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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 17, Number 2, October 2004

Wear it loud and wear it proud

by Tracey Sweetapple and Lisa Cecile

Covering up—nodding yes—faking it—avoiding eye contact. Trying to fit in. Forgetting hearing aids. Saying the batteries are dead. Offering an endless list of excuses to appear to be hearing and therefore "normal." Trying to fit in with the larger, hearing, mainstream population can be tiring, overwhelming, and anxiety inducing.

That is the message students learned from the deaf and hard of hearing (d&hh) adults who presented at the Second Annual Conference for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students at Okanagan University College, May 26–28, 2004. Students were reminded of the need to connect with others who understand hearing loss in order to develop a healthy identity.

"This was an amazing opportunity for all of the d&hh youth to network, learn from one another, and develop new friendships. It was obvious that the students really enjoyed themselves!" – Melissa Campbell (presenter)

Students with hearing loss, typically educated without d&hh peers, often feel they must mesh with the hearing world, rather than the other way around. The conference, implemented to support the academic, social, and emotional needs of the d&hh students, provides them with a sense of community that is not always possible in their daily lives. With the support of their hearing resource teachers, d&hh students from Vernon planned and fundraised for months to develop a conference program that would be educational and fun.

"You, the teachers and parents, should all be proud of these young people, and they themselves should be smiling to know they are doing everything right in order to grow up to become leaders in our communities and country." – Dennis Robertson (presenter)

On May 26, students checked in at the Similkameen dorms at the OUC North Kelowna Campus. The evening was paced with activities to get the 27 students working together, building team spirit, and creating a lively sense of adventure. Students, divided into house teams, had to find members of their team by sporting the team scarf from their conference registration package. Instructed to "Wear it loud, and wear it proud!" students did just that. Team relay races were held outside, and then a Karaoke machine, connected with a PowerPoint projector and Radium Soundfield system, was given a workout. Students received points for their team by being positive, supportive, helpful, and brave enough to sing.

"The conference was a huge success. Our students had the time of their lives!" – Melanie Thomas and Don McVicar (teachers)

Presentations the next day included audiograms, a hands-on FM session, assistive listening technology (ASL), hearing-assist dogs, and early childhood education and signing for babies.

For the final session of the day, students took a workshop on makeup, pedicure, fly-fishing, guitar-playing, or soccer. It was a tremendous way to cap off the day, and the response from students was enthusiastic. The evening’s activities included another round of Karaoke and viewing Cheaper by the Dozen shown on the wall with the use of a PowerPoint projector, DVD player in a laptop computer connected with a Radium Soundfield System.

"Thanks a lot to all of the teachers of the deaf and hard of hearing. We love you all. It’s been nice and means a lot." – Victoria Nattrall (student)

"My students had a wonderful time and want to go again next year and stay in the dorm. And we will...[he] is a different child since be has seen the campus." – Karen Matheson (teacher)

"Thank you very much for a wonderful time." – Kimberley Browett (student)

On the last morning of the conference, Sandra Vandenhoff, from Phonak, spoke about her life as a hard-of-hearing person and offered personal words of advice for students. The session concluded with a panel discussion by four d&hh adults, who freely gave of themselves and their experiences.

It is amazing how, through this one event, students’ perceptions could be changed. One student said she realized she was hurting only herself by not wearing her hearing aids and FM; that she should not be embarrassed or ashamed to ask others to support her listening needs. Another student said that the experience had changed her life and that she now knew what she wanted to be. Yet another seemed to undergo an overnight transformation from shy and withdrawn to animated and involved. The power of numbers and the strength derived from others who have similar needs is what inclusion is all about.

Through this conference, students had the opportunity to learn from and connect with others who have the same needs. Our thanks to the presenters and sponsors. The students left the conference with an identity that they can wear loud and proud.

Tracey Sweetapple and Lisa Cecile work in the Vernon School District.

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