Helen Keller did it and so will I
Dusty and his mom Beth
Helen Keller did it and so will I
by Dusty Roether
I am twelve years old and I am in the seventh grade at Summit Parkway Middle School, in Columbia. I am legally blind and deaf. Sounds scary, doesn’t it?
I was born with a hearing loss and was fitted for my first hearing aids when I was three. When I was five, we were told that I had optic atrophy, which means the optic nerve is damaged. Both my vision and hearing started getting worse to the point where I am today. My mom asked me once if I was scared. I told her "I’m scared, but then I think about what Helen Keller was able to do without any technology. She was able to live a happy life and accomplished a lot. I know with the technology I have to help me, I will too."
Technology has been part of my life since before I was old enough to know what the word technology meant. The first hearing aids helped me to learn to communicate with my family and friends. And the glasses have helped me to see the world around me and to do what I like best, which is to read. And boy, do I love to read!
Assistive technology helps me see and hear things that are being taught in school. I use a monocular (like binoculars but with only one lens) to enable me to see things on the board. I use a program called Zoomtext on a large screen monitor that enlarges things on the computer. From the first to the fifth grade, my school provided me with a Phonic Ear system and in the sixth grade, a Free Ear system to help me hear what my teachers are saying. Both systems have a microphone that the teachers wear and this helps me to hear only their voices. This keeps any other noise in the room from interfering with what I need to hear.
As my hearing got worse, the hearing aids got stronger and I was still able to learn and develop. Last year when we were told that the most powerful hearing aids available wouldn’t do me much good, technology saved the day. On April 24th of this year, I received a cochlear implant. The cochlear implant is an electronic device that is placed by surgery into the inner ear. There is a microphone that connects by a magnet onto the side of the head that the implant is on. The microphone is connected to a speech processor that allows sound to go through the implant and this is how I hear.
For me, the cochlear implant is a miracle. I decided to do my own research on the implant. I went on the Internet and found out a lot of information about it. My parents, my sister and I talked about it together and we decided that I should get it.
I was really scared about the implant before I got it. The surgery was frightening, but it went well. I couldn’t wear a hearing aid in that ear and I had to wait one month before they could turn it on. The ear had to have time to heal. When it was turned on, I didn’t like it. It sounded very weird. But soon I began to love it. It was exciting. Every day, I heard things I’d always dreamed to hear. There were so many things I couldn’t wait to hear. Last year, in school, I was in a bird study group. My biggest problem was not being able to hear the birds. And, sure enough, a month after the implant was turned on, I heard something. I didn’t recognize it. I’d never heard it before. I asked my mom, "What is that?" Her face lit up and she told me, "That was the birds! You heard the birds!"
We have two cats, a male and a female. The male purrs like distant thunder. But the female purrs like the fan in a quiet computer. With my implant, I heard the female cat purring. We went to a noisy restaurant one night after I got my implant. I usually have a hard time at this restaurant. But this time, I heard my parents and sister talking as if the restaurant was deserted. Before I got my implant, I had a hard time hearing phones ringing. Now, I’m glad to tell you - the phone’s ringing is annoying! Many things are getting louder and more understandable. All this is due to technology, technology, and more technology.
This year in school, I still use an amplifying system that works with my cochlear implant. My teachers still wear a microphone, but I use a speaker that I carry from class to class. The speaker is the size of a lunch box (cool, huh?) and fits on my desk. Starting seventh grade has been better with my new ear.
I have really appreciated the help of the SC Assistive Technology Program. Their staff has helped me research options and communicated directly with school people about my needs. They’ve been out to my house and they have become real friends to me. I feel more secure, knowing that I can always call on them for help.
When I am scared about my situation, I think about Helen Keller. She is like a hero to me. I think about how brave she was. I think about what life must have been like for her. And then, I’m not so scared.
Reprinted from the South Carolina Assistive Technology Program’s Assistive Technology News, October 2000