Why deaf awareness month matters to everyone

I’m Jack Burrows, a senior here at UW-W. I transferred here last fall and have no regrets. I am an Electronic Media major with a minor in Corporate Communications. I play the trombone in the trombone ensemble here at UW-W. I am Committee Chair of DREAM, which is a student organization that raises awareness of disabilities on campus and aims to better the life for disabled students at UW-W. I am actively involved in the UWW-TV station on campus and have worked football, basketball, volleyball, softball and more. I am also a distance runner and I will be running the Discover Whitewater Series 5K later this month.

All of this sounds fun and all, but you might be asking yourself, “Why am I reading about you?” And the answer to that is that I am hard of hearing. I have had bilateral sensorineural hearing loss since I was in second grade.

“So if you’re hard of hearing, why didn’t you mention that in the opening paragraph?”

The truth is while growing up hard of hearing has greatly affected my life in many ways, it is only a small part of who I am. And it might sound crazy to say, but we all can agree its better to define ourselves using our capabilities instead of our disabilities. It is also the reason I don’t call myself as having hearing loss.

And even with an optimistic approach to my disability, I can still say that I have been faced with many challenges growing up as someone who is hard of hearing. For example, any time there are group discussions in classrooms, I struggle to understand what others in my group are saying because there is lots of noise coming from other groups in the classroom. When I am longboarding or even walking around campus on a windy day, I have to take off my hearing aids because we all know [hearing aid] microphones and wind do not go well together. When I play the trombone, I take my hearing aids off because I hear myself better (too long to explain), but this comes at the expense of being able to hear others talk if I was playing in an ensemble setting. I also do not wear hearing aids when I run. Even though the hearing aids I wear advertise themselves as being sweat resistant, I take no risks to make sure they work when I need them to.

Even with the best hearing aid technology to date, I continue to struggle with being hard of hearing on a daily basis. I still ask people to repeat things, I miss out on jokes people say all the time. It causes me and many others stress on a daily basis.

But despite all these obstacles, I do not let that get in the way of being successful. I made the top in high school and got to play in Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s concert hall with the wind ensemble. I won the Whitewater 5K in my age group for last fall. I have been an audio technician for some live Warhawk football events.

The moral of the story is, even though every person inevitably has difficulties that pull them back, everyone can still be successful in their own way.

I’d like to finish this article by educating how you can best communicate with not just me, but anyone who is deaf or hard of hearing. Make sure you have their attention when you speak to them. Look at them in the eye. Don’t cover your mouth when you speak.

Speak clearly, slowly, and articulate your message. Use hand gestures to visualize your message. And most importantly, be patient with them, repeat things when they ask you to. While they can hear you speaking, they don’t always understand what you say.

If you do all of this, you might earn yourself another friend!


-Jack Burrows


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