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November 9, 2004

Dakota woman fights to help late deafened adults communicate

From: Freeport Journal Standard - Freeport,IL,USA - Nov 9, 2004

By Jane Lethlean

When Kathy Schlueter, of Dakota was a young girl, her actions were often misunderstood. It was not until she was 30 years of age that it all made sense to her.

It was at that age that she finally got what she was always looking for - a diagnosis of late adult deafness. Schlueter found out that her condition was hereditary and that she was born with a hearing deficit. Her hearing loss is progressive, but knowing that it wasn't her fault has given her strength to help other adults with the same affliction.

It was through her efforts as a member of the Association of Late Deafened Adults (ALDA), that she received the I. King Jordan Award from the international organization of ALDA.

This award is named after the first deaf president of Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. Gallaudet came into the news in 1988 when students protested and closed the university to draw attention to the selection of a person with normal hearing as its president.

ALDA is a self-help organization for people who have become deaf. It includes a diverse membership that is committed to including all people with hearing loss, no matter which communication mode they prefer.

Each year the members of ALDA gather for a "family reunion" known as ALDAcon. When the group met in September, Schlueter received her award.

Schlueter's roles with ALDA are numerous and include many years on the national board of directors as president-elect, president, past president and regional director. She currently serves as president of ALDA -Freeport, chapter coordinator and advertising director of ALDA News. Her roles are voluntary, since ALDA has no paid staff.

Schlueter has never taken her deafness lying down. She is a fighter and says, "I cried when I was told that my deafness was heredity. I finally found someone who believed me."

After she was diagnosed, she went into counseling, dealing with years of frustrations that led her to have doubts in herself. She says that as a child, she always knew something was wrong. She spent days serving detentions, because teachers thought she was just being a difficult child.

"I asked a lot of questions, which drove the teachers crazy," Schlueter said. "I knew I was different, but I just couldn't get anyone to help me."

Today Schlueter is lending her help to many. She says that learning the causes for her deafness has given her back her independence. She says she helps others deal "with the blame."

Late-deafened adults often find themselves stuck in the sequential stages of adaptation to deafness. According to Schlueter, many deaf persons report the indifference and intolerance are the most difficult stresses to tolerate. She says once those things are dealt with and recognized and managed properly, those afflicted are able to make psychological gains and experience spiritual growth.

Schlueter married and raised two sons. She said that as her sons grew up, they became her ears. But it wasn't until 1989 that she was persuaded to attend her first ALDA convention, which was held in Chicago that year.

"I went to that convention because I just wanted to meet other people like myself," Schlueter said. "I didn't want to go at first, but it turned out to be the best thing to happen to my life."

"I met someone at that time that made me understand that deafness didn't solely rest with me when it came to communication."

"After I attended my first convention, I came home with spirit in my heart," Schlueter said.

Schlueter is adept in speech reading, something that she developed early in life. She taught herself sign language, because as she puts it, "with speech reading, you are lucky to get 40 percent of the conversation correct."

She says speech reading is an effective way to communicate, but it takes work to take what you can get by reading lips to make a sentence.

"Speech reading puts a real strain on me," Schlueter said.

All of this has made Schlueter an advocate for deaf adults. She joined the Lions Club organization because of club's work for those with hearing loss. She likes to make speeches to educate "normal hearing adults about deafened adults."

Schlueter wears a hearing aid to help her communicate, but adds that this doesn't help solve the needs for the hearing impaired. She likes to talk about the social responsibility that comes with hearing loss and this is where she gets involved with lawmakers to pass bills to include hearing aid coverage in insurance.

"Hearing aids are an extension of our ears," Schlueter said. "We need them. Our hearing loss is not visual and it is necessary to our survival."

Schlueter said she likes to work with family members of those with hearing loss. She says people with normal hearing must learn to adapt as well, being able to communicate should not just rest with those afflicted with hearing loss.

Schlueter said that while her husband and sons did not learn to sign to communicate, she said that her grandchildren are learning to sign, which makes her happy.

"It makes me happy to know that my grandchildren love me unconditionally and are happy to do what they can to communicate with me," she said.

Gloria Popp of Freeport first got to know Schlueter because of shared hearing loss. Popp heard Schlueter speak at her local Quota Club and was impressed by what she had to say.

Popp also has progressive hearing loss and Schlueter persuaded Popp to attend a convention in 1995 and the two have attended every convention together since.

Popp was excited when she heard that Schlueter was going to receive the I. King Jordan award.

"Kathy really deserved receiving the award," Popp said. "She is such a behind the scenes person when it comes to helping adults with hearing loss."

"The problem with being a late deafened adult is that signing as a form of communication is hard," Popp said. "Growing up we learn English syntax and signing is learning to communicate through English concepts. Being a late-deafened adult is like being caught between two worlds."

Popp, like Schlueter, knows how important it is to be with other adults who share the same hearing deficit. She adds that going to the national conventions is a great way to meet up with other deaf adults, but also gives them an opportunity to see new technology being offered by vendors.

In addition to her work with ALDA, Schlueter has also done presentations and workshops for community organizations such as Kiwanis, senior service groups and the Center of Sight and Hearing in Rockford. She is also the recipient of the "Deaf Woman of the Year" award from Quota International District 22 and she received the Lions International President's Certificate of Appreciation in 2003. And if that isn't enough, she also served as the first woman president in the 48-year history of the Dakota Lions Club.

"I am proud of myself for what I have accomplished," Schlueter said. "A lot of people relate to others like themselves. I just try to help them by introducing others to what I have learned."

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