefighter, an author (not referring to myself — make that two authors if you want to include me), a IT Director, a teacher, a business owner, and more.

And this is just Pennsylvania. Outside of PA I can introduce you to Deaf dentists, financial advisors, lawyers, and more. None of the with a CI.

I’m not here to bash the CI. If it works for you, wonderful! More power to you. I really mean that. Part of me feels bad for responding so harshly to the comments of someone so young — but it needs to be pointed out that we ALL succeed in this world, on our own terms, with spirit, perseverance, and a positive attitude.

So Elena, by all means please do continue striving for more success in your life! Go for it, show the world what you’re made of. I have no doubt you will continue to do well. I genuinely wish you the best. I just want to throw in this comment as a reminder that we all travel our own unique paths. You yourself said it’s difficult for you to understand why some of us don’t want to do things the way you did, and that’s your next challenge: To learn that there’s a LOT of diversity in the d/Deaf world and a LOT of ways we find happiness and success in our lives.

Best regards,
Drolz

IamMine

February 13, 2008 at 8:41 pm

You said it better, Mark!
:)

*highs five*

Jeremy

February 13, 2008 at 8:58 pm

For us cochlear implant users, fate may have taken away our hearing abilities. But it did not take our desires to do anything!

Its good to see another person happy for being a cochlear implant user.

Another mum

February 13, 2008 at 9:59 pm

Drolz
thank you for your genuine and respectful post. You have tackled issues you had with what was written in a very considered way, which is certainly appreciated. The fact that your post raised issues of concern but equally was very supportive and encouraging of Elena was really great to see. Thank you.

Amy

February 13, 2008 at 10:17 pm

I have to agree with Drolz and IamMine.

On this essay, you wrote ‘normal’ five times, and each time I read/hear this word, normal. It is like a knife stabbing my heart knowing that I am ‘not’ normal to you, just because I don’t wear CI (I use hearing aids), and I use American Sign Language.

This subtle message that you are perpetuating the myth that deaf people who wear CIs and speak ‘well’, do lead the normal lives.

Let me ask you… I hold three college degrees (one is post-graduate) and maintained a successful career for over 15 years. I am a homeowner, and I pay federal and state taxes. I am actively involved with my community, and I gave my time and support to the Deaf community. I attend to the meetings with ‘normal’ hearing people with an intepreter, and able to interact with them very well. I drive my own car, travel on my own without assistance, and use technology to communicate with people all over the world. I am a registered voter. I served on the jury for the criminal case, and also I was served as an expert witness for the criminal case too.

Yet, this essay still makes me feel I am not as ‘normal’ as you are, just because…

I don’t wear cochlear implants and I use American Sign Language. (Mind you, I do use my voice to communicate too.)

Normal is a very relative term, and I want to advise you gently that it is not a good idea to judge other people and for you to decide what is normal or not.

As Eleanor Roosevelt would say:

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

I am not giving you my consent to allow you to make me feel inferior, just because I am *not* normal just because…

I don’t wear cochlear implant and I use American Sign Language.

Amy Cohen Efron

February 13, 2008 at 10:20 pm

thank for your posting. I enjoy reading your stories. I posted my audiograms from my pre-surgery and post-activation 3 months. To me the proof is in the testing.

J.J. Puorro

February 13, 2008 at 10:26 pm

IamMine and Drolz…thanks for your comments…am in complete agreement here.

=======

Elena, what about people who can hear, but do not speak English? Will they all die at the hospital because of the communication barrier? Food for thought…

Elena LaQuatra

February 14, 2008 at 12:35 am

Thank you for all of the comments posted here. I appreciate both the negative and positive responses to my post.

However, respectfully, I was not implying that if you do not have a cochlear implant, and if you use ASL, you are not ‘normal’.

In my reign as Miss PA Outstanding Teen, I have been asked to appear, perform, or speak at charitable events involving children and adults of numerous and varying disabilities, including physical and mental disabilities. To me, all of these children and adults are ‘normal’. It ultimately comes down to your definition of ‘normal’. I have numerous friends who use hearing aids and ASL and I respect them and certainly consider them to be normal, but that does not take away from the fact that it is more difficult to communicate with them, than with my normal hearing friends or other CI users.

For those of you who sign, or use hearing aids, of course you lead normal lives, and live in and contribute to society. However, my definition of leading a normal life is being able to listen to music, to play in the percussion ensemble, to dance in my high school’s dance company, to perform in musicals and theater, to win awards for performing shakespeare monologues, and to give speeches in front of thousands of people. This is what I choose for myself and I’m certainly not judging those of you that do not have these aspirations.

I tried hearing aids and they didn’t work for me. Without my cochlear implant, none of the things that I enjoy would be possible. That certainly does not mean I am judging ANYONE and I apologize if that is how I came accross earlier. I respect and appreciate each individuals right to make their own decisions, I advocate for ALL deaf people, cochlear implant, or not. I attended a huge conference at the request of the governor at the PA state capital that was geared specifically towards ASL and hearing aid users (and not CI users) and I have a tremendous respect for all deaf people. At the conference I met some of the most accomplished, successful, and intelligent, kind people, but they do not sing, dance, act, play percussion, or give speeches in front of thousands of people.

My cochlear implant has been the sole reason why I am able to achieve all that I desire in life, and without a doubt, I would not be able to achieve any of it if I did not have one. The bottom line is that the things that I personally like to do require me to have hearing. For that, I am thankful for my cochlear implant.

Once again, please forgive me if I have offended anyone. After all, I’m only 16 years old and I will continue to advocate on behalf of the deaf…ALL of the deaf.

With my best regards,
Elena LaQuatra

KH

February 14, 2008 at 12:38 am

Hi, I agree with What Amy Cohen Efron said about who is normal or who is not normal. I can speak very well.. even tho I can not hear at all ( profoundly deaf)…No one can make you feel inferior without your consent…. I often heard of the statement of what Eleanor Rossevelt said. How True!!! Have a great day:) KH

Shaji

February 14, 2008 at 1:10 am

Hi Elena,

I am glad that it is working well for you. Your story reminds me when I was the same age as you. However I was oral person and had not live normal life. I was forced to sit in the front of the class room to readlip the teacher’s lip. Regarding to your audiologist’s story, when I was 12 yrs old, I had worst pain in my left tummy. My parents rushed me to the emergency room and I had struggled to communicated with them and doctors via the oralism. My sister who know little home sign language or gesture language (not American Sign Language) help to interpreted for me. The doctor told my parents that I was lucky that I was saved by my sister’s help. She told my parents that I should learn sign language and they talked to my audiologist but they told my parents that sign language might not be a success in my life.

I was not doing well in oral school in Philly and did not know how to write English well. After I graduated from junior(oral) school, I was 16 yrs old and I chose Deaf school in Cincinnati, OH. My parents finally honored my wish. Guess what!!!! My audiologist was disappointment with my decision for going to Deaf school. I did not know ASL well and I stayed at dorm there. I learned ASL lots from my Deaf friends (one of them who is CI user). ASL is my primary language now. I finally sat in the back of the room with no problem for most of my classes!!

After graduating from Deaf school, my parents wanted me to go college as NTID/RIT but I turned down their wish. I enrolled at Temple University in Philly for majoring a computer science and I was only one Deaf student in classes with an interpreter. Of course, I sat in the back of the room with no problem for most of my classes again!! One time, one of my professors asked the interpreter why did he/she sign in his class and I told him that ASL is my primary language but I did not tell him that I am Deaf. I assume that he knew I am Deaf.

Now I am working as software developer and all of my co-workers who are hearing. We do not have any problem with communication barriers I married with my Deaf wife and have one hearing daughter and have big house in Philly. I’m leading a completely normal life as Deaf person using ASL. Please do not assume that Deaf person never lead a normal life. Once time, I met Kelby, another fellow Pennsylvanian who is Deaf studied law school at Temple University and worked for NAD. He is an attorney now.

I’d like to point out what you said: “Moral of the story, the percentage of the population that signs is so low that in life threatening situations, if people can’t understand you, you might not be saved.” It is not TRUE. ASL actually saved my life.

The CI actually is not only truly a blessing and it saddens me that one of my friends who is CI user never has college degree and real job. It has nothing with leading ‘normal life’.

Our successes are on own different paths. Do not give up your dream and I wish you good luck in your future.

Shaji

Another mum

February 14, 2008 at 5:27 am

Beautiful post of reply Elena, it showed great maturity for one who is only 16…all the best

Paula Arrano

February 14, 2008 at 8:35 am

Dear “Obsessed”,

You obviously have bigger issues than a hearing impairment. GO TO REHAB!

Karen Mayes

February 14, 2008 at 8:48 am

As I have said in other blogs,the word “normal” is a relative word, depending on each person’s definition of what normal means. Say, I think I am normal. A Shi’ite person thinks he/she is normal. A blind person might think he/she is normal. Etc. That is OK, it is what makes the earth go around (in the spirit of Valentine’s Day today, love is what makes the earth go around.)

But a nice blog otherwise. ;o)

Jean Boutcher

February 14, 2008 at 11:39 am

Elena,

You still have not answered J.J. Puorro’s specific question
which is extremely logical.

February 14, 2008 at 4:35 pm

I’m not Elena, but my answer to J.J. Purorro’s question would be that any time the ability to communicate is compromised in a life/death situation, it is a problem.

Hearing Mom

February 14, 2008 at 9:11 pm

Elena,
Congratulations on your accomplishments. However, your comments still imply that having a CI makes you superior than ASL users. Just like this one:
“At the conference I met some of the most accomplished, successful, and intelligent, kind people, but they do not sing, dance, act, play percussion, or give speeches in front of thousands of people.”
Please let me say that I have met countless Culturally Deaf people who dance, act, and give speeches in front of thousands of people. Some even play percussion instruments.
Generalizations get people in trouble. You still have a lot to learn being so young. Keep your mind wide open and do as much as possible not to alienate those who are not exactly like you.
We all have our own talents deaf/Deaf and hearing. One is not better than the next or more normal than the other.
Next time see if you can write a whole article without using the word “normal”.

February 14, 2008 at 10:36 pm

Hey IamMine,

*High five right back at ya* (I enjoy reading your comments very much!)

Elena, thank you for your kind response and your willingness to advocate on behalf of ALL deaf people. Greatly appreciated.

You know what’s ironic? All this talk about “normal” — because you are definitely abnormal. In a good way, of course. :)

How many people, deaf or hearing, get to be Miss Pennsylvania’s Outstanding Teen? A very select few. So you’re wonderfully abnormal in a similar vein as a celebrity thrust into the spotlight. This gives you a tremendous opportunity to represent the deaf community and I’m rooting for you to represent ALL of us with an open mind, as you said you will. Enjoy the journey!

Hearing Mom, you said it all — Culturally Deaf people have been there, done that, everywhere in the entertainment field. Thanks for pointing that out.

I’d like to add that among the countless entertainers out there are the Wild Zappers who have performed in front of huge audiences worldwide. Here’s a link featuring some of their performances at the Kennedy Center:

http://www.kennedy-center.org/programs/millennium/artist_detail.cfm?artist_id=WILDZAPPER

Or, how about Rathskellar? (http://rathskellar.com/)

As for percussionists, hey, how about a whole band such as Beethoven’s Nightmare? Check them out at:

http://www.beethovensnightmare.com/

And let’s not forget Evelyn Glennie — world famous percussionist who taught herself how to “hear” with her body (performing barefoot so she can feel the vibrations). Glennie isn’t culturally Deaf though and I wonder if the improving CI technology is something she’d be interested in — but at the time I saw her performing in Philadelphia, her feet were her ears. She rocked the house.

However, I’d be remiss if I only pointed out deaf musicians. Just because hearing people value music doesn’t mean the world is a miserable place for deaf people who have no interest in it. A deaf ASL poet such as Peter Cook or a deaf comedian such as CJ Jones can mesmerize an entire audience like no other. (CJ, by the way, has appeared on national television as have Linda Bove, Marlee Matlin, and too many others to mention.) The ASL mastery of Cook, Ella Mae Lentz, Clayton Valli, and countless others have moved many an audience the same way a powerful song moves a music enthusiast.

As for public speeches in front of big crowds… ugh. I’ve personally done this for 10 years and I *still* get butterflies each time. Would much rather stick to writing, thank you very much.

Okay I’ll get off my soapbox now. It’s just that there’s a myth out there in the mainstream world that deaf people are somehow deprived without sound… but believe me, joy and inspiration are everywhere. It doesn’t have to come through the ears.

By the way, great dialogue going on in this website. It’s opening some minds and some eyes here. Wish several other blogs/websites could follow suit. We learn a lot about each other without all the flaming :)

Best regards,
Drolz

Elena LaQuatra

February 14, 2008 at 11:23 pm

Good evening to my fellow bloggers and to the deaf community…including oral deaf , ASL users, CI users, or whatever! This dialogue proves that we are all AWESOME and with many talents. We would all give any hearing person a “run for their money”

Just a comment on Evelyn Glennie, who will be in my hometown next weekend.

I LOVE Evelyn Glennie and actually performed at a benefit with her in 2002, I sang and of course, she played percussion! She stated that “I” was her inspiration! Are you kidding? Evelyn, you ROCK! She was my inspiration that evening, told my mom I wanted to play percussion and that is now a big part of my life. See, we can all learn from each other.

And yes, I will use my year (and beyond) to promote everything related to hearing impairment…universal newborn screening, oral deaf education, recycling hearing aids and hopefully working with the Starkey Foundation, cochlear implant awareness, and promoting IDEA so that deaf and hard of hearing children can have the resources they need!

Thank you for all your comments…I am competing in the Pittsburgh Public Theater’s Shakespeare Monologue contest tomorrow and it is EXTREMELY competitive and I am going to sleep!

Good night!

February 15, 2008 at 11:43 am

[...] I was watching Evelyn Glennie’s concert. There was hype about Evelyn in the comments under Elena’s Story and, thus, I would like to take this opportunity to speak about [...]

February 15, 2008 at 3:43 pm

Congrats Elena on your accomplishment! It brought me back memories as Miss Deaf Pennsylvania about twenty years ago that I even got to be interviewed, performed in front of thousands of people, hearing and Deaf, presented my platform which was about improving the quality of Deaf Education, and so on.

I have been reading everything what was said here and I appreciated how this dialogue is taking place. I am proud to say that it is my finacee who plays the electric guitar in Beethoven’s Nightmare. One of the band members came from a Deaf family and two of them attended to the school for the deaf. That how they met there since teens and if it weren’t for that school for the Deaf, thy would have not set up a band in the first place. They met the drummer, Bob, at Gallaudet. The drummer just played in All My Children last fall: see

http://youtube.com/watch?v=vYOI6deQdIY

Anyway just want to share you more video clips of my taping while attending to Beethoven’s Nightmare performance in Philadelphia. See:

http://youtube.com/watch?v=EAb2jCWoVy0

And this clip of a full song with beautiful ASL:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nX_2TfCaX-g&eurl=http://www.deafvideo.tv/watch/5031

Enjoy! And by the way, I hope you will get to learn ASL and get to read more about bilingual education for Deaf children. I have two Deaf children who excel at both English and ASL and are performing at grade level and they love to read, create stories, etc. Please remember that oral education is not for all Deaf children. It is unfortunate that there are not many former orals even those with cochlear implants who are capable to speak that well and that their English skills are not as advanced than those who grew up with both languages. I hope you are able to keep your mind open about these things. I have nothing against being oral since I do believe in spoken English that can be used by certain Deaf individuals but that there are more benefit having bilingual approach. I have a research document that using American Sign Language can facilitate the development of skills in spoken English for deaf and hard of hearing children.http://clerccenter.gallaudet.edu/products/perspectives/nov-dec97/asl.html

I wish you best of luck for your future.

Elena LaQuatra

February 17, 2008 at 3:17 pm

Dear Ms. DiGi,

Thank you for your posts and congratulations on all your achievements as well! I appreciate you sending the links to your fiancees band, etc. It is so heartwarming to hear of everyone’s accomplishments.

I would like to learn ASL some day in the future when my life calms down. I would also like to resume my studies in Spanish and brush up on my Greek (my grandparents live in Greece and I went to greek School for 8 years (did you watch “My Big Fat Greek Wedding? All Greek kids go to Greek School…usually Greek School is the same time as Girl Scouts so you will find very few Greek girls that are Girl Scouts…sounds funny but it is true…my mom said Greek school was the same night as Girl Scouts when she was growing up and it was the same in the movie!! (LOL)) Anyways, I think of Sign language as another language and I have nothing against learning it…right now, my schedule just does not permit it. I appreciate you sending the link for the article!

Well have a good week everyone!

Elena

Anonymous

March 19, 2008 at 12:21 pm

It shocks and appalls me that Elena did not consider that the deaf person’s diffiuclties communicating at the hospital was not his/her fault – it was the hospital’s fault.

Has anyone heard of the ADA – the ER doctor should have called for an interpreter RIGHT AWAY when he/she saw that there was a ASL-using Deaf patient. It is the LAW.

In short, put the blame where it belongs, with the hospital.

DeafMom

April 18, 2008 at 7:17 am

Look! My eyes look normal! People never know I am Japanese until I tell them. I can’t imagine those Japanese who refuse to fix their eyes. Elena, yes, you are only 16, but next time think carefully before you say anything. Don’t get in vain. Labeling the other people make you look better is bad for you. I am not interested in your advocacy on behalf of Deaf because it is not what you have become. You are CI user. I am Deaf. S/he is Hard of Hearing. S/he is hearing. I am saying everyone is normal. If you advocated helping poverty and famine, you would have my vote. Congratulation on your success. Keep up!

Valerie

May 5, 2008 at 2:05 am

I have read so many comments about their feelings about you CI’s, and being normal. What people need to realize that you are a teenager, and you are doing what a lot of teenagers do. The want to be excepted by their peers. For most adolescents, the peer group provides a network of social and emotional support that enables greater indepedence from adults and the search for personal identity. You are perhap developing a stable sense of self.
I am a grandmother to a 3 year old who has two CI’s. When he removes the part that fits on the back of his head, he is still a deaf child. He will remove them when he so chooses, when he wants to go to bed, doesn’t want to hear his brothers, and when ever he just want silence. He uses ASL.
Right now I am in school for Human Service, and I am learning ASL, not just for him but I work in a large well known hospital and I want to be able to help others that need medical attention.

Valerie

May 5, 2008 at 2:09 am

By the way me Dear you are normal A normal teenager.