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How My Deafness Opened Up My Friend’s Life

December 22nd, 2013 by | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment »

After watching the end of Sound and Fury, who would ever guess that Heather Artinian would grow up to be a remarkable young woman who speaks so eloquently and hears with bilateral cochlear implants?  While Heather made so many wonderful points about living as a person with hearing loss, there is one particular point she made in her TED talk that really stands out.  She said:

“We never know how our openness will shape the lives of others.”

Heather briefly mentioned about how her best friend became very interested in deafness and had gone on to major in communication disorders to become a Speech Language Pathologist.  Heather’s openness to her best friend about her deafness gave her a newfound passion and career path.  Heather’s quote about being open rings so true for so many people including Elizabeth who has normal hearing but became inspired to pursue her career by her friend and classmate who was deaf but speaking and hearing with cochlear implants.

I never shied away from talking about my hearing loss with friends who hear normally .  Many learned about the challenges and triumphs I experienced when growing up and learning to speak and hear with cochlear implants.  They often asked questions about how the cochlear implant works.  My conversations with friends about my hearing loss was an opportunity to create awareness about cochlear implants because we would never know if they would know someone who could benefit from the technology.  I never in a million year thought that my disability would change the course of one of my very close friend’s life, not by giving the gift of hearing.

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Rachel and Sophia listens to music together on an iPhone.

I first met my friend, Sophia, in grad school in London.  She was my classmate, and we were both pursuing Masters in anthropology.  We came from very different worlds.  Sophia came from China, and I came from the US.  In spite of our cultural differences, we educated each other about our lifestyle differences and still found many similarities between us.  As Sophia shared her challenges with me about learning English and struggling to communicate with people in the UK, I shared with her about my challenges in learning to speak and hear with cochlear implants while growing up.  As I wanted to learn more about Sophia’s home life, I visited her in China right after finishing school.

When I was in China, I got sick with food poisoning and changed my travel plans so that I could get proper care.  I went to Shanghai, which was not on my original travel itinerary, and visited a family friend who was my family’s “deaf” mentor.  This family friend first started working with me and my parents when I was four months old.  She was a grad student and studying speech language pathology.  She worked with me and babysat me until I was four years old when my family and I relocated to a different city.  She moved to Shanghai more than a decade ago and started a school for children with special needs.  One day, we were just having a conversation and somehow my friend, Sophia, was bought up.  She asked what were Sophia’s plans as she was finished with school.  I told her that she was looking for a job.  She told me to give her contact info to Sophia and that she may have something for her.

I will be honest.  I thought my family friend was just being nice.  I didn’t think Sophia would be interested in the job.  I really did not foresee what this little conversation would bring.  I still gave Sophia the information and told her it would be a rewarding place to work because she’d be making the world a better place and she would be with great people.

A couple months later, Sophia was hired by my family’s friend workplace.  Who knew that my getting sick and let alone my disability would lead Sophia to a job!

Sophia said, “When you told me that you want to have a career in making the world a better place, I thought, ‘Wow!  That’s really powerful.’  The concept of working to make a difference was never in my mind.  I thought of working as something to make a living.  But it’s something that I now want too.  I want to take this job because it will be so meaningful, and I will be able to make a difference.”

Sophia has been working for just over two years at the school for children with special needs as an assistant manager.  She tells me about how much she enjoys working because she is helping families overcome challenges in raising their children with disabilities, in particular autism   Her understanding and awareness about disability issues in China has increased so greatly that she has become even more motivated to reach out more and more children with disabilities in China and change their lives for the better.

Don’t ever underestimate people’s interests in learning more about disabilities.  As Heather said, “Reach out, and you’ll be surprised.”

Sophia and Rachel in New York City.  Sophia visited the US for the first time this past October.

Sophia and Rachel in New York City. Sophia visited the US for the first time this past October.

1 Comment


December 25, 2013 at 6:27 am

What an incredible, heartwarming and life changing story! I have never met Sophia but I admire her anyhow! I can just tell what an incredible young woman she is… From the many stories you have told me!