Katie’s Story

January 29th, 2009 by | Tags: | 4 Comments »

Katie and I met each other several months ago through corresponding to each other through e-mails.  She was also a Graeme Clark Scholarship winner like me, but she was awarded in 2006.  While her journey of receiving a cochlear implant is different from my journey, she is still an incredibly successful person who is passionate about performing arts, in particular music.  Here is Katie’s story:

Hello! My name is Katie and I sport bilateral cochlear implants. I’m currently a student at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities doing a bachelor of independent study in Theatre, English and ASL/Deaf Studies with a mission to establish a theater interpreting training program (we certainly do need it!).

I was born deaf but my deafness went unnoticed until i was 8 months old. After several phonecalls and contacting people from various organizations, my parents went with the Total Communication approach (to ensure my Deaf identity while participating in the hearing community – I get the best of both cultures, the Deaf and the hearing ; )

I was implanted with the Nucleus 22 when I was 5 (we wanted to do it earlier but the FDA hadn’t approved the device for pre-lingually Deaf kids like me so we had to wait) and used the MSP (Mini Speech Processor). I don’t remember the first sound I heard (probably the beeps from the computer program) but I do remember the first time I heard music – through “The Sound of Music” (ironic, much?). The second Julie Andrews flung her arms out and spun on the hilltop and sang, I was hooked (thus my journey through the world of musical theatre began).

I attended a county program for the Deaf/Hard of Hearing  – John Powers Center for the Hearing Impaired (they have long now dropped the ‘hearing impaired’ part to be more politically correct). The school is located in Vernon Hills, IL and used the Total Communication method – the teachers spoke and signed their lessons (so I would see the sign language and hear the corresponding speech being spoken). I spent the years between preschool and third grade there before deciding to mainstream full time.

The device worked for several months until the electrodes ceased to function to the point where I only had three remaining channels (tests taken back then did not catch the issue and since I had no residual hearing, I didn’t have anything to compare it with – and being young and not understanding why it sounded okay one day and not the other day, we didn’t officially test it until I was 15 before the re-implant). With this verified, I had a surgery to replace the implant and upgraded it to a Nucleus 24 Contour and to this day, it’s functioning beautifully.

In the third grade, my family and I moved to Park City, utah and I chose to forego attending a school for the deaf (I wasn’t impressed with the kids in the class) in favor of seizing the opportunity to ski on the mountains of Park City! So I mainstreamed full time with an interpreter – and my class learned basic sign language so we could communicate with a hodgepodge of sgns and speech (and much finger-pointing and gestures). In the fifth grade, the state of Utah gave my school a grant to teach the entire grade ASL through an immersion method to ensure communication needs would be met (and as a backup plan when the interpreter got stranded in the snow during the drive from Salt Lake City up the mountain pass). My friends LOVED jumping into the role of ‘interpreter’ and relished every chance they got to do that!

Moving again to Boise, Idaho was difficult as I lost my “bilingual” classmates/friends and it took a while to adjust. I finally found my niche in the Drama department – theater folks certainly are deaf-friendly due to their (loud) voices and overexhuberant gestures (and the fact that they took the time to learn sign language helped *grins*). I was most happiest doing musicals (yes, musicals!) “FAME! I’m gonna live forever!…”

I started at CSUN – California State University, Northridge as a recipent of the Graeme Clark Scholarship before transferring to Boise State and finally settling at University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, working with the theater interpreters in the community, as a mentor/ASL choreographer/evaluator.

Being diagnosed with Usher Syndrome brought the decision to go bilateral, which I did in May 2008 (crazy times – the night before surgery, I went to see the musical, “Cabaret”, came home around midnight, slept, woke up at 3, and was at the hospital by 5, where they pushed me away in the OR on a gurney and the sign language interpreter informed me (after recovery) that I was in fact, singing (in ASL) a medley of “Cabaret” songs (including “Wilkommen”, using French, German and English *grins*.

How did the CI impact my life? It brought music to life for me – for me, music and sign language were compatible and I dream of being a CDI (certified Deaf interpreter) for musicals – I love them all! Phantom of the Opera. Wicked. Chicago. Rent. Mary Poppins. The Sound of Music. My Fair Lady. Cabaret. The Lion King – you name it!

Today, I communicate mostly through a bilingual approach – ASL in “theater settigs”, CASE (conceptually accurate Signed English) in non-theater-related courses in school, spoken English when interacting with non-signers and a combination of both with the family. I do plan on broadening my communication contiuum with learning Cued Speech (for all those pesky words that don’t have an official sign and I don’t feel like resorting to the Rochester method by fingerspelling…  but also, I’m not quite comfortable with Tactile sign language (I don’t need it yet) and I’m more comforable with the idea of cueing when my vision doesn’t accomodate the window needed for sign language reception.)

Yes, I have bilateral CIs but I’m still Deaf. ; )



February 2, 2009 at 10:28 pm

katie- thats an awesome and brilliant narrative written by you! how come you did not enjoy CSUN? I am just wondering.



February 3, 2009 at 5:58 pm

Well, CSUN was wonderful – the first year. Since I registered as an English major (most Deaf students don’t venture into that field), it was an competition getting the services I needed (had to retake one class when the interpreter failed to show up after the deadline for dropping class and the professor wasn’t accomodating either). That and the staff at NCOD were trying to change my schedules without telling me (thus my reason for not graduating on time because I have too many lower-division classes and not enough upper-division ones… Basically I transferred to U of M since they only hire CERTIFIED interpreters while CSUN sometimes puts ITP students to work… so I basically took my educational needs and put them first before social needs. Hence me here at U of M now. (That and more Broadway tours come through here – WITH interpreters! (When in doubt, follow thy passion!) *grins* I don’t regret transferring – I found my ‘calling’ here by working with theater interpreters as a mentor/evaluator and am loving it.

February 8, 2009 at 5:01 pm

Katie ..

Great to meet you. I never heard of CASE until reading this posting, so I want to thank you for introducing me to a new concept and method of signing.

Your pointers about the interpreters is one I also had to deal with myself. I was planning to attend several colleges, including Princeton but decided to stay closer to home despite the lack of qualified interpreters and attended a state university, instead. In fact, I was the first deaf person to receive full-time interpreters for my classes.

When I graduated from the same university, there were more than 20 deaf students enrolled, a full-time deaf education graduate program and a newly created interpreter coordinator position. And like you, I mentored Deaf people as well.

You’ve done a terrific job and I wish you well on your future academic (and theater) endeavors.




February 13, 2009 at 11:54 pm

It looks like we’re all pioneers (or guinea pigs *winks*) when it comes to getting services and self-advocating our needs (and wants).
Re: CASE – glad I was able to educate you about that! It’s just one more acronymn for the alphabet soup of sign systems *grins*.