My guest blogger this week is Wendy Kupfer, author of the renowned children’s book “Let’s Hear It for Almigal”. When doctors diagnosed Wendy’s daughter, Ali, with a profound hearing loss at the age of 10 months, they also predicted she would never speak. They underestimated the determination and drive of this mother and daughter who, in achieving their goals, also becamse passionate advocates for other families living with hearing loss. Ali and Wendy recently returned from the AG Bell Convention.
It was Thursday, June 26th, and you could feel the excitement permeating the hotel lobby as professionals and families gathered in small groups to welcome their friends to the 2014 AG Bell convention at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Orlando, Florida.
One of the convention’s goals was “to bring the AG Bell community closer to its collectively envisioned future in which families raising children who are deaf and hard of hearing will receive the information, education and support needed to make confident, well-informed decisions through their child’s entire educational and life transitions.” AG Bell’s convention is one of the largest international gatherings of families and the professionals who make a difference through their support. Parents share common concerns, challenges, questions and fears. The feeling of bonding when people share a passion like this is worthy of goose bumps.
There were numerous opportunities to make new connections and renew old ones throughout the weekend, and it was a love fest with a mission. Today, thanks to the Internet, there are many on-line communities available for parents of children with hearing loss. These parents support one another like old friends, but in many cases they have never actually met. The AG Bell convention gives these families the opportunity to meet in person for the first time. (More goose bumps!)
Children of all ages had a wonderful bonding experience. Experts agree that it is critical for our children to have friends they see as “just like me”. Because many children with hearing loss today are educated in the mainstream, they may not have any other friends or even know another person their age with hearing loss. This convention gives them an invaluable opportunity to make lifelong connections while also nurturing their self-esteem.
There were many worthwhile pre-convention workshops offered by the experts in their fields. On Friday evening, AG Bell officially kicked off the festivities with a beautiful welcome cocktail reception in the exhibit hall. Representatives from Advanced Bionics, Cochlear, Med-El, Oticon Pediatric, CapTel, and Siemens were available all weekend to answer questions. Many schools were also represented, including Clarke Schools, Sunshine Cottage, and Gallaudet University. It was an impressive group of over 70 exhibitors displaying exciting new products and technology to assist professionals, parents, and adults with hearing loss.
Saturday morning feartured the opening general session and keynote presentation. This always starts super early—which is not easy for me—but my daughter Ali and I were in our front row seats, waiting anxiously, by 7:30 am. (Ugh!) As always, AG Bell did not disappoint! Comments from the stage were very inspiring as were the speakers themselves.
The first speaker was David Davis, the 2014 Convention Chair, followed by the outgoing president, Donald M. Goldberg, Ph.D. Next the audience had an opportunity to meet AG Bell’s impressive new CEO, Emilio Alonso-Mendoza, J.D., CFRE. Then AG Bell’s new president, Meredith K. Sugar, delivered her Inaugural Address.
After the presentation of some well-deserved awards, Rosalind Wiseman gave her keynote address. Rosalind, a best-selling author and a sought-after speaker, is internationally recognized as an expert on children, teens, parenting, bullying and social justice. Her presentation was insightful, thought-provoking and well received.
Following the closing comments, concurrent sessions were offered in several learning tracks: Educational, Therapeutic and Clinical Management; Professional Practice; Living with Hearing Loss, Communication, and Technology; as well as various learning labs. In addition to earning continuing education units, attendees gained a perspective on current topics in the field of deaf education and learned about the newest techniques, approaches and technology in listening and spoken language.
There were numerous take-aways from this important gathering of incredible people. One came from Meredith Sugar, who described coming to her first AG Bell meeting after her infant son was diagnosed with hearing loss 8 years ago.
“I walked into the convention and it was like a light got turned on in a dark room. I immediately was surrounded by the most qualified hearing loss professionals in the world. Families and children just like mine. Deaf adults thriving in the real world. They were all there, giving me tremendous hope for my son’s future”.
When I asked my daughter, Ali, what her lasting impression was, she said, “That’s easy…watching the kids swimming and playing water volleyball in the pool with their bathing-suited cochlear implants”. (She was so impressed that she made an appointment with her audiologist to upgrade her CI.)
As a mom of an adult daughter with a profound hearing loss since birth, the reflections are many! It is emotionally gratifying to know that this community exists, filled with wonderful success stories, and that members are there to support one another on their hearing journey.
I love meeting the children, talking to them and hearing their incredible speech. And I continue to marvel at the deaf adults (like Ali) and their accomplishments. It just never gets old when you remember the fears you had when your child received the diagnosis of a “severe to profound hearing loss”. I have come into contact with a great many dedicated parents and professionals through Let’s Hear It For Almigal, so it was amazing to finally meet them face-to-face. As a Florida AG Bell board member, I enjoyed meeting the other board members in person as well.
I will be forever grateful to AG Bell for their guidance and advice back in 1977 when Ali was initially diagnosed, and I hope we are now helping other families on their journey. All of the various organizations dedicated to the deaf and hard of hearing, in addition to the many schools and professionals that support families, are truly special!
We are truly blessed to be part of this very caring and dedicated community.