We wouldn’t know sweet without sour.
At the age of 7, I first noticed subtle differences in my hearing ability, such as struggling to hear my shoes hitting the sidewalk, or a pen going across paper. Telephone conversations would gradually become more and more muted. I was unable to comprehend song lyrics on the radio. My deafness is genetic and sensorineural, and progressed slowly throughout my adolescence. Eventually, I was transferred from my neighborhood public school to a school that featured a mainstreamed program for deaf students with sign language interpreters. My new classmates were acclimated somewhat to deaf people, since this was their neighborhood school, but the deaf students came from all over Fairfax County.
Being stuck in limbo between being deaf and hearing can be confusing for many people to comprehend, not to mention myself. Such as, how can a person speak so fluently and articulately, yet be unable to comprehend speech? I was often mocked and teased into things – one time during lunch I was in the boy’s restroom and students were doing a weigh-in for an upcoming wrestling match. Unbeknownst to me the procedure for wrestlers, I was told I had to take off my clothes for the weigh-in as well. At first I resisted until a few guys started to gang up on me. Finally as I started to take off my shirt, laughter erupted and I knew the joke was on me. The prank was innocent enough, yet being in this situation of uncertainty without any knowledge of context was frightening.
As my hearing decreased and daily life struggles became overwhelmingly evident, my audiologist recommended a cochlear implant, just as the latest technology was emerging. Since it was so relatively new and un-heard of, I declined the offer. I succumbed to the stigma of “having wires poking out of my head”. Even with Sign Language interpreters present in each classroom, I struggled academically and socially throughout middle and high school. English was, and still remains my first language and devoting myself completely to Sign Language felt unnatural to me. In essence – I resisted indoctrination into the deaf world, never learning how to be a deaf person in a mainstream environment.
In September 2003 I joined the Internal Revenue Service, IRAP division, after several years in the private sector. As an IT Specialist, my core responsibilities include educating procurement officials on Section 508, Web Content Management and Contract Administration. The division is responsible for accommodation solutions to over 10,000 disabled IRS employees. This includes blind, low-vision, dexterity/mobility, and deafness; ranging from equipment such as Braille displays, one-handed keyboards, to TTY’s. When I began my civil service career, I used several methods of accommodations such as TTY’s, Sign Language interpreters and CART (Communication Access Real-time Translation) services at large conferences. I was unable to communicate one-on-one with several blind co-workers due to the inability to tactfully lip read and follow rapid eye movements. My work-related performance started to show the impact of my hearing-related struggles.
I married in January of 2004, and my wife is hearing and has a very large family, and gatherings are frequent events. Constantly relying on my wife to “interpret” conversations increasingly frustrated me, as I did not want to put her in a co-dependant position. Our first child, my daughter, was due in October of 2004, and I wanted every opportunity to hear and better interact with her. In addition, my commute to work involved using the subway system in suburban Washington, DC. I grew increasingly frustrated when the train broke down, witnessing chaos while the conductor would verbally attempt to comfort riders over the intercom – which I struggled to comprehend. On October 26, 2004, I was activated with an advanced bionics HiResolution 90K Cochlear Implant.
Two years after activation, I am uncovering acoustic treasures long forgotten during the 18 years of profound deafness, such as: the latest technological gadgets like the iPod (and re-discovering the joys of music), surround-sound home cinemas complete with booming treble and bass, clapping thunder and boisterous rain pounding my roof during thunderstorms, my daughter’s joyful laugh; sound is the beauty of my life. I can comprehend tone, clarity, and inflection in personal conversations, attend church without the use of assistive technologies, and feel confident speaking on the phone with complete strangers. Speech comprehension levels went from middling percentage pre-implant, to 93% post-implant. Arguably, that is better comprehension that most hearing people.
With the gift of sound now restored, I am able to partake of life’s simple pleasures once again. My daughter’s budding musical talents are marveling, such as the constant clanking and clattering noise while conducting the “pots and pans band”. If given the opportunity to re-live the past 18 years, I would elect to do it with a cochlear implant. The creator, in infinite wisdom, endowed us with 5 senses so that we may fully partake of life, and everything that life has to offer. It would be a shame not to take advantage of the opportunities that are afforded to us in this time of great technological advancement. In our ever-increasingly competitive world, a person needs every advantage available.
Michael Royer is IT Specialist with the Internal Revenue Service. His core responsibilities include Contract and Web content administration. Additionally, he provides consultation to IRS procurement officials on compliance with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. Prior to working with the IRS, Michael was a Business Development Specialist for Germane Systems, a manufacturer of high-end computer servers.
Michael has been profoundly deaf for over 18 years and is fluent in American Sign Language. Michael is the youngest of three siblings. His mother and oldest brother are also profoundly deaf. Michael received his cochlear implant in October 2004.
Michael and his wife Alicia, and their two children Annemarie and Joshua live in Reston, Virginia.