Getting Off the Fence: My Story by Lori Murphy

August 29th, 2011 by | Tags: , | Comments Off

Lori Murphy is a teacher of the deaf who is also a cochlear implant recipient. She also worked with Krista Donaldson, one of the first children in Canada to receive a cochlear implant.

The grass is always suppose to be greener on the other side of the fence. Which side is that when you are sitting on the fence?  There are two distinct cultures when you are deaf; a hearing one and a deaf one.  Growing up I would teetered on the fence between these two cultures, never knowing where I really belonged until I received my cochlear implants.

My name is Lori Murphy. I am a Teacher of the deaf with the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario since 1995. As well, I am an artist, a mother and I am deaf.   I was born with a mixed moderate-severe to profound bilateral sensorineural hearing loss  What does that mean?  Hearing wise, it meant that sound conduction to my brain effected by hair cell damage in my cochlea. Alongside of that, there were numerous operations to combat infections beginning at the age of 14 months.

By the time I was 3, I was able to be fitted with my first hearing aids; what looked like big globs of bubblegum sticking out of my ears with wires to box strapped to my chest. Hearing aids in the 70′s were not like they are now; sleek and unnoticeable. I stood out amongst the other children in school; between the globs of gum in my ears, my unique word bank to describe objects around me, and sounding different than other kids meant for some challenges both inwardly and socially.

Though I was a shy kid, my hearing loss did not stop me physically from doing most things like riding a bike, swimming, horseback riding, and just hanging out.  My best friend I met when I was 7 as we had just moved to the city of Brampton from Toronto. One thing she could do really well was finger spelling; using a sign language alphabet to spell words.  Boy, she was fast!  She thought it was neat that I had hearing aids and knew some sign language. I taught her how to lip read and she taught how to spell better.

By the time I was 12 my hearing loss would change again making the use of hearing aids almost obsolete: medically and by choice.  Medically, I was faced once again with the infections, that would destroy most of the residual hearing I had left. The Audiologist  tried a last ditched effort to fit me with powerful, newer behind-the ear hearing aids and told my parents that I could continue wearing them; gaining awareness of sound. This put my parents mind at ease knowing it might help keep me safe. Little did they know, my new hearing aids became what I called  ITDs-In The Draw hearing aids. I went to school with the aids on, but they would end-up in my locker and the FM system, with its long Y cord and huge blue box, slipped behind the collar of my uniform-blouse which teachers never really noticed. Why?  I was very good at lip reading; always ensuring to make good eye contact, nod and answer the occasional question.

Socially things began to deteriorate.  The increasing hearing loss became more prominent, I missed a lot of information that my friends were sharing in conversations.  My friends were filling in the gaps in the sea of faces that I tried to lip read. This became socially cumbersome;creating a gap that got bigger and bigger over time. I tried as best as I could, but soon found myself withdrawing; only attending social situations I knew I could control and within smaller groups.

My Art Teacher, Mrs. Dunn in grade 7 started noticing my non-existent hearing aids, but she also noticed much more.  By this time, my crumbling self-esteem, frustration and isolation I felt became obvious. I remember sitting on the floor with my back to a radiator in the senior girl’s washroom; dark blue walls, low lighting, a ceiling-to-floor mirror with my knees tucked to my chest and tears streaming down my face. Mrs. Dunn had walked in, sat down beside me and just held my hand; never saying a word, just being there for me.

She would teach me to communicate my feeling through art.  Expressing my feelings and experiences through my art became a more powerful communication tool than words. That would be a turning point for me and a leap to the other side of the fence.

By the end of the first term in grade 7, I would meet my Teacher of the Deaf, Jean Staley. A person who would take me in a new direction in my life; introducing me to a new world and renewed sense of self. She taught me to learn to advocate my needs and increasing my self-esteem with opportunities to be with other older deaf and hard hearing students as role models.  I began to feel the isolation dissipate; new friends and a new language were now apart of my world. I embraced it. I would travel back and forth between St. Thomas Aquinas Secondary School and E.C Drury School for the Deaf during the rest of my school years.

In the 80′s, there were two places to go for post secondary education for deaf individuals, Madonna University or Galluadet University. Deaf students in Ontario, with assistance from the Canadian Hearing Society, would choose one of these two places. Galluadet University, founded in 1864, is the only university of its kind; predominately populated by the deaf  or those pursing studies in the field of deafness. Individuals that would consider themselves ‘Big D’ deaf would choose to go here.  The term “‘Big D’  refers culturally those attending deaf schools, having mostly deaf friends, attending deaf events, extracurricular activities or sports.

That was not me.  I thought of myself as ‘small d’ deaf person because I could and did socialize with hearing people; I was drawn by both worlds. When I graduated, I chose Madonna University in Livonia, Michigan.  A Catholic university founded in 1937 by the Felician Sisters which values the whole spirit. There were numerous deaf students from all over the globe, alongside hearing individuals. Here I able to socialize with both the deaf and hearing individuals that could sign.

I immersed into a Fine Arts program, worked in the cafeteria and in the convent doing food preparation and cooking.  What I enjoyed the most was a balance in my life; my spirit soared as I learned to refine my art skills, make friends, and a stronger connection to my faith. It was a wonderful time in my life as I discovered more about myself.

The grass was greener at this stage in my life, but there was still something missing. There is a disconnect between the hearing and deaf worlds; deaf people have developed their own culture.  I felt displaced as a person because I was trying to live in two worlds; using my voice around my family when I went home and then returning to school and turn my voice off and immerse once again into a deaf world.

Shortly after graduating from university, I had planned to follow my dream of becoming a Teacher of the Deaf at Western Maryland University.  This became a short-lived plan. I found myself questioning choices; the direction I wanted to take. My parents reminded me this is a natural progression of becoming an adult; life changes are scary, but they are a fact. So I  decided to take a break.  I started looking for a job.

Finding a job became challenging, but eventually I would find myself focusing my energies on another love; that of horses. I worked at Woodbine Racetrack for six months. I loved being around the horses; there was something so calming about them-even the thoroughbreds.    So how is this important to where I am today? First off, I was in place that my deafness didn’t matter because it wasn’t a barrier. What mattered was my skills and experiences with the horses. Secondly, this is where I would meet a woman who would re-direct me onto the path of becoming a Teacher of the Deaf.

There was a shortage of teachers of the deaf in Ontario in 1990.  An opportunity arose  when a need for a teacher to fill a maternity leave at Metro School for the Deaf in Toronto. It was perfect as the position called for someone to teach grades K-8 art and drama program. I loved it!  It gave me the experience and the taste of success I needed to go back to school to get my teaching qualifications.  Soon, I attended York University’s new pilot Teacher of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Preparation program.

In 1993, I would accede into my teaching career in Kingston, where I taught in a self-contained classroom of deaf students using sign language for two years. During that time, I would meet some wonderful children whom had single cochlear implants. I saw the successes and disappointments they encountered. For some, the doors of verbal language opened and flourished. While, for one child the implant was not a success. This child chose to  to go the school for the deaf.

It prompted me to learn more about the implant; surgery, rehabilitation, and expected outcomes. I knew that this was what I wanted to pursue.  After several appointments and learning I was an ideal candidate, I was set to have my first implant in July of 1995. The anticipation that I might hear again was so overwhelming that the day I had my speech processor activated, I found myself conflicted with joy and disappointed. I knew I had to have realistic expectations, but how real could things be when you had not heard anything meaningful in over 17 years?  My emotions could not be put into words, but the tears streaming down my face said enough. Over time, and with patience, I learned to listen and within six months, I was beginning to build a bridge to replace the fence I had teetered on for so long.

This bridge would be my way between two worlds and the immersion into one unique unto itself- a cochlear implant community. A community where people function in a hearing world, but do not close the door to the silence, but choose when they want to enter. I learned to listen and speak more effectively than I had in my entire life. I was able to use the phone (other than a TTY or the bell relay system)  and listen to music, which was something I had not done since I was a child, nor really had ever enjoyed.

This journey has empowered me to become the Teacher of the Deaf I am today. I was always inspired by Helen Keller. As she puts it, “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”  My character has been defined by the journey I have taken, one which has not developed in quiet or ease alone.  I teetered on a fence between two worlds; wondering if I’d ever define who I am. Now, I stand on a bridge. Through my experiences, I shaped my character; molded the person I wanted to be.  I did not let my deafness be embers of my soul, but a light to envelop the person I am.

Thus, my experience is part of my teaching style, for I have walked in the shoes of my students in many ways; some more than others. But I always try to inspire my students by telling them of journey and that they are on their own journey, which will unfold itself as you move through life. One such student was Krista Donaldson, whom shared her story with Rachel. She was a student of mine since she entered grade nine at St. Michael Catholic High School in Kemptville.  She received support from myself for academics and her hearing needs. She became a strong advocate, inspired younger deaf and hard of hearing students entering high school, and eventually would move onto University where her own life story became an inspiration to me. She has had her own challenges in the past few years, but never wavered from what she long to achieve becoming a teacher of the deaf, herself. Life has thrown her some curve balls and she has rolled right along, making the necessary adjustments; having a back-up plan, always ready and willing to face life head-on.  It is an honour that she is still in my life and we are still so connected in many ways.




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