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About The Mind Hears

A blog by and for deaf and hard of hearing academics

Profile: Nora Duggan

A smiling white woman with straight brown hair and wearing a black sweater sprinkled with flowers. She is standing in front of a wall with brightly decorated yellow and blue tiles
  • Name: Nora Duggan
  • Current title: PhD student
  • Location: Department of Linguistics, Stockholm University
  • Field of expertise: Linguistics
  • Twitter: @nkduggan

Tell us about your background

I grew up with deaf parents and a deaf sister so I was very fortunate to be able to use Irish Sign Language (ISL) at home. One of my favourite memories is my father telling his versions of classic stories such as Three Little Pigs and Red Riding Hood through ISL, which was WAY more fun than reading from the books. 

I attended an all-girls deaf school in Dublin. My generation saw the shift from oralism and all hearing teachers on our first day of school, to a growing number of deaf teachers and an acceptance of using ISL in the classrooms. During my school years, most of my teachers did not teach using ISL; but toward my final year I could feel the attitude shift among the teachers from not caring about whether we could understand them if they spoke, to feeling guilty that they had not learned ISL earlier. This was major, considering that my mother, who attended the same school, was punished severely whenever she signed. 

The two deaf schools in Dublin were an all-boys school and an all-girls school. My mother, my sister and I attended the girls’ school and my father attended the boys’ school. An interesting history about Irish Sign Language is the use of gendered signs. Because the schools were separate based on gender and there was very little interaction between their pupils, these schools had numerous different signs, sometimes even to a point where it impaired the ability for deaf people of different genders to understand each other (see Le Master, 1997 for more on this). This meant that my mother and my father had different versions of some ISL signs in our household based on their gender, although it must be said that my father used more of the women’s version of ISL signs as there are three women in our family. Truth be told, I had not really appreciated the uniqueness of the language situation in my family until I started my PhD in Linguistics. 

How did you get to where you are?

I have a BA degree in Geography, with a focus on Human Geography. My interests during my undergraduate years were the influences of the outside environments on deaf communities and how the communities embraced and/or resisted changes from external influences. I used to want to be a teacher, but during my undergraduate years, I realised that I loved research and wanted to continue doing research, so I decided to apply for a postgraduate course. Because of my interests in the dynamics of deaf communities, I took a MA degree in Community Education, Equality and Social Activism. My research focused on the relation between the Irish deaf community and the ISL recognition campaign; e.g. the deaf community’s access to information provided by the campaigners and whether they understand what the consequences may potentially be once ISL was recognised by the state (which it is now). 

I was very fortunate to have a deaf friend who was a PhD student herself. We met up for coffee and I told her I was thinking of pursuing a PhD. She told me to take a break in between my MA studies and my PhD studies to explore what was out there. Looking back on this, I appreciate this advice so much. In the five years gap, I’ve worked in different governmental agencies, advocated for deaf rights and even moved to a different country and learnt two new languages. Because of my experiences, I have a new appreciation for language studies which got me to where I am today, researching multilingualism in deaf migrants in Sweden!

What is a professional challenge you have faced related to your deafness? How have you mitigated this challenge?

During my BA and MA, I tended to work alone the majority of my time and did not really seek the advices of my supervisors. This was for several reasons. The main reason was that it was difficult to get interpreters for either short or spontaneous meetings so I either had to speak with my supervisors or write to them. The second reason, particularly during my Masters, was that I found that I was constantly explaining how the deaf community works, how sign languages work, why certain terms were either appropriate or not appropriate and why I did not choose a particular theory that my supervisor thought would suit the topic best. I felt that the constant explanations ate up supervision time, and left no time to be mentored, so I avoided meeting my supervisor the rest of my Masters. Looking back on my thesis, even though the topic was really interesting, I felt that the lack of mentorship showed in my writing. I also had severe imposter syndrome, which meant that I was afraid to ask her simple questions in case I was seen as that deaf student that did not know anything.  

My principal supervisor for my PhD is a deaf signer herself and this helps me immensely not only in dealing with imposter syndrome (I can ask her simple questions without feeling ashamed), but I’ve also learnt that a supervisor is meant to act as a mentor that guides me in my writing and advises me on a wide array of areas. My PhD has been an incredibly emotional journey of reflecting on my past, especially on my school years. For this, I am forever grateful to my current supervisor!

What advice would you give your former self?

Build up a network of deaf students where you can share tips, or even just rant about barriers you’re facing. 

Working in Stockholm University where there is a great number of deaf colleagues, I am grateful that I have the opportunity to just rant to others about silly things that we as deaf people often have to face in the university world and I can get advice in how to navigate certain obstacles.

Any funny stories you want to share?

Learning new languages is exciting, especially when you have opportunities to use these new languages. This was the case for me when I moved to Sweden. I have not had the opportunity to use French outside of French classes at school so it was incredibly exciting for me to be able to use Swedish outside of the classroom. However, in order to improve my Swedish, I must use it every day even when I felt that I was not “good enough” in the language. The ä, å and ö letters were difficult for me to differentiate and unfortunately for me, some words can have an entirely different meaning with an ‘ä’ in it than an ‘a’. I’ll give you a real-life example! A common way to sign off an email is “med vänlig hälsning” (“with friendly greeting” would be a direct translation). When I started my job as a civil servant at the local council, there were numerous times I wrote “med vanlig halsning” (“with normal greeting”) … I can just imagine the faces of the politicians reading my emails that signed off with a ‘normal’ greeting!

Reference:

Le Master, B. (1997) Sex differences in Irish Sign Language. In J.H. Hills, P.J. Mistry & L. Campbell (Eds.) Trends in Linguistics. Mouton De Gruyter. Available at this link

New Year’s Resolution 2023: Improve accessibility of your workplace for your deaf/HoH colleagues

crumpled post-its notes with various New Years goals, such as manage debt. Includes "make workplace accessible".

The new year brings a fresh start to our lives; it’s a natural time to reflect on the year past and make plans for the coming year. In what is becoming a The Mind Hears New Year tradition (see posts from 20192020, 2021 and 2022), we have updated our list of recommendations for making your workplace accessible and refined the layout of the recommendations. You can view and download the full list of recommendations for making your workplaces (in-person, hybrid and remote) accessible for your deaf and hard of hearing colleagues at this link. Below we provide an outline of the best approaches for increasing workplace accessibility and provide links to blog posts that explore particular aspects in detail.

Universally design your workplace: Our spaces become more inclusive for all when we improve access for any subgroup of our community. Consequently, by increasing the accessibility of our workplaces for our deaf and hard-of-hearing (HoH) colleagues, we create a better workplace for everyone. This includes hearing folks who have auditory processing disorder, use English as their second language, or are acquiring hearing loss during their careers. Chances are that someone in your department has hearing loss, whether they’ve disclosed this or not, and will benefit from your efforts to make your workplace more accessible (see The Mind Hears blog post about where are all the deaf and hard of hearing academics). This is why you should universally design your workplace now and not wait until someone who is struggling asks you to make modifications.

Sharing the work: With a google search you can find several resources on workplace accessibility for deaf/HoH employees, such as the Hearing Loss Association of America’s  (HLAA) very useful employment toolkit. One drawback of these resources is that nearly all of the suggestions are framed as actions for the deaf/HoH employee. While deaf and hard of hearing academics need to be strong self-advocates and take steps to improve their accommodations, our hearing colleagues can help us tremendously by sharing the work to create accessible workplaces. Speech reading conversations, planning accommodations, and making sure that technology/accommodations work as intended is never-ending and exhausting labor that we do above and beyond our teaching, research, and service. Your understanding and your help can make a large impact. For example, if a speaker doesn’t repeat a question they were asked, ask them to repeat even if you heard the question just fine. The people who didn’t hear the question are already stressed and fatigued from working hard to listen, so why expect them to do the added work of asking speakers to repeat? (see The Mind Hears blog post on listening fatigue). Repeating the question benefits everyone. The changes you make today can also help your workplace align with equal opportunity requirements for best hiring practices (see The Mind Hears blog posts about applying for jobs when deaf/HoH here and here). The Mind Hears coordinated the listing of advice for different academic settings below to help you become better allies today.

One size doesn’t fit all: If a participant requests accommodation for a presentation or meeting, follow up with them and be prepared to iterate to a solution that works. It may be signed interpreters (there are different kinds of signing), oral interpreters, CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation), or Assistive Listening Devices(formerly called FM systems). It could be rearranging the room or modifying the way that the meeting is run. Keep in mind that what works for one deaf/HoH person may not work for another person with similar deafness. And what works for someone in one situation may not work at all for that same person in another situation, even if these seem similar to you. The best solution will probably not be the first approach that you try nor may it be the quickest or cheapest approach; it will be the one that allows your deaf and hard-of-hearing colleagues to participate fully and contribute to the discussion. Reaching the goal of achieving an academic workplace accessible to deaf/HoH academics is a journey.

Want to be a better ally and make your workplace accessible for your deaf and hard of hearing colleagues? Follow this link to read our list of recommendations. We welcome your comments and suggestions either to this post or directly within the document at this link.

Profile: Dr. Stephanie Flude

White woman with bandana around her hair leans near the ground just behind a stack of rocks and sea glass. She wears glasses and outdoor gear.

Twitter: @thenoblegasbag

Professional Information, such as: 1) Current role/title: 2) Location:  3) Field of expertise:

Earth Science PDRA,  freelance research, training and management consultant and artist. I currently live in a gorgeous seaside village in north east Scotland.

1. Tell us about your background? For example, tell us about your hearing loss, your schooling, and/or your family/culture

Unlike many of the other profilees, my hearing loss began in adulthood and I’ve only been part deaf for around half of my lifetime. I grew up in a town in northern England with a very middle-class upbringing. I don’t really remember interacting with any deaf people while growing up and my exposure to and awareness of deafness was limited to the idea that old people wore hearing aids, and sometimes someone would translate something into sign language on TV.

I probably started losing my hearing around the age of 21, but didn’t notice or get a formal diagnosis until I was in my mid-twenties. When I was 21, I had a hearing test as part of an investigation into some sinus pain I was having. With that test I discovered I had tinnitus; I came out of the test saying that I probably missed some beeps because I thought they were just normal background noise in my head that I hadn’t noticed before. In hindsight, I think that test actually showed hearing loss, but the consultants never actually showed me my audiogram or raised the issue – they just gave me a leaflet on tinnitus and that was that. I hadn’t noticed any problems with hearing, other than with one friend who is notorious for mumbling very quickly anyway, so didn’t think any more about it. Until a few years later when someone asked me if I was beeping. I thought my digital watch alarm had just stopped working about 6 months earlier. Turns out it was working fine and I just couldn’t hear it anymore. 

My first proper audiogram showed I had above average hearing in the lower frequencies, but I was losing the high frequencies. I was given one hearing aid to try out initially. I remember feeling very disoriented when leaving the audiology clinic, wearing that hearing aid for the first time as sounds on my left were louder in my right ear. I also remember substantial pain and discomfort during those first few weeks of wearing ear moulds. I don’t know whether I just had badly fitting ones to start with or whether there is just an adaptation period. 

My hearing loss is sensorineural, and probably down to a genetic mutation, but not any of the ones they can test for (or could test for 15-20 years ago). It is progressive and I was quickly moved onto wearing both hearing aids. And then more powerful hearing aids. A few years ago, I completely lost the highest frequencies in my right ear – that was not a fun hearing test as having a sound you can’t hear blasted into your ear at full volume feels a bit like your brain is being electrocuted.

Year by year I lose more and more of my hearing, and I’m now borderline eligible for cochlear implants, so there are big decisions for me on the horizon.

2. How did you get to where you are? For example: How did you decide on your field? How did you decide to pursue a higher degree in your field? What concerns did you have when you started out?

Some of my earliest memories are fossil hunting on a beach with my Mum. I think I inherited my love of the natural sciences from her. I’ve also always been a magpie, drawn to shiny things, and so developed an interest in rocks and minerals. I had the (rare) opportunity to take Geology at school, with one of the UK’s most enthusiastic and inspiring teachers, and got hooked. At university, I had plans to become a physical volcanologist (my inner magpie again – you can’t get much shinier than glowing basalt lava), but my maths and physics wasn’t good enough, and I drifted into geochemistry instead, where it is much easier to visualise and interpret data plotted on graphs and charts. I still wanted to work with volcanoes, and so research was really the only way to go. I managed to get onto a funded PhD program studying the temporal evolution of some Icelandic volcanoes, without having a masters, thanks to spending 5 months doing voluntary work at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

I finished my PhD in the usual (for the UK) 3-4 years, but my publication record got off to a slow start, so I was not very competitive in the research job market those first few years. In hindsight, it is possible that my hearing loss contributed to that difficulty – I was diagnosed about a year after completing my PhD, and so was probably struggling to hear and understand spoken conversations for a year or two before that, but without realising it, and instead just feeling tired all the time and low on capacity to get those papers written.

The slow start on publishing had me drifting from postdoc to postdoc. My first two postdocs, like my PhD, used a technique called Ar/Ar dating, where you work out how old a rock is by measuring isotopes of the noble gas Argon. At some point, funding for dating rocks dried up and I found myself taking a massive side step to work on a project that used noble gases as chemical tracers for carbon capture and geological storage (CCS). That was my gateway into the energy transition world, that has seen me working on a wide range of CCS issues, on hydrogen exploration, and recently teaching MSc students about energy technologies, climate change, and CO2 emissions mitigation. 

I left mainstream academia about a year ago. By the time my CV (i.e. publication record) became competitive enough to stand a chance of getting an independent research fellowship or lectureship I was too “old” to be eligible for most fellowship programs (i.e. >10 years post PhD). When I started my last postdoc at Oxford University, I thought that would make-or-break my career. Thanks to Oxford’s exceptional careers centre, it broke it in the best possible way. I had the opportunity to engage with loads of entrepreneurial training and development, that helped me realise that academia is too restrictive for me – I am a generalist who thrives on getting above average expertise in a lot of things, but not the really high level of focussed expertise in a single niche, which is unfortunately still necessary to get on the permanent job ladder in the UK academic climate. The support network I developed through that training also helped me realise that my transferable skills ARE actually in demand, and it is possible to make a living off them. So I took the leap, set myself up as a portfolio career freelancer…. And landed right back in academia again with my first and third contracts, and I’ve just now started a new part-time PDRA at Strathclyde University, looking at storing heat in abandoned coal mine shafts. You gotta laugh.

This period of career transition was also important for bringing me into The Mind Hears. I first met Michele Cooke, co-founder of The Mind Hears, in San Francisco, at the AGU conference (back when we still had in-person conferences). I was giving a poster about native hydrogen. Michele was giving a talk about The Mind Hears and accessibility. We stayed in touch, and around the time I was finishing my last postdoc and looking out for freelance work, I saw that Michele was asking for someone to help with social media for The Mind Hears. So here we are!

3. What is a professional challenge you have faced related to your deafness? How have you mitigated this challenge?

As my hearing loss is progressive, the challenges are constantly evolving, and it is difficult to distinguish between professional challenges and general life challenges. Following meetings, lectures, and seminars has become increasingly difficult over the years, to the extent that I feel like I benefitted from, rather than suffered through, the pandemic lockdown with the move onto online meetings, with captions. One specific challenge that comes to mind is when I realised that I couldn’t hear the fire alarm while working in a particular lab (noble gas labs use a lot of pumps and compressors, so they are quite noisy). My supervisor at the time set up an elaborate plan, that meant I wasn’t allowed in the lab outside normal working hours (yay! – no late nights!), and I would always have a building buddy who would stop by the lab if the fire alarm went off. It was a nice idea, but within a couple of months, everyone who was supposed to be supporting the plan forgot about it, including the supervisor who then scheduled me on evening shifts in the lab. I ended up just leaving the door open when I was alone in the building. To any lab owners reading this – please have your institutions install flashing lights as part of the fire alarm – it is far more accessible!

4. What is an example of accommodation that you either use or would like to use in your current job?

It is more of an accessory than an accommodation, but I don’t know how I would survive without my Roger Pen / Roger On (or some other device that lets my hearing aids work like headphones – see post on FM systems). At the moment, most meetings I have are on video call, so my Roger Pen is attached to my computer and streams audio directly to my hearing aids. It is also great if I can get presenters to speak into or wear it during meetings, lectures etc. 

5. What advice would you give your former self?*

Don’t hide your fire!

I think becoming more and more deaf has increased my ability to advocate for myself, mostly out of necessity. And that seems to have improved my capacity to speak up in general and share my opinion more often.

6. Any funny stories you want to share? For example: hearing aid batteries going dead at inopportune times, mis-hearing  – hearing gaffes, dating with deafness

Remember that notorious-for-mumbling friend I mentioned in the first section? I remember a phone call with them – I think it was shortly before my hearing loss was diagnosed –  they were talking about going on holiday and I was really confused because it sounded like they were going on holiday to Frog. We spent what felt like ages trying to establish what the place was. “Frog” evolved into “Frarg” which made even less sense, before I eventually managed to parse “Prague”. More than 15 years later, it is still an in-joke and we occasionally just shout “FRARG!” at each other.

Profile: Amelia Dall

woman with long brown hair and pale skin smiles to the camera wearing a beige shirt that says in fingerspelling font "IDK DINOS".  The shirt is from Amelia's shop.
  • Name: Amelia Dall, M.A., RPA, GIS
  • Current role/title: Archaeologist for the Bureau of Land Management – Royal Gorge Field Office and Archaeologist & Creative Specialist for SEARCH, Inc
  • Location: Colorado Springs, Colorado 
  • Field of expertise: Archaeology, Collection Managment and Geographic Information System 
  • Amelia’s Website | Linkedin | ArcheoAndASL art

1. Tell us about your background

I was born deaf and raised in Maryland to two deaf parents, with a hearing brother, and we grew up utilizing American Sign Language in our household. I attended Maryland School for the Deaf from the age of 2, or 3, and graduated from the school when 18. I received my Bachelor of Arts degree in Art History from Gallaudet University in 2012, and my Master of Arts degree in Anthropology-Archaeology from Texas State University in 2017. I recently received my Certificate in Geographic Information Systems (Spring 2022) from Front Range Community College. 

2. How did you get to where you are?

Being deaf, and having two deaf parents who both held affluent positions in the federal government gave me the opportunity to self-acknowledge the potential I could have for my future. My parents both encouraged pursuing a profession I wanted, and to never settle for less. Even though growing up it felt like my only option for a career was to be a deaf teacher, I knew I never wanted to be a teacher at a deaf school  because I wanted a profession allowing me to work outdoors.  

However, it was not until I was a Sophomore at Gallaudet University when I realized my passion for archaeology while taking an Art History class  under Dr. Marguerite Glass (an amazing professor) and “connected the dots” to my upbringing (I was always digging in the backyard, going to museums and historical sites, and loving the Indiana Jones franchise). I was able to go to an archaeology field school in Belize with the Maya Research Program funded by Gallaudet University in the summer before my Senior year. Attending field school confirmed my decision of wanting to go into the archaeology profession. I was the last student at Gallaudet University to receive the Bachelor of Arts degree in Art History, before they closed down the program. 

After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree, I did unpaid internships as well as volunteered at several museums doing collection management to increase my experience in the museum/archaeology professions while working at various employment positions (one of which was at a group home!) to earn money somehow (and I was also on Social Security Disability Income, luckily). 

One of the volunteer jobs I did was with a professor (Dr. Ana Juarez) from Texas State University, transcribing funerary ledgers. The internships and volunteer work allowed me to have a list of references in order to apply for the archaeology graduate program at Texas State University, and the professor I volunteered with had also vouched for my skills. 

During my graduate program, I was a Graduate Instructional Assistant (GIA), and worked for the Center for Archaeological Studies under a wonderful Director (Dr. Todd Ahlman, who to this day continues to support and encourage my endeavors) doing site mapping and was how I came to learn about Geographic Information Systems. I also did part time work with Dr. Christina Conlee (who was also my thesis chair), doing lithic and ceramic analyses. I learned how to identify minerals within lithic and ceramic fragments, and to recognize the different types of materials. 

Because of my GIA employment position, I was able to incorporate GIS in my thesis work and after graduation, volunteered for organizations needing GIS work. I also continue to learn more about lithics from professionals when doing fieldwork, and to increase my education through them. 

A full-time job in Archeaology can require first having lots of different short-term positions to establish your expertise. After graduating with a Master of Arts degree in Anthropology-Archaeology, I was not able to immediately be hired for a position in the archaeology profession. I was hired as a Museum Educator for a local museum (Berthoud Historical Society; in Berthoud, Colorado), then a Weekend Visitor Services Coordinator (Denver Firefighters Museum; in Denver, Colorado). Fortunately, a year into living in Colorado, my former supervisor from Center for Archaeological Studies had an archaeology fieldwork project for a contract he needed to have done nearby Denver and hired me on the crew. This opportunity allowed me to increase my fieldwork experience in archaeology but was not enough for me to be hired as a field technician for a Cultural Resources Management (CRM) company, just yet. After the project, I was hired to work for two more museums (WOW! Children’s Museum and Denver Museum of Nature and Science) before finally obtaining an archaeological position working for Colorado Parks and Wildlife as their Cultural Resources Stewardship Technician. Most archaeology positions, like the one I had, are contracted for nine months to a year and do not pay well. So I had to move on and was able to get hired for a CRM company as a field technician. After a while, I applied for a temporary position with Oak Ridge Institute of Science and Education under a contract for the US Army Fort Carson doing archaeological collection management (which is where my previous museum experience was handy to have!) and worked nearly a year there. It was, again, another time-limited contract and I had to move on. However, by this time, I had accumulated enough references so that when I reached out to an acquaintance (Chris Sims, @godigahole on instagram/patreon), he was able to get me a position with the CRM company he worked for (PaleoWest). Which led me to my current employment position for the past year, working for the Bureau of Land Management as an Archaeological Technician. I also started part time work for SEARCH as an Archaeologist & Creative Specialist (mainly doing their social media) in March, and this was an incredible opportunity offered because of my public archaeology outreach on my social media accounts. 

Being an archaeologist requires a graduate degree if one wants to pursue a position with the possibility of advancing in the profession (unless  one wants to stay a field technician). For example, I not only have experience in Archaeology but also in Collection Management (which is museum-related – if I ever wanted to work for the museum industry), and Geographic Information Systems. 

3. What is a professional challenge you have faced related to your deafness? How have you mitigated this challenge?

My concern when first starting out was whether I’d be considered for employment positions due to my deafness; most employers, in general,  are iffy about communicating with a deaf person. 

However, I think the main challenge is to remind myself to not leave the profession due to loneliness as the deaf person in the workforce, and the fact that my coworkers/supervisors do not know American Sign Language. My love for archaeology and passion for this profession, is what keeps me going and motivates me to try my best in finding positions that are a great fit for me.

4. What is an example of accommodation that you either use or would like to use in your current job?

I am able to request ASL interpreters for meetings/lectures through an established system, and utilize a Garmin inreach®  satellite communications device when out in the field in case of emergencies. Otherwise, archaeology is usually an individualized profession where I’m able to go out into the field on my own. This means that I can have work-life balance by doing stuff on the weekends with my deaf friends and family members. 

5. What advice would you give your former self?

If I had already known what it is I wanted to do (the profession), then to hit the ground running much earlier in life rather than waiting till college to volunteer for opportunities. 

6. Any funny stories you want to share?

Archaeologists can be competitive, and the work is often tedious. Being in a great field crew also means ensuring some kind of fun during fieldwork. My favorite memory was when I was out doing fieldwork with a crew, and because the project was a “lithic wonderland” (aka we’d be finding and recording lots of lithic materials) we decided to hold an informal competition in who would find the most projectile points. At the end, one of the crew members held the title with 13 projectile points total and I was in second, with 12. This also made me feel I was exceptional in doing what I do, especially being a deaf person, and that I was just as great an archaeologist as everyone else on the crew.

7. Is there anything else you would like to share? 

Perseverance is key. In whatever profession one may have, within a hearing-centric workforce, perseverance is key in moving forward and in learning. Always present your work; develop a website, or mention your previous experience, or connect with people who would advocate for you. Be proud of all you’ve accomplished. 

Invitation to an online meet-up with The Mind Hears community

Poster with The Mind Hears logo and a cup of coffee, inviting all to a virtual open house on Friday, Oct. 7 at 12:-12:30 EDT. Times for alternative time zones are listed in the text below the figure. A link for registration is also provided with the poster and in the text below.

One of our goals with The Mind Hears blog is to build a community and reduce isolation for deaf and hard of hearing academics.

To provide an opportunity for our community to meet and interact, we are developing a series of “open house” drop in sessions on Zoom, where people can come along to network, chat, and share experiences. You can meet other deaf and hard of hearing academics including folks who have contributed to and been profiled by the Mind Hears.  Students are welcome!

Our first session will be Friday 7th October, and will run for 1.5 hours (see a list of times in different time zones below). Pour yourself a cup of tea or coffee, and stay for as little or long as you would like. Unfortunately, we can’t provide cake as this is a global event.

   18:00-19:30 CEST

   17:00-18:30 BST

   12:00-13:30 EDT

   09:00-10:30 PDT

To provide a safe space for the event, we are asking people to register in advance. Registration is free, and you will receive a link to access the event on registration. Please follow this link to register.

Captions will be enabled, and we will also have American Sign Language interpreters for the session.

Looking forwards to seeing you,

-Michele, Ana and Steph (the Mind Hears team)

The Mind Hears Mission Statement – Welcoming Chinese speakers

Translated by ~Jenny Kung, Heather Fair, and Minru Li

With help from Xiang Li, Anran Cheng, and Xiaoxu Ma

The goal for The Mind Hears is to serve as a global resource for deaf and HoH (hard of hearing) academics. Though countries differ markedly in the degree of resources provided to deaf/HoH individuals, our hope is that this blog can be a refuge and forum for all, regardless of where you are. To date, however, most of our blog contributors and followers have been in the US and Europe. Jenny Kung, Heather Fair (see Heather’s recent profile), and Minru Li have generously reproduced The Mind Hears Mission Statement here in Simplified Chinese characters to help reach our Chinese-speaking friends, allies, and colleagues worldwide. We welcome help with translating our mission statement to other languages!

A cropped map of the world showing Europe, part of Africa, and Asia, with countries where Chinese is the primary spoken language shaded in dark green.
Image modified from original by Eddo under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license

宗旨宣言

该博客由处于各个职业阶段并有一定程度听力受损的学者撰写,供所有听力受损的学者使用。 我们使用‘聋人/HOH’ 来指代所有失聪或有听力障碍的人,不论其听力受损程度如何或采用何种首选交流方式(口头或手语)。本博客的目标是: 

  • 提供一个集思广益的平台,应对我们面对的挑战。
  • 分享听力受损人群在学术界的发展策略。
  • 创建聋人/HoH学者社群从而加强学术机构中沟通方式的包容性。

为什么用博客?

尽管经历可能各有不同,但作为聋人/HoH学者,我们总是身处为非听力受损人群所设计的环境中, 如何在专业上取得成功是我们面临的巨大挑战。由于各自背景以及所处的机构组织不同,我们可能拥有不同的争取资源和权益的能力以及解决问题的方法和策略。但是受到听力受损这种无形的残疾的限制,我们很难认识彼此,因而错过了相互学习的机会。通过这个博客,我们希望能够接触到世界各地的失聪及听障学者,从而减少孤立并建立一个资源和思想的共享平台。尽管听力受损程度不同且对各自生活的影响不一,通过这个博客,我们希望为所有浏览及参与讨论的人提供价值。

为什么关注学者?

作为学者,我们需要与听力正常的同事和学生开展各种持续沟通的交流的活动,比如:授课、出席研讨会、参加委员会会议和资助小组会议,主持和领导各种学术议,参与科普活动,并与媒体沟通。以上沟通场景是学术环境中特有的挑战,而作为学者,无论是听力正常人还是聋人/HoH,掌握以上场景中的沟通能力是获得成功的先决条件。社会及高校提供了针对听障患者的基础咨询和服务,然而该服务在大多数情况下无法满足我们聋人/HoH学者的专业需求。通过本博客,我们旨在创建一个聚焦聋人/HoH研究生学术群体的资源中心,从而帮助所有认定为聋人/HoH的学者实现其最大的专业潜能。

为什么“心灵能听见”?

我们博客的名字来源于雨果写给聋人教育学家贝尔蒂埃的一封信:

“心灵能听见时,即使耳朵听不见又如何呢?唯一的耳聋,真正的耳聋,治不好的耳聋,是心聋。”这个说法包涵了一个强有力的理念,在以听力为主的学术环境中,我们能否对学术研究和社会发展做出贡献,并非取决于是否能听见声音,而是是否能保持创新和坚韧。听力残障人士的沟通手段包括手语,唇读,助听器,字幕和人工耳蜗等,已经充分展示了人类聪明才智的无限潜能。雨果的说法与我们的信念不谋而合,那就是敞开心胸,对不同的解决办法采取开放态度,接受和听取不同的观念。无论是先天还是后天失去听觉能力的人,我们都已经在学术界工作中发展出了通向成功的道路。有时耳聋是件好事(列如:耳聋增益,Deaf Gain),但有时亦会带来很多负面拖累。此博客是一个表达观点和分享经验的家园。希望你们会发现这里是一个充满能量,资源丰富、思想开放、收获累累的聚会之地。

Harnessing social media to advocate for accommodations

-Paige Glotzer and Michele Cooke

While just the mention of ‘social media’ can elicit eye rolls from our senior colleagues, many of us deaf and hard of hearing (HoH) academics have found social media, such as Twitter, Instagram or Facebook, to be very helpful for connecting with others who share similar lived experiences. However, sharing our experiences with lack of access on social media can be a mixed bag. Occasionally, they receive no response or engagement. Sometimes, our stories evoke ‘that is terrible’ responses. Many folks feel powerless to offer effective solutions and they might either not respond or provide a ‘this is terrible’ response. This is understandable. Lack of communication access is a very challenging problem that often cannot be fixed easily because many of our conferences, lectures, meetings, etc. were designed by and for hearing people. Providing a ‘this is terrible’ response validates our frustration even if it doesn’t actually help to change the situation.

One amazing aspect of social media is that sometimes our message can reach folks who actually do have the power to change communication access. But will they make changes or not? 

Harnessing social media to advocate for accommodations text is on top of a keyboard that has images of different social media on various keys.

A few months back Michele was impressed with how effectively Paige was able to use social media to self-advocate for change. We decided to co-write this post to provide an example of how one hard of hearing academic inspired a conference (we will call it the ABC conference) to swiftly change their inaccessible approach after it was already underway. Like other deaf and HoH academics, we are both used advocating for our needs in professional settings. Paige has been outspoken about turning self-advocacy into policy in their home department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. They had long admired Michele and Ana’s work on creating The Mind Hears platform and community for deaf and HoH academics. We hope that this example can serve as a model for how we all can be more effective with our self-advocacy. 

Paige took to social media after a frustrating morning when they joined a virtual panel as an audience member and realized that not only was there no captioning, but neither was there the usual Zoom feature to request it of the host.

Post #1An entire zoom conference I’m required to attend as part of a prize committee without even the option to request captioning in sessions?   LOL

The post got quite a few ‘this is terrible’ responses. Paige used those responses to explain the issue and educate commenters.

Post#1 follow up comment: They don't let you directly message a host in the chat so I'd have to publicly request captioning, revealing my disability to everyone in the session. Still awful but preferable to what seems like total ignorance and zero effort on considering accessibility.

The story could have ended there but Paige opted to advocate for change in two ways. First, they privately contacted the meeting organizers and then they shared a summary of the meeting on social media in a follow up post.

Post #2: This is the exchange I had with the moderator of the ABC in its virtual conference lobby. This is a major organization and a large international conference, being held entirely on Zoom. I'll be sending an email to the leadership later. I'm tired.
Paige: “Good morning. I am currently in a session where there is not even an option to request captioning. I am surprised by this. Is there something that can be done to ensure this basic accessibility feature in all sessions? The only time I've encountered this problem in the past is when the host of a Zoom session does not have an institutional Zoom account that supports live transcription.”
ABC representative: “Sorry to hear this. The meeting will be recorded. And we can add captions afterward if you need to re-watch your presentation. The ABC does not have an institutional account. Again, apologies for this.”
Paige: “This is very disappointing. It means I can't participate equally if I want to ask questions. I'm also on a time-sensitive prize committee so waiting for the captions to be added probably won't let me meet the requirements of my job today. This is a basic accessibility measure long standard at virtual conferences. I have long loved being a part of the ABC but today it has sent a message that disabled members such as me are not considered or valued, even as we do service for the organization.”
ABC representative: “Hello, I am currently looking into our options. And we will surely take this to the Trustees.”
Paige: “Thank you.”

A member of the ABC conference committee also saw the post on social media. 

ABC chairperson comment to post #2Hi all writing into this as ABC person centrally involved in planning this conference and also active in it for many years. We assumed that our zoom account would support captions. We have never done a conference like this before so we are learning. This was unexpected. My apologies this has happened but as our web coordinator said we'll look into this to try to figure this out.

A little later in the same thread

ABC chairperson follow up: You've been sent an email from the ABC president apologizing and explaining how this happened- and also that we think the problem has been fixed.
Paige: That sounds really fantastic. Thank you to you and everyone at the ABC who worked to resolve the issue. I'm looking forward to trying out the captions tomorrow.

The next day Paige logged in to find Zoom’s live transcription enabled for all conference panels. Paige posted a follow up to conclude the story and give credit to the organizers they knew were reading:

Post #3: After my exchange with the ABC and my post here, leadership reached out to me and worked with Zoom to enable captioning in sessions. The president of the ABC personally apologized and folks checked in with me today to make sure live transcription worked. I am happy that the organization responded rapidly and collectively to increase accessibility in the middle of the conference. Today's going much more smoothly. 
My hope is that people remember this when planning the next conference. Whether in person or virtual, access needs to be considered (and tested beforehand) just like any other standard feature of an event.

This story ends with the conference apologizing for the oversight and providing improved access. But not all of our self-advocacy stories end this way. Both of us have participated in inaccessible conferences. A group of AV staff once told Michele that no FM telecoil neck loops were available anywhere in the major US city of their conference. Paige has repeatedly been told that access features such as captioning recordings or providing access papers are too expensive and cumbersome to consider. We all have stories where we request better access and get nowhere.

What made advocating for change effective in this instance? What can we learn from Paige’s experience in order to make our own advocacy efforts more effective.

  1. They didn’t stop after the initial sharing on social media. Talking to the conference representatives takes valuable energy and time. Energy and time that you could be investing in the conference.  Paige recognized that they needed to prioritize investing time in contacting the conference representative and taking notes on that conversation. 
  2. In advocating for themselves, the Paige was very clear that their lack of access wasn’t just going to affect them but also the integrity of the prize committee.  Unfortunately, when organizations perceive that only a few deaf or hard of hearing people are impacted, they will not see the issue as important. Being able to frame your lack of access as impacting others provides more traction. While not all of us are part of prize committees we can say “A colleague has asked me for feedback directly after their presentation and I won’t be able without better access”. This kind of statement, which can always be true, points out how much everyone misses out when deaf/HoH are excluded. If applicable, one can also make the point that more accessible communication, such as captions, benefits more than just deaf and hard of hearing participants. Ideally, this numbers game should not be necessary. Unfortunately, we know we are self-advocating within ableist settings.
  3. When Paige shared the exchange with the conference representatives on social media, the conference was now being held accountable publicly for their response. This is a very savvy use of social media. Now it isn’t just the deaf/HoH academic who is waiting the conference representative to respond, but many hearing colleagues are also now invested in the outcome and will want to see the conference do the right thing.

The conference chairperson who read the social media posts was wonderful at accepting that they needed to make a change. Sometimes folks just get defensive and aren’t willing to change. We like to think that points 1-3 helped the conference chairperson be more receptive to change but sometimes this is out of our control.   


Paige Glotzer is Assistant Professor and John W. and Jeanne M. Rowe Chair in the History of American Politics, Institutions, and Political Economy in the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of History. Their award-winning first book, How the Suburbs Were Segregated: Developers and the Business of Exclusionary Housing, 1890-1960 was published in 2020. Their work has been featured in both peer reviewed journals and popular outlets, including the Journal of Urban History, CityLab, and Time. They joined the University of Wisconsin after a postdoctoral fellowship at the Harvard University Joint Center for History and Economics.

Profile: Dr. Heather Fair

A smiling woman with short white hair, red earrings, and a green top. There is a Latin American tapestry in the background.
  • Current title: National Science Foundation (NSF) Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Biology
  • Location: University of Minnesota
  • Field of expertise: stream ecology, microbial ecology of glacial-melt streams, glaciers and periglacial environments, and traditional ecological knowledge
  • Website: www.heatherfair.com

Introduction: Someone took a bite out of my cookie

I was born with a bilateral moderate-severe mid frequency sensorineural (MFSN) hearing loss.  This type of hearing comprises 0.7-1.0% of sensorineural hearing losses in which high-frequency (descending) and pancochlear (flat) hearing losses dominate.  MFSN is described as the u-shaped audiogram or cookie bite hearing loss because sounds in the mid frequency, or spoken range are affected, with an audiogram that looks like a bite has been taken out of a cookie (Figure 1).  Cookie-bite losses are virtually all genetically acquired, whereas aging and noise exposure are the most frequent causes of high frequency hearing loss.  This link is an auditory example of what it is like to hear with a cookie bite hearing loss.

An audiogram of an individual with hearing loss in the mid-frequencies.

Figure 1.  A mid frequency sensorineural hearing loss audiogram.  The horizontal lines from 0-20 represent the decibels of sound that the average hearing person is capable of hearing.  The curved lines denote the decibels of sound in which an individual with cookie bite hearing loss can hear in the right (A) and left (X) ears.  This type of hearing loss occurs within the human spoken range with many sounds important for speech recognition masked by the hearing loss (e.g., p, h, g, ch, sh, f, k, s, a, r, o, and th).

As an ecologist, I think of people who are profoundly Deaf, those with a reverse slope hearing loss, a cookie bite loss, or deafness from a young age, as a rarity within the tremendously diverse field of ecology in which all individuals play an important role in the human ecosystem.   

Without hearing diversity, we are missing the tremendous collective power of different human experiences, ideas, and creative thought which is shaped by information that our ears and eyes take in and interpret throughout our lives.

Tell us about your background 

I was born and raised in a small Amish community in northeast Ohio where my Amish great grandparents were forced to leave the church due to their furniture business.  My grandpa (who spoke Pennsylvania Dutch), dad who was a mechanical engineer (who I suspect had a cookie-bite hearing loss), mom (educator who worked with people with disabilities), and brother owned and managed the store.  I lost my parents at an early age and the store has since become a brewery, which is pretty neat as I am a hop grower myself.   

At the time I was born, infant hearing tests were not standard, so I was not diagnosed with my congenital hearing loss until around the age of eight.  I was also diagnosed with severe near-sightedness at the same age.  When my family was at our farm one day, I asked, “what are all the people doing standing on the hill?”  What I thought were people were actually cows.  I was taken for my eye exam where the big E was a blob and I got my first bottle-thick bifocal glasses.   

As much as I hated my glasses, reading became enjoyable and I excelled at creative writing by using my imagination – because, hearing fatigue set in for me after the first few minutes of a class, and I was able to take a trip into my mind.  During these trips, I was terrified that the teacher would pull me back into the classroom by asking a question that I wouldn’t know how to answer, so I tried to remain as inconspicuous as possible.   

During my first hearing exam, I remember the doctor explaining hearing aids to mom but when technology limitations for cookie-bite losses and cost were discussed my mom’s expression guided the doctor’s response.  He waved his hands and declared, “don’t worry, she’ll figure it out!”  That’s the last time my deafness was discussed.  We have to remember that back in the 70s; the concept of accommodations did not exist.  Assuming an 8-year old would figure out what accommodations were and then apply them to her life was a monumental task.   

My most vivid recollection of kindergarten was at the final bell of the day, when the principle announced “it’s time to line up outside at the buses”.  I would put my head in my arms and cry in fear as this meant I had to figure out which bus was my bus number and read invisible lips when I was off track.  I was terrified that I would end up at the wrong end of the county instead of home!!  Could I have benefited from sitting in the front row in classes and obtaining notes from others?  Absolutely!  From cued speech?  Oh my, this would have been a game changer for a cookie-biter in a hearing world!  Learning ASL at a young age?  Absolutely!!!   

Looking back at my life up through mid-career when I finally got hearing aids, I’m amazed how I was able to stumble through life by reading lips, speech-guessing, expression reading, and avoiding burdening people by asking them to look at me and repeat.  What I ended up doing was to laugh or to nod my head with a “yah” when the overwhelming effort to figure out what was being said exhausted me.  Therefore, I suspect people had an impression of me as either scatter brained or very agreeable.  No one knew I had my deafness because I, myself, didn’t realize I had a credible issue because as the doctor said, I could “figure it out”. 

How did you get to where you are?

My road to becoming an environmental scientist was circuitous.  The wonderful advice instilled by my parents, “you can be whatever you want” is something I hold very close to my heart.  With my upbringing in a family business, business was the option I knew I could earn a living regardless of my passions, of which I had many. 

I spent summers in the nearby creeks and loved raising cows, guinea pigs, dogs, cats, parakeets, and a donkey, but I didn’t know that ecology/environmental science could be a career.  Besides playing first base in little league and punt-pass-and-kick with the boys, my first strong interest beyond writing was in playing and arranging music.  I played piano, trombone, trumpet, French horn, and e-flat alto, and later learned violin while I was getting an MBA.  No auditory words necessary with these pursuits. 
 

Whenever I had a passion to learn a new instrument, I headed to the little barn behind our house and practiced for hours.  Defiant!  No one was stopping me from switching from trombone to trumpet!   When I saw the Ohio State University Marching Band perform my sophomore year on a field trip, I decided this was the band I wanted to be in, so after high school I picked up an e-flat alto and painted 22.5-inch separated lines down the driveway to perfect the military-style high step.  Highly competitive, I made it into the band my freshman year and every successive year.  While around this creative group of musicians, I was amazed at how they could belt out crass jokes and sing lyrics to pop, rock, and looney tune hits!  How did they hear all those words?  I also was bestowed a nickname in the band that I won’t divulge, but I’m sure there is a direct correlation with my cookie bite hearing loss.   

I had considered a career in medicine but my first attempt at chemistry sitting more than 10 rows away and to the right side of the lectern with a heavily-accented Russian chemist lecturer in a 500+ student lecture hall, did not go well.  I decided I would rather work outside than in a hospital anyway, so I should find a career where I could travel.  So, I went the practical route and chose international business management and marketing with an almost-triple major in Chinese.  My ear guided my choices.  Plus, I had no concept of environmental science or ecology as a career.   

For my language requirement, I arrived at the packed 102 Spanish class and the only way to remain anonymous was to slink into the very last seat in the long line-up of desks.  I couldn’t understand a word the teacher said from that distance.  I thought, “wow, my Spanish sucks” and promptly dropped out.  That quarter I found out that the university had 1-on-1 Mandarin Chinese language courses.  I signed up for 3 credits, no pressure, self-paced.  The experience was phenomenal and I continued to take Chinese classes through the graduate level over the next two years.  I just had the feeling that China would become a super power in 20 years.  My fortune was that not many students were signing up for Chinese language classes at the time so there were only five to six students per class.  This was perfect – to sit around a small table so I could read faces and hear enough.   

Fast forward to my corporate career at Wal-Mart HQ in Bentonville, AR with fresh MBA in hand in the information systems and global procurement divisions as a business analyst and strategist.  I was able to use my Chinese and trained suppliers and associates on business analysis systems that we developed in Bentonville – all over Asia (China, Taiwan, Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong), Brazil, Hawaii, and Dubai.  My career was phenomenal and the trajectory was headed upwards, but I ended up having six different managers within seven years which didn’t allow enough time for advocacy-building and mentoring relationships to blossom.  I never mentioned my hearing, and at that point I still didn’t have hearing aids because the issue had been buried since I was eight.  I’m sure others noted something different about me….and they probably weren’t aware that I saw their subtle facial expressions when they thought I wasn’t looking.  But I was phenomenal at putting cross-disciplinary teams together and generating ideas to solve complex problems.  I worked with others to figure out innovative ways to weave systems and business processes together to cut down the lead time from product development to purchase order creation.  The rest was for the logistics team to handle, which they did spectacularly.   

I was in Hong Kong on an overseas assignment when 9/11 occurred.  At one point after returning stateside, I provided a flow chart that was shared by my IT managers with the US government that helped them to understand how Wal-Mart efficiently collaborated with suppliers by supplying data freely.   They had noticed that after 9/11 the stores closest to the trade towers were able to maintain adequate dog food supplies for rescue dogs, even when the rest of the country was at a stand still.   

The last six months before I took a leave of absence I was an initiating member of the China environmental team that examined climate change and product life cycle issues, and I developed a balanced scorecard for executives, put together a green bag luncheon series, and was active in several other environmental working groups.  At the same time, I was pigeon-holed into an accounting position (that was never on my career goals statement!).   

My career goal was to become an international executive but during a career development meeting a VP told me, “but women usually stay at home and raise the kids”.  I’m convinced that the time-lag it took me to hear what he was saying, which shocked me into silence upon realizing what he said, saved his pretty face.  Wow, how did I let someone get away with that comment!  I didn’t even have a husband or kids!  At the time, most expats were married males with at least a kid or four to put into private schools while overseas.  What a bargain they missed overlooking talented single females, but then, we didn’t look like leadership so we didn’t fit the profile.  

At that time I decided that if I was not traveling, and I loved the environmental issues so much, how would I become a VP of global environmental sustainability without a science background?   

I packed my bags and headed back to the university on a leave-of-absence, and my first NSF fellowship a year later sealed the deal.  I was able to cut the umbilical cord from the corporate world and I’m forever grateful to the OSU Chinese Dept., my master’s advisor, and the National Science Foundation.  I am thrilled with that decision because when you are so deep into the interests of the billions for pennies, and under stress that makes you sick, you lose sight of what is really important in life.  I was appalled when I considered the pollution emitted from China factories directly into the atmosphere and aquatic environments, and flip flops and plastic beach balls that sold for a dollar but remained in the environment for thousands of years, all in the name of low prices for Americans.   

Enough was enough; I had to learn how natural ecosystems worked before anything.  You lose track of yourself, family, and the living environment when you are in the corporate rat race.  I was once termed a “butterfly” because I networked with corporate leadership and the hard-working busy bees to brainstorm solutions, but now this butterfly was ready to migrate.  I’m so glad I let my VALUES and magnetic compass guide my second career. 

While in graduate school I spent half of my time conducting stream ecology research in mountain regions and glacier-melt streams in a small Tibetan village in the Three Parallel Region of SE Tibet.  I acquired my first pair of hearing aids around the second year of my Ph.D.  I went to an audiologist because my roommate that summer mumbled constantly and it was driving me crazy.  When the audiologist, with his thundering New Zealand accent asked me “now how are you going to become a CEO with those ears”? I realized I really needed help.  With my hearing aids, music suddenly had a third dimension, and I heard rain drops, keys, footsteps, book pages fluttering, key board tapping, and many other sounds for the first time.   

My hearing aids helped tremendously, but they are not like putting on a pair of glasses.  It takes time to retrain your mind, and it will never be as good and immediate as a pair of glasses but they can be a game changer if you give your mind time to comprehend and adjust to what you are hearing.  I completed my Ph.D. in 2017 and am currently an NSF postdoctoral fellow in biology conducting supraglacial microbial ecology research. I was a Knauss Fellow at US Geological Survey, taught at Middlebury School of the Environment in China, Kenyon College, and Ohio Wesleyan University, and have mentored many students.

What advice would you give your former self? 

This is actually a reminder to my current self to advocate for policy change and insurance coverage for hearing aids (in particular for congenital and disease-caused deafness).  Why does a graduate student/terrified teaching assistant need to pay ½ of her low-income stipend for six consecutive months to cover a tool she needs to be able to perform her job (e.g., hear student questions, gain confidence in the classroom, pick up ancillary information, network with other graduate students, hear lectures)?  For those who have a hearing anomaly that requires the most up-to-date technology, we should consider providing new hearing aids at least every 5 years, and more frequently if there is a radical technology breakthrough.  After 10 years of daily use and tender care, my first pair wasn’t doing a thing.  I didn’t realize this until I got a new pair.  This should be considered for the future health and competitiveness of our nation.  Additionally, training for all Americans to understand the issues faced by those who are profoundly Deaf and those who live with deafness would help in creating an inclusive and understanding country.  

Any funny stories you want to share?

Before hearing aids, I constantly performed mental gymnastics to figure out what everyone was saying because what they were voicing seemed nonsensical.  If I could remember everything my mind first “heard” I could be a stand-up comedian.   Even with hearing aids, misunderstanding words is a frequent occurrence because hearing aids can never solve the ear-brain connection, although they can greatly reduce the time lag to solve the puzzle.    

When I was heading to the gym one day, listening to NPR in the car, Ann Fisher was talking about eating bacon as a huge problem affecting young people, and I wrestled with this for a couple of minutes trying to figure out why young people eating bacon was currently such an issue.  First, young people don’t typically get atherosclerosis, and since when did bacon become such a hot food item? Then it suddenly came to me — she was talking about vaping!  Aha, now that made sense.   

The irony about all this is that as everyone’s hearing is on the decline with age, mine will probably be the best at age 90 because with every few years, the technology to support cookie bite hearing losses becomes better.  I heard new sounds with my second pair of hearing aids, and practically ran for cover as I heard “Pterosaur screeches” before my mind converted them into black bird caws.  Imagine what I might be hearing at age 90. 

Science in ASL is a whole different language: Interpreters in STEM

— Megan Majocha

Deaf and hard of hearing scientists often face a lack of communication access, which is troubling because they have made significant contributions to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields over the decades and diversify the STEM workforce. Therefore, sign language interpreters trained in science are critical to making STEM inclusive for deaf scientists. During my PhD journey in the past few years, I have slowly expanded my network of scientifically trained interpreters. Having worked with me for about three years, my scientific interpreters know my research and what I do. Having the same interpreters with me throughout my PhD is extremely important because it creates a communication barrier if the interpreter is not skilled in STEM vocabulary. Very often, science signs do not exist because STEM in American Sign Language is a specialized language, as are other signed languages. Although there are a few resources where deaf scientists meet and discuss signs for specific science words, the signs are not standardized yet and need to be developed (see Atomic Hands listing of different ASL STEM dictionaries). Furthermore, I had trouble finding scientific interpreters when starting my PhD, either because they were working with other deaf scientists already, or they weren’t available full-time. Consistency was essential for me, because interpreters will be able to pick up science-related language and signs as we go. My class and on-call interpreters should be consistent throughout the semester, so I require two interpreters full-time. In my experience, not all interpreters know science when they first start working with me, but their enthusiasm and commitment to learning the science make them good STEM interpreters.

drawings of finger alphabet for S T E M overlain on an blue washed image of DNA

It is one thing to translate from English into ASL, but translating from ASL into English is also challenging. People do not realize that I cannot practice my presentations alone. In order to prepare well, I have to practice with my interpreters ahead of time. Interpreters who don’t understand what is being discussed in meetings may cause major misunderstandings. For instance, some signs seem similar but have different meanings. Here are examples of such misunderstandings from my own experiences: 

  1. “Stain” and “dye” – When I said, “I stained my cells with crystal violet to perform cellular proliferation assays,” the interpreter would say, “I dyed my cells” instead of “I stained my cells.” In histology, it is important to note the difference between both words. A stain is a blend of dyes used to give contrast to different parts of the tissue used on a microscopic slide, while a dye is a reagent that colors specific molecules of tissue samples. 
  2. “Metastasize,” “spread,” and “disseminate” – When I said, “tumor cells metastasize to the lung,” the interpreter would say, “tumor cells spread to the lung,” which is the right concept, but “spread” isn’t the word I wanted to use.

I need to be very specific about which words I use. Such specificity is important in science, as it ensures that all scientists are assigning the same meaning to keywords. Having consistent interpreters assigned to us is essential so they become fluent in ASL of our discipline. Another consideration is that I need STEM interpreters voicing for me at all presentations and lab meetings, including one-on-one meetings. For these meetings, I provide some background information and a summary before each session to be extra prepared.Additionally, some science words sound similar to “everyday” terms that non-STEM interpreters might overlook. There was a time when I had a sub interpreter during a lab meeting in which mammary glands were being discussed. The interpreter said “memory” instead of “mammary.” At the time, I thought we were discussing memory cells in the immune system and could not adequately follow the lab meeting! 

Since starting my PhD, I have expanded my team of scientific interpreters to reflect the demands of my job. In addition to giving presentations at conferences, presenting data during lab meetings, and participating in networking events, an important part of science is chatting with colleagues about our work. Scientific interpreters facilitate all communication between my colleagues and me. Having qualified scientific interpreters for my classes and lab work has allowed me to focus on my career, instead of constantly worrying about communication.

Even so, I still face a barrier whenever I need to travel outside the region for a conference. To attend a recent conference, I asked the agency to send my preferred scientific interpreters, who have already voiced my prior presentations and are well acquainted with my work, to accompany me. I was informed that the agency was unable to send my preferred interpreters, but they could find me interpreters in the conference area. “How can I prepare for my poster presentation and attend networking events with interpreters who know nothing about my research?” Attending scientific conferences is a critical part of my scientific training, and I need scientifically trained interpreters to have the same access as the rest of the conference attendees. I will not be able to participate in this event if I am working with interpreters who do not have experience or do not have the expertise to translate the specialized language used in our lab. As a result of my mentor’s advocacy and my own advocacy, I was finally able to bring my STEM-trained interpreters with me to the conference.

It is important for deaf scientists to be able to focus on their research rather than using up energy trying to get access. A deaf scientist’s advocacy is crucial, as is their mentor’s advocacy. Our advocacy and clarity about the accommodations deaf scientists need will help ensure their success. We cannot assume everyone knows how to accommodate us, let alone know which interpreters are the best fit for us, but by persisting in efforts to have our needs met, we can normalize the respect that our accommodation requests deserve. 


A light-skinned woman with dark pulled back hair smiles to the camera while working at a lab bench. She wears calves and is handing vials under a fume hood.

Megan Majocha is a Tumor Biology PhD candidate at the National Institutes of Health/Georgetown University. Her research interests include breast cancer metastasis, cancer genomics, and epigenetics. As part of her thesis research, she investigates the role of metastasis susceptibility genes in breast cancer metastasis and the mechanisms that lead to them. Throughout her career as a deaf scientist, she has been interested in science communication to provide access to science to everyone. 

Writing reference letters for disabled mentees

This post was originally published as an opinion piece within Inside Higher Education in February 2022. Since then, I’ve learned that some graduate schools in the US ask that letter writers not mention disability, citing section 5.04 of the US Education Reform Act. In my opinion, keeping disability or deafness out of reference letters misses critical opportunities both for conversations with mentees about disclosure and for demonstrating how disabled experiences enhance traits needed for success, thereby rejecting the deficit model. If done thoughtfully, such efforts can empower disabled or deaf mentees, de-stigmatize disability and erode academic ableism.

Maybe the best approach depends on the situation. What do you think?

— Michele


Reference letter–writing season is upon us, and you may be wondering how to approach writing about the disabilities of students and colleagues you are recommending. Letters of reference are critical components of admissions, hiring and promotion. But because letter readers tend to read between the lines, even just mentioning a disability can be a red flag, as Amy Vidali, an associate professor at the University of Colorado at Denver, has noted. For example, the decision of when/how to disclose deafness in the job search came up often when The Mind Hears surveyed deaf and hard of hearing academics about their job search experiences.

As a part-deaf full professor who has navigated her entire career with a disability, I’ve been on all sides of the desk. I’ve been the mentee cringing at the misrepresentation of my disability, I’ve been the mentor wondering how to frame my mentee’s skills in the best light and I’ve been the letter reader assessing strengths and weaknesses of candidates. Here, I offer some specific suggestions.

You should never disclose someone’s disability without their approval. Even if someone has a visible disability, the letter readers may not yet have met your mentee. Please don’t presume that disclosing disability benefits candidates because “the committee likes to see disability for diversity.” Committees committed to equity are still vulnerable to the pervasive ableism that drives discrimination and harassment of people with disabilities within academe and our society. Admissions and hiring committees are much more likely to admit/hire an abled person.

For example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics reports that, in 2020, only 26 percent of disabled people with bachelor’s degrees were employed, compared to 72 percent of able-bodied people with bachelor’s degrees. Asking your mentee for approval to mention their disability need not be awkward if you are prepared to explain why you think that mentioning their disability in your letter would be beneficial.

Guidelines for Having the Conversation

If you haven’t already, ask how the person requesting the reference letter describes their disability. Do they use person-first or disability-first language? Some folks prefer medical based terms like “hearing impaired,” while others prefer culture-based terms like “Deaf” (with a capital “D”). In my case, I prefer “part-deaf” or “part-Deaf” to either “hard of hearing” or “deaf,” because it expresses that while I have residual hearing, my hearing loss is significant enough that just speaking a little louder is not going to accommodate my disability. The descriptor “part-deaf” is not yet standard, so I greatly appreciate it when folks check in with me about how I describe my disability.

Please don’t guess the preferences of your mentee. Also, consider that some people may not want you to describe them as disabled and would prefer other labels such as “neurodiverse,” “having chronic illness,” “Deaf” and so on.

When explaining why you want to mention their disability in your letter, share with your mentee specific character traits that you notice them employing as they navigate challenges associated with their disability. Are they a problem solver? Do they show resilience? Are they a great self-advocate?

My advice is not to mention any accommodations that your disabled mentee uses. While you might be tempted to show that accommodations “fix the disability,” the deficit framing doesn’t center your mentee’s skills and provides the letter reader with ableist reasons to rank your mentee lower than other abled applicants or nominees.

We don’t often get opportunities to tell people about the strengths that we see in them, and this conversation with your mentee is a great opportunity to do just that. Because of the widespread stigmatization of disability, we also rarely talk openly about it, so you might feel uncomfortable bringing up this topic.

My advice is to keep the conversation authentic and very specific. Drifting away from authenticity leaves you vulnerable to casting the disabled person as inspirational; such casting is othering and harmful. Stella Young called this phenomenon “inspiration porn,” because it serves to make the abled feel good while objectifying people with disabilities. Additionally, saying that a person inspires you centers your experience and not your mentee’s. Yes, this is tricky ground! You may, in fact, find someone inspiring. Yet keeping your characterizations authentic and specific helps avoid inspiration porn.

For example, instead of saying, “It is incredible how Michele managed to advance to full professor while disabled,” you could say, “Michele’s experiences as a disabled academic contribute to her success, as she has developed exceptional problem-solving skills, resilience when faced with inaccessible situations, self-advocacy to adjust to inaccessible situations and time/energy management to prioritize important tasks.” For your letter to be effective, you can also provide specific examples of those skills. You could follow up with, “For instance, in noisy settings that present a challenge for part-deaf folks, Michele either extracts critical information using visual cues or, if the conversation is lengthy or particularly important, she effectively self-advocates by adjusting the conversation toward a quieter setting and/or harnessing technologic solutions.

Last, ask your mentee what they would like you to emphasize in your letter. This is a good practice for any letter of recommendation, and Julie Posselt of the Inclusive Graduate Education Network offers other helpful equitable best practice for reference letters.

Guidelines for Writing Your Letter

Unless we use template letters of references with standard language, our letters will be subjective and vulnerable to either our own biases or the biases of the letter readers. But template letters don’t provide the rich information that guides hiring, admission and promotion decisions. What we can do instead is take a thoughtful and critical look at how we frame difference and disability in our letters of reference, as Vidali and Posselt have recommended. Here are some first steps.

Please don’t say that the person has “overcome their disability.” We live with our disabilities; we can’t erase them. We don’t say that first-generation college students overcome their families. Why say this about disability? In addition, the framing of the disabled person as an overcomer steers you well into the inspiration-porn minefield.

Instead, you can acknowledge that the disabled person faces disadvantages (describe specifics) with (insert adjective) skill and self-advocacy (followed by specific examples). This framing acknowledges that navigating life with a disability requires constant effort and draws attention to valuable skills.

Unless they say so, avoid writing, “Despite her disability …” or “You would never know that he has a disability.” Such phrases have strong ableist undertones. While your intention in writing those phrases is to ease concerns of the letter reader, this deficit framing does not center the skills of your mentee, which is the goal of your letter of reference.

I will add that mentioning the quality of speech of deaf and hard of hearing mentees in your letter focuses on the deficit of deafness and assimilation into predominantly hearing environments (see The Mind Hear’s post entitled Eloquence is overrated). Check with you mentee if they want their speech mentioned in the letter.

Finally, in your mentee’s conversation with you, they may say that they don’t want you mentioning their disability because either they don’t want to disclose or they plan to disclose in some other way. They know best how to present themselves.