- Current title: Assistant Professor and John W. and Jeanne M. Rowe Chair in the History of American Politics, Institutions, and Political Economy, Department of History, University of Wisconsin-Madison
- Location: Madison, Wisconsin
- Field of expertise: U.S. history
- Years since PhD: 4
- Twitter: @apaigeoutofhist; link to website
I was an only child in Brooklyn, NY, raised by supporting and loving parents. Neither is hard of hearing. Growing up, I never met other HoH/Deaf kids or got accommodations in school. We never watched things with captions or did anything that would help me gain the vocabulary to articulate my experiences. I was likely born HoH, but I finally got diagnosed at age seven and I didn’t get hearing aids until age 16. I got them when a noisy air conditioner in a classroom finally made it impossible for me to compensate with lip reading and context clues. I remember crying because at the time I thought getting hearing aids meant I had a deficit that I couldn’t overcome with effort. (To this day I sometimes don’t appreciate the extent to which I constantly work hard to hear, but I definitely don’t consider myself as having a loss or deficit). I somehow muddled through college with good grades, still unable and unwilling to communicate my needs. It really took graduate school for me to become empowered and proud of who I am. It’s there that I found allies and actually met other HoH and Deaf people. It was there that I first learned terms like “ableism.” I sometimes get frustrated thinking back on all the things that could have been. What if I had learned ASL when I was little? What if I had been exposed to Deaf culture growing up? I try to channel those feelings in productive ways. For example, over the last couple of years I have made a lot of progress with my parents on explaining to them why I need to see their lips when they talk. We already had a great relationship but it’s getting even better now.
How did you get to where you are?
Becoming a historian was a no-brainer for me. I’ve always been interested in history and I’ve always been interested in cities. Long before I formally pursued this career path, my favorite activity was walking through cities and wondering why they looked or functioned in certain ways. I have sharpened those questions over time to focus on the business of housing segregation.
I have been reflecting on the past lately because my first book, How the Suburbs Were Segregated, was just published in April. It began as a paper I wrote my first year of graduate school in 2010. Graduate school got off to a rough start. It was the first day and I was excited to begin my path toward my dream job of historian. I walked into my first seminar, sat down, and realized with dawning horror that I couldn’t hear a single thing. The professor mumbled. The room echoed. We were seated in a formation where no one directly faced each other. I spent two silent hours trying to hold back tears. Later that day I finally realized: if I wanted to be a historian, I was going to have to do not just the work my peers did but also all the extra work of creating conditions where I could hear. I did that work, I am doing it now as a professor, and know I’ll always have to.
What is the biggest professional challenge (as educator or researcher)? How do you mitigate this challenge?
I face the challenge of teaching classes where some students have taken college-level U.S. history sitting next to others who have never had American history in their entire lives. Being a disabled educator has inspired me to meet this challenge by applying the principles of universal design to my teaching. I ask myself what decisions about pedagogy, content, and course design will create scaffolding and flexibility for everyone. Universal design has also allowed me to consider the intersections of disability with different experiences students face. For example, I make all my readings available digitally and for free. This makes the readings more accessible for students, but it also helps students who might not be able to afford to purchase books. I do not put the burden on the student to request an exception to some sort of “normal;” I teach for everyone.
What is an example of accommodation that you either use or would like to use in your current job?
Volume Amplification helps me do my job better. I have worked with my department to ensure that microphones will be used at all meetings and events with over ten people. For teaching, I use something called Catch Boxes, squishy cubes with microphones inside. My students can toss the Catch Boxes to each other and speak into them. It’s a form of amplification that’s scalable from my small classes, where I use one Catch Box, up through large lectures where I use two or more. The great thing about the Catch Boxes is that they open up new pedagogic possibilities—I can have free-flowing discussions even in a large lecture. My colleagues who are not hard of hearing generally write that off as impossible.
Any funny stories you want to share?
It’s difficult to think of a single story because sometimes my life feels like one long blooper reel. The way that I hear makes distinguishing certain sounds from one another very difficult. Unfortunately, that means I have a very hard time knowing whether someone has said ‘Paige’ or ‘Kate.’ This is a problem whenever I’m in the room with a Kate, which is weirdly often! I happened to sit behind a Kate for most of my senior year of high school. Those were fun times.
Advice to younger self
“You internalized a lot of shame and anxiety about your hearing because you thought your hearing was an inconvenience to others rather than an important part of who you are. It is okay to ask to turn on captions. It is okay to demand accommodations. And you are justified in feeling frustration or anger when people make ableist assumptions. You’ll learn to become a better advocate for yourself over time.”