IM this article to a friend!

December 12, 2002

Students adapt to lack of hearing

From: Kansas State Collegian, KS - 12 Dec 2002

Hearing-impaired students use other forms of communication

Patrice Holderbach
Kansas State Collegian

Even with seven alarm clocks buzzing in the background, Tracey Pfannenstiel can still sleep peacefully in the sleeping dorms of her sorority, Sigma Kappa.

Without the assistance of two hearing aids, Pfannenstiel, senior in public relations, suffers from 80-decibel hearing loss.

The threshold for normal hearing is less than or equal to 25-decibel hearing loss, according to an audiodiagram interpretation.

Pfannenstiel uses the hearing aids, and an ability to read lips, to aid in communication.

"A lot of people in society haven't really been around a deaf person, so it is hard for them to understand what a deaf person goes through," Pfannenstiel said. "They don't understand what it's like. For example, I have to explain to them, 'You have to speak up. I need to be able to read your lips.' "

Pfannenstiel, who ran cross country and track for Colby Community College, also enjoys dance, art and visiting her boyfriend, Marc Walsh, at K-State-Salina.

She said she has developed patience and a stronger personality because of her experiences with hearing loss.

"I have to be able to explain to people, 'I need this, I need that.' I have to be very insistent with people," Pfannenstiel said.

Interpreter Natalie Smith, who teaches manual communications, said the 15 hearing-impaired students adapt to challenges at K-State with assistance from Disability Support Services.

Disability Support Services provides note-takers and sign-language interpreters, as well as assisted-listening devices and special phones for students with hearing impairments, Smith said.

Not all hearing-impaired individuals consider themselves deaf, she said.

"Some hearing-impaired do not identify themselves with the deaf, and some do," Smith said. "There are those that are hard of hearing, or deaf, and do identify themselves with the deaf community. They view it as a culture instead of a disability."

Though she can become frustrated, Pfannenstiel turns challenges into opportunities to improve her relations, especially with teachers.

"I've had to overcome a lot of obstacles that people who have hearing wouldn't have to overcome," Pfannenstiel said. "Like in a classroom setting, I miss out on a lot of instructions that teachers give. I have to go up to a teacher and ask them, and this is a great way to get to know them. As a result, all the teachers I have had classes with, know me."

Sarah Eaverson, junior in music education, has a hearing loss that occurs in the middle range, meaning that she can hear high and low pitches, but cannot discern dialogue.

She said some people question her choice of major.

"I'm a music education major, so naturally people look at me skeptically," Eaverson said. "They figure I won't be able to hear my students, so why am I wasting a perfectly good education.

"I tell them it's something I love to do and I'm going to do it as long as I can. Although it's hurtful to hear those kinds of things, I know that I will be able to do my job well in the future."

Eaverson said her sense of hearing has sharpened since the second grade, when she first began to lose her hearing. Using perfect pitch, Eaverson can automatically sing an A 440 note without a piano or pitch pipe. A 440 is the pitch where a perfect "A" is sounded.

"This amazes my music-ed friends," Eaverson said. "I can tell whether a choir or band is flat or sharp in a second. You need really good ears to have perfect pitch. They think it's so cool that I have perfect pitch even though I have a hearing loss."

Pfannenstiel said the point at which she lost her hearing could not be determined, because as a toddler, she was capable of what her parents called "Flintstone" talking, which sounded like babbling.

"Either I was born deaf, or I was born kind of deaf, and my hearing just degenerated -- or there was a series of ear infections. What threw us off was I was able to talk," Pfannenstiel said.

Until sixth grade, she had the help of a paraprofessional, but never used a sign interpreter. She would spend two hours a night working with her parents on different drills to help her communicate.

"I think that in the community, parents who have deaf children so often they think that the deaf child can't do anything," Pfannenstiel said. "They don't think that the child will have a real bright future.

"I think parents should think that their children can do anything that they want to, no matter what disability that they have. My parents have told me so much with helping me know I can do anything, and I can accomplish anything I want to."

Copyright © 2002 Kansas State Collegian