My guest writer this week is the dynamic Alison Graham, whom I met many years ago through the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association. She lives on Vancouver Island with her husband and young daughter.
By Alison Graham, Hearing Instrument Practitioner
It is not uncommon these days to encounter hearing health care professionals who use hearing aids or cochlear implants. I celebrate these brave trail-blazing folk who did not allow hearing loss to deter them from pursuing a career as an audiologist or hearing instrument practitioner. Thanks partly to them, I have been a proud hearing instrument practitioner for 10 years, though my path to this rewarding career was not an easy one.
I was never a stranger to challenge, and I always wanted to buck the trend–even at age 3-½, when my moderate-to-severe sensorineural hearing loss was diagnosed. Fitted with hearing aids at age 4, I promptly threw them in the garbage. My parents had a wonderful time sorting through several bags of garbage; as luck would have it, my brand new hearing aids were at the very bottom of the very last bag.
But the hearing aids were not a trend; they were here to stay. While not much is known about the cause of my hearing loss, it was soon discovered that the loss was progressive and would worsen over time. I remember being told that by the time I was 30 I would likely have very little hearing left. But if you are a child with hearing loss, people naturally want to help. Strong supports were put into place that gave me every opportunity for success, and there was a collective effort to ensure that I had all the same experiences as my peers.
My post-secondary experience was very different. At this point, my hearing capabilities were beginning to decline dramatically. I was hearing speech, but couldn’t distinguish the words. I enrolled in college my first year out of high school and promptly dropped out in the first semester; there was a serious lack of awareness and services available for hard-of-hearing students, and I just couldn’t keep up.
Suddenly, I began to waver in my confidence about taking on a challenging career. I began to feel that if I couldn’t get the people training me to understand or help, how was I ever going to get a potential employer to understand or help? For a short while, I felt that I wasn’t a desirable person to employ and that in choosing my future career, my hearing loss was the biggest factor to consider, rather than doing something I would enjoy.
Thankfully, I had the emotional support of family and friends who didn’t allow me to fall too deeply into the trap of doubt. I began to get involved in organizations that empowered people with hearing loss. I started to meet others with hearing loss who lifted me up, believed in me, and offered ideas and solutions. It was during this time that I learned of the new three-year Hearing Instrument Specialist program being offered at George Brown College in Toronto. Even better, George Brown College has a 35-year history of serving students with hearing loss and this support gave me a quality education.
By the time I became a hearing instrument practitioner, my hearing loss had become severe to profound, which made some of my work tasks more difficult. Starting out in my career, I relied heavily on hearing aids, lip-reading skills, and FM systems. I used the hearing aid test box to conduct listening checks when I couldn’t borrow a co-worker’s ear and enlisted the help of my colleagues to field calls when appropriate or required.
But the single most effective thing in helping me in this career was obtaining a cochlear implant. While I am usually the one providing guidance, answers, and choices, I was on the receiving end when I obtained my cochlear implant. The whole team tasked with my care from surgery to activation and aftercare provided me the support and tools to ensure that my experience was positive. It reminded me once again how important a role the hearing health professional plays in improving the quality of lives of those living with hearing challenges. I am now able to hear clients easily without having to look directly at them and I can program hearing aids while carrying on a conversation. Talking on the phone and conducting listening checks are almost effortless now.
I had always wanted to make a difference and create change for people with hearing loss, and now I do so every day. The best part of my job is that my personal experiences as a hard-of-hearing youth, late-deafened adult, and now a cochlear implant recipient took me through all the challenges and emotions of hearing loss. This helps me relate to my clients and it helps build rapport and trust. When they see that I have walked a mile in their shoes, they know I understand. I have met so many incredible people doing what I love and I hope I have given back as much as I have received.
I am good at my job despite–but also because of–my hearing loss. It shapes, though never defines, what I do and who I am. Probably one of the most important lessons I have learned and continue to learn is that no matter how impossible the hurdles or obstacles, hearing loss is no reason to stop you from doing what you love or dream. They say where there is a will, there is a way, and the fact that I am here, doing what I love, in a profession many believed I would be unable to succeed in, proves this old adage.