skip to content
Primary navigation

Supporting the Whole Child: Supporting the Gift of a Different Ability Transcript

Laura Godfrey: So, I'd love to introduce our speaker for this evening, Karen Putz. 

Karen is a deaf mom to three deaf and hard-of-hearing children, who are all now young adults. She is the co-director of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Infusion at Hands & Voices and for fun, she walks on water, -I love that, as a barefoot water-skier. Please help me welcome Karen Putz.

[Applause]

Karen Putz: Everybody ready for fun? I am thrilled to be here. I have been looking at this group all day and just thinking, you guys are fantastic group. I'm thrilled to be a part of it.  But I have to say, Minnesota people so friendly, so warm, so inviting. It's been great to be here. It's been great to talk to all of you. 

[A Slide appears with an image of gift boxes. In the corner of the slide it says, “Supporting the Whole Child: The Gift of a Different Ability, Karen Putz”.]

So tonight, this is what we're going to talk about, the gift of different ability. This is my favorite topic to talk about, and you'll understand when we're done tonight.

[A PowerPoint slide appears, that says, “My own journey”. On the slide, there is also a photo of a woman waving, while she water skis.]

I'm going to start with my own story. And I start with that, because my story is the same story that a lot of deaf and hard-of-hearing children have. Some might relate, some don't. But a lot of those, -my experiences have simply human experiences. I was born with regular, normal hearing. I do remember my dad telling me stories at night. I remember sitting on the bed and listening to him. He was a great storyteller. He told me lots of stories about a dog named Scamp. So, there we were in the dark, it would help me fall asleep listening to his stories. And then there was one night where I wasn't able to understand him suddenly. It was, like, Skamp did what? I had to keep asking him for clarification about what he was talking about. So, clearly, I wasn't able to understand what he was saying. I don't think my father thought a thing about it at the time, but I'm looking back now, I know what was happening. Because I always used to sleep on the couch in the living room after that, because I couldn't hear at night and, so, they'd leave the light on, at least I could see, and my family's deaf. Okay, I just want you to understand this, too, because there's more to this story. My mom also born hearing, gradually lost her hearing, probably about the age of 16, I would say. Really had moved into that hard of hearing category. She met my father. They married. They had four children. All of us born hearing. My father's hearing. And then during a party one time, my mom was talking to someone and it was, like, immediately out of nowhere, she became completely deaf, just like the rest of her hearing just went right in the middle of a barbecue. And that was it. And her life was really difficult after that. She was no longer able to talk on the phone. She had four small children. It was not easy. She had siblings who were all deaf or hard of hearing, and it still was not an easy path for her. So obviously, we had a genetic thing going on. And I'll talk a little bit more about that in a second, too. So, I'm born hearing. Suddenly, there's a bit of a hearing loss. When I went into kindergarten, and, -remember, we all had nap time at that time, we don't do that anymore, I guess, so here it is nap time. And the teacher would come to wake me up, but everybody else was awake. So, I just remember this one day, she woke me up, and obviously I had slept through whatever she had said to wake up all the other kids. So still didn't really realize what was going on. Made it through first grade without really identifying what was going on, and it wasn't until I failed the hearing test in second grade that my parents zipped me off to Northwestern, and there I was finally identified as someone who is hard of hearing. But it wasn't like that changed anything. It's not like suddenly I had support services. I didn't have hearing aids. So, when I was 9, that was the first time I got a hearing aid. Well, you know, the hated hearing aid. And I h-aaa-ted that. Because at the time, with my audiogram, I mean, if you're doing, -darn it, I should have put a slide up here for it, but, okay, let's all visualize the audiogram, the normal speech, you know, speech banana thing. But this is me. 

[demonstrating]

Like this huge drop at one particular, -mine didn't come across as a raggedy thing, it's just a big V. And I swear to God, a hearing aid blew my mind. It was just so loud. It was so much sound. It was so much stimulus that I couldn't deal with it. I used to stick it in my pocket when I went to school. So, I developed what I call the duck syndrome when I was in school. I don't know how many of you have heard of the duck syndrome. Who knows what the duck syndrome is? What? Okay, rhey told me Minnesota knows ducks. 

[Laughter] 

So, here's the duck syndrome, which, okay, you are forgiven, because I completely made up this name. But let me explain to you. You're all doing it.So, typical day for me at school. I'm at school. I'm in English class. I get my book out. And what do we do in English class, of course? We do reading out loud. So, I'm waiting for my turn to read my section, right? How many of you have been through that whole thing where you're just sitting there waiting until you have to read out loud? So, then it was my time to read my paragraph. And, remember, I'm hard of hearing at the time, okay? But I'm prepared. The minute the first person starts, chapter 1, paragraph 1, I calculate where I'm going to be, but then somebody reads two paragraphs and not just one. So, I don't know exactly which one is mine. So, I started paying attention to a couple of people right before me, to be able to hear, to just figure out what paragraph they're at, so when it's my turn, I can read my paragraph perfectly. So, of course, the teacher said, “Karen's doing great. She has no problems at school. She's fantastic. Her hearing loss has no impact whatsoever.” But what's really happening for me in this environment is that duck syndrome, meaning I look great on top, skimming along the water. But underneath, what am I doing? Paddling as fast as I can.

[demonstrating]

And that's what I call the duck syndrome. I don't know how much of us deaf and hard-of-hearing people in mainstream environments are experiencing that same thing. I appear a certain way, but what's really happening is much more stressful. I look fine. I'm getting by. My grades are okay. But what's really happening is phenomenally stressful.  That feeling of always being in performance mode every day, and the people around you not having a clue that this is going on for you. Everybody thinking you are just fine. And that was me. So then here comes this. My image here. In high school I did not have a lot of friends, I was the only deaf person there. So, for two years there really just didn't have people. Then in my sophomore year, I finally met a hard-of-hearing person that became my first hard-of-hearing friend. It happened to be a transition teacher, and then the next thing I know, we became best buddies. Their name was Shawn. And I remember Shawn and I looking at each other, -now, we're both hard of hearing, but we sort of didn't recognize that that wasn't enough to bond us, just our hearing loss. But luckily for us, our transition teacher made sure that Shawn and I spent time together, that Shawn and I worked together, that we had a chance to do work and projects together. So, really putting that bond in place. Shawn had two hearing aids. Shawn was really tough, and I was 100% the other way. I had one hearing aid that I kept in my pocket. I was very embarrassed about being deaf, having hearing loss, I didn't want people to know. Shawn didn't give a darn. But then we learned from each other a lot and have been best buddies up until now still. But I think the important lesson is to know that we need friends. Deaf and hard-of-hearing students isolated in those schools, even if they're in an integrated classroom or mainstream or whatever, we need peers. We have to have peers.  And we have lost our community today, you know. It's so hard for us to find each other and connect with each other, but our students need your help. The families need your help. We have got to help our kids find each other. And be with each other. It's so critical. So, in high school I finally found my sport. Barefoot water-skiing. Which I think several people go, what the heck is that? Who's a water-skier in the room? Good. Lots of you water ski. So just water ski without the skis. It's just basically your bare feet. But you've got to be going fast enough to really ride the top of the water so it's 42 miles an hour or higher. But I loved it. I loved barefoot water-skiing. I could do it all day every day. I was the only girl on the lake who could barefoot, that's the way I sign it, by the way. And, so, here I am in high school, suddenly I can do something. I'm successful. People notice us. The fact that I'm hard of hearing has nothing to do with what my achievements are. That they finally could see me as somebody who had a competence, who had skills. My self-esteem just suddenly shot through the roof, so this is all the way into high school. So, there's one Sunday I decide that I'm going to do a trick. I don't know. These are tricks that I can do barefoot that I've done before and it's one where you pop the wake, so, you go over the wake from one side to the other. I had done it before, so I was all excited about it that day. I told the driver, it's, like, we have to be a little bit faster than normal because I need to make the wake kind of go down in a smooth way, so that I can swing way out and then pop over. Then I did that ,and the next thing I knew, head over heels skimming across the water, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, until finally I stop. My neck hurt like crazy. I was terrified. I got in the boat, and as soon as I got in the boat, I realized, I'm deaf. I can't hear a thing. It was instantaneous. I mean, up until that point, I could pick up environmental sounds. From that moment on, from the time I hit the water, that was it. And it was so weird, my friends were talking to me, and I assumed, of course, I had water in my ears so, I'm doing all the usual stuff to get the water out of my ears. But that night, I was lying in bed, and I was dealing with all that tinnitus stuff that happens, it was like all this noise in my ear, this ringing in my ears. That lasted six months. And three weeks later, lucky me, fate, I don't know, I was ready to transfer to Northern Illinois University, which is where I was going to be going, and I don't know why fate chose to do this for me, but I'm on my way to college, I've lost the rest of my hearing, - wait. I have to back up. I was ready to go and basically, I'm at the door, and I realized, oh, my God, I'm deaf. It's like for some reason that's when it finally registered, that I had lost all my hearing, and I burst into tears. My mom asked me what was going on, I said that I couldn't hear anymore. She also started crying, so the two of us had our grief moment. And mom finally said, well, you don't have to go to college, you can stay home. Immediately I tried to think about, well, if I stay home, I'm in the same world, I'm still alone, that this life I've had has not been one I want to keep having. So, thank you very much, I think I will go. So dried my tears, went off to college. Got to campus, and I found that they had put me in the deaf hall, a deaf dorm. Oh, I was upset. The last thing I wanted to do was to be in a deaf dorm, be isolated out and it's, like, I'm not deaf, I just can't hear, you know? 

[Laughter]

Whatever. So immediately I complained to my mother who said, okay, now, wait, let's just try to keep an open mind. Maybe you might mean someone you like. And always listen to your mother, I'm just telling you now, she always knows best, right? Right? Listen to your mothers. And I did, immediately met the person who became my husband. So, you never know, and we've been married for 30 years. So, there you go.

[A PowerPoint slide appears, titled, “My Family”. On the slide there is a photo of a family smiling.]

This is my family. So now, remember, my mom was deaf, and my mom's siblings were all deaf as well. And I have five brothers and sisters who were all born with regular hearing. And my sister, when she was 3, fell and became deaf. Another brother went to work at age 36, and a roof fell on him, and two days later he woke up hard of hearing. I had a sister who progressively lost her hearing, and became deaf at age 46, when she slipped and fell on a rug. And another brother who was very similar to me was barefooting at 42 years old, I was driving, and he took a tumble, and became hard of hearing, and he recently became deaf, just about a month ago. So, some interesting stories. Another brother, a half-brother of mine, who we recently found just four years ago, is deaf, uses cochlear implants, went to RIT. So, I have three kids, I'll share their stories a little later, put a hold on that for now. There's genetics happening here. Now, it's a rare gene. It's so rare that NIH came to the house to research the family, and it turns out, we're the third family in the world to have this gene, and a fourth has been since recognized. So, again, it's a very rare gene. So, we're a pretty unique family in the whole world.

[A PowerPoint slide appears, that is titled, “Lack of Role Model”. Under the title are different phrases describing consequences of having a lack of role models.]

Anyway, going back a little bit. These were my words growing up. This is how I saw my life. I didn't have any role models. I had my family, but that didn't work. I think my role model was, quote, unquote, Helen Keller, but that didn't really work for me. Where were my teachers, or firefighters, or airplane pilots, or doctors? Where were those folks? I had none of those role models growing up.  I was measuring myself against hearing people. I was the only deaf person in my world and, so, any of my measurements were comparing myself to hearing people. And I always fell short because I couldn't do everything that they were able to do. And, so, I felt less than.  You know, I had, the social bluffing, you know that. Smile and nod. Oh, there's one. Okay, who else? Who else does that out there? Be brave, all right. Admit it. My story, my hearing neighbor came over and was writing an article about social bluffing, and I was explaining about social bluffing to my neighbor, as I was writing an article about it. And she laughed at me and just said, “hey, come on, everybody does it.” And I'm, like, “what do you mean?” She says, “hearing people do that all the time.” I had no idea. I thought hearing people heard everything and understood everything. Turns out hearing people do the smile and nod too. At a party, you miss something, you smile and nod and walk away. 

[Laughter]

It's not a deaf thing. It's a human thing. But deaf people, we always tend to think, oh, it's because we're hard of hearing, it only happens to us. Again, because we feel that we're less than.  It's not a deaf thing, it's a human thing. We maybe just do it better than hearing people do. 

[Laughter]

We avoid groups because conversation in a group is like trying to follow a ping pong match. You're in a conversation, somebody else pipes in, the other person answers, by the time I go back to the first person, I can't read their lips, and I miss the second person that said something. And I realize I have no idea what's being talked about. That's what happens in a group conversation. It ping-pongs back and forth, and it's impossible to follow. You know, as a hard of hearing person, I was not comfortable sharing it, I combed my hair over my ears. I was just not comfortable with it. And many hard-of-hearing people feel the same way. And I think we need to change that. We should be proud of our differences. We should be proud of who we are. And you all have to help our deaf and hard-of-hearing students own their story. And be proud of their story. And for that they need role models. They need people who build them up and are proud of who they are, so, they can see positive influences around their life. So back to college, I struggled for the first several months. Now, remember, I didn't use sign language growing up. I spoke and read lips and didn't sign. So, I'm trying to read lips in class, you know? Remember, like the keynote this morning, there's 300 people in the lecture hall, and I certainly can't hear behind my head. It's impossible to read lips of someone who's behind you, just to let you know. You're going to get zero recognition or word discrimination from the back of your head, just gotta tell you. 

[Laughter]

And that was my life in college. It was an everyday struggle. You know, they tried an F.M. system, that totally didn't work. So, one day I got up, I was wondering what the heck I could do. I realized I had two choices. One, I could continue to struggle and continue to grieve ,and continue to cry myself to sleep every night. Or I could go to door number 2 and accept my deaf journey. So which door do you think I chose? I took door number 2, and the moment I made that decision my life changed. I made one decision, changed my life. That morning I got out of bed, pulled my hair back to show my hearing aid, and got on the bus. I went to the disability services office, gave them back their F.M. system, and asked for interpreters. And they told me no. When I asked, “why?”  They said, “you don't know sign language.” I said, “so what? I'm going to learn, and I will lip read the interpreter until I pick up the sign language.” But they still refused. Because, first of all, why would they provide an interpreter to a deaf student who didn't know sign Language? And an interpreter would be hard to find. So, we made some compromises, and I went to a class that had an interpreter in it. And lip read the interpreter. And started picking up sign language. And it was such a blessing to me. It changed my life. For the first time in my life I could kick back and just listen to a lecture. It was priceless. It was just simply priceless. I also met my husband. I got married. I had three kids, who are all hearing. And then when my oldest was 2, I started to suspect that they might be deaf. You know, they weren't speaking much. They wouldn't respond when we called their name. Turned out they were deaf. And I thought I would be overjoyed about it. Turns out I wasn't. Got in the car with my husband, we gave each other a look, and I started to bawl. And it shocked me because I didn't know why I'd respond that way. For me being deaf was a blessing, and I didn't understand why I reacted so strongly to it. But then my husband talked to me about my experiences growing up, and we went back and forth and shared memories, and I realized that I wasn't upset about the fact that my baby was deaf. I was sad because people aren't always nice and people aren't always fair to deaf people, and that's why I was crying. Because the world is not always inviting to us.  And we were crying because looking at the world my child would grow up in made us cry. My second and third children became deaf at the same time, at ages 4 and 2, the same sickness, same audiogram, simultaneously. There was a fair amount of grieving for the 4-year-old, but the 2-year-old didn't know what was going on, so, -but hold on that, I'm going to skip ahead to myself at age 44 when I got back on the water barefooting again. 

[A PowerPoint slide appears, that has covers of waterskiing magazines and books, as well as photos of people waterskiing. The slide also has text that says, “Becoming deaf turned out to be a blessing”.]

And you can't really see the woman in one of the pictures, but that lady is 66 years old, on the "Today" show, and I'm watching going, wow, that lady's 66, I'm only 44.  I'm a little overweight, I don't think I could barefoot now, but that lady was on the "Today" show. I got a chance to meet her. I went to Florida, started barefooting again, I met the world champion. Keith and I wrote a book together. So, I'm sharing this story because I'm proud that I'm deaf. It's still hard, I'm in the boat, and there's five people and the conversation is ping ponging around me, but I'm still proud to be deaf. And I'm happy to be deaf. 

[A PowerPoint slide that says, “Paradigm Shift” appears. Under that is a quote by Thomas Kuhn.]

So, what happened to me? I experienced a paradigm shift. My experience, my decision to accept my deafness changed my paradigm. And our students today need that same paradigm shift, as does the entire world. Look at our abilities, not our disabilities. Shift that paradigm. I'm going to talk more about that. I'll just read this. Think of a paradigm shift as a change from one way of thinking to another way of thinking. It's a revolution, a transformation, a sort of metamorphosis, it doesn't just happen, but it's driven by agents of change. The agents of change that spring the paradigm shift into action. So, if something isn't working for your students, you need to change the paradigm. You need to shift something. Insanity means doing the same thing over and over again and expecting the same result. You need to shift your paradigm. 

[A PowerPoint slide appears, that says at the top, “Passion: The Key Ingredient”. In the middle of the slide, it says, “#PASSION”.]

This is my favorite word. Passion. Here's how I sign it. Some people sign it like this. But I sign it like this for passion, because of the meaning behind it, the action behind it, the implication of action. I've been studying passion for the past ten years. I got back in the water and discovered my passion. And I started studying what passion was and how does one find it. How do you know when you found it? I interviewed more than 200 people and asked them what they thought passion was, and I got more than 200 different definitions as to what passion meant. One woman I interviewed gave me a beautiful definition of passion. That woman happened to be, -remember that barefoot champion? His mom. And she told me that passion is your joy. Pretty simple, right? That paradigm shift from passion to joy, now you know what your joy is, right? No one has to tell you what your joy is. You know where it comes from. When you experience joy, it's something very personal. Nobody has to explain it. Nobody has to explain your passion. No one has to tell you where your moments of joy are. You find them and realize that's your passion. Now, passion has sort of a surprise meaning behind it. Passion means a willingness to suffer. The word passion means a willingness to suffer. And that didn't seem to make sense to me at first. If I'm finding my joy, how does passion connect to suffering and why does it do that? How many of you love to run? Who's a runner in the house? A few brave souls, right, okay? You like to suffer, right? And some of the runners out there are willing to admit it. That they are willing to suffer. Okay. Think about it. If you're willing to get up at 4:30 in the morning and run, or get up at 4:30 in the morning to run a marathon, some of you might run 50 miles just for fun, that's passion. Who likes to write? Some of you. We've got a few writers in the house. You're willing to get up at 5:00 in the morning and get on the computer. We've got a yes in the crowd. Who likes to swim? Anyone? Got a few. Willing to get in the cold pool and do your laps. Yeah. How many of you are parents? A lot of suffering goin' on. 

[Laughter]

All of a sudden you get it, right? You got it. That is passion. You're willing to get up at 3:00 in the morning to feed that little thing, to keep them alive. 

[Laughter]

Wow! So, you know passion. You know suffering. It's that. So, as you leave, I want you to think about how you can bring more passion into your life, in your work, in your family. It requires passion.  The work you do with students requires passion. That passion is your fuel. It will fuel you. It's your gasoline for your life. So, bring that passion with you. 

[A PowerPoint slide appears, titled, “Swiss or Cheddar?”, and beneath the title are photos of cheese.]

Now, remember I talked about the duck syndrome, right? That's what I call a Swiss cheese education.  Every day in school, schools across the United States, many students, not all, but many, many students who fit schools get a cheddar cheese education, which means they get 100% access. They are able to access everything. That's a cheddar cheese education. Unfortunately, many kids get a Swiss cheese education. Meaning they're not getting 100% access in the classroom, and the after-school activities or things after class. They're just not getting them. And many of our students are mainstreamed, meaning they're spending the whole day in the duck syndrome, and Swiss cheese is being served in classrooms all across America. The test that I give to families is, well, it's a test, even though it's a little silly, it seems a little silly, but let me share a story.  I often attend IEP meetings as an advocate, and a family came up to me and asked if I'd be willing to help advocate for them. And the student was a junior in high school, was hard of hearing, and the audiogram showed about 95% comprehension of words. You know, their grades were pretty good. You know, some good, some a little less so. And the family reached out to me because the student was experiencing just a lot of stress attending school, and the parents felt that they weren't getting 100% of their education. So, the first meeting we asked for live captions, and we were refused because they showed an audiogram that had 95% comprehension. They said, that's good enough. And they brought in a teacher who said, oh, I work with him and he's totally fine. But mom knew that her son was, in fact, not fine. Moms know. The school wasn't supporting him. 

[A PowerPoint slide appears with a photo of a dog watching football on a television. There is text on the slide that says, “The TV/Radio Test”.]

So, I asked mom, give your son the TV and radio test. And mom had never heard of that. What's that test? And the test is simply, -I've used it with families over the years, what's the normal volume on the TV set to? Set the TV to normal volume, have the student stand five feet away and turn their back to the television for 30 seconds. Again, at normal hearing person volume, not deaf TV volume, I can hear it at that, nope, a normal hearing person volume. Have them turn their back for 30 seconds. Ask your student what they heard, and tally the percentage. And that student scored about 40% comprehension. And the parents realized that he was missing 40% of what's going on at home, what could be happening in the classroom? See what I mean? That kid with an audiogram, with solid grades was not getting 100% out of the classroom. So, they gave him captioning, he graduated with honors, and he's a college student today. That's my challenge to all of you when you leave, look for the holes and fill them with communication access. 

[A PowerPoint slide appears, titled, “The Mac and Cheese Story”. Below the title, there is a photo of a bowl of mac and cheese.]

This is my mac and cheese story.  I worked as a deaf mentor for 15 years doing early intervention with families and, of course, I was going to people's homes and working with families. I went to a house with a child named Steven, and his mom allowed me to share this story. Steven was 2 ½ , Hard of hearing, and one day I came and mom met me at the door and said, “I need your help, I have to talk to you.”  She pulled me aside and she said, “last night Steven wanted mac and cheese for dinner, and I went and got the box out of the cupboard and he had a fit. He had a complete meltdown! And I tried to tell him that I just needed to cook it, but he would not wait for me to cook it. A complete meltdown and I have no idea what's going on.” Now, Steven had two hearing siblings that, you know, were fine, okay. Knew that you get the box out, you got to wait for the mac and cheese. But for some reason, Steven just wasn't getting it.  And she said, “I've never had to explain to my hearing children why it takes time to make mac and cheese but never to him.” And I said, “okay, think about this.” Hearing children are playing in the living room, Steven's playing in the living room. You go into the kitchen. You're going to make mac and cheese for lunch. You open a cupboard; you get the box. The box has noodles that are dry inside and makes a noise while you're walking across the kitchen. You get a pot. You put it in the sink. You fill it with water. You move that pot over and put it on the stove. Your kids hear the box being ripped open, the water boiling, the noodles being poured into the water. They hear the sound of things stirring. Maybe if you burn your fingers, there's some swearing involved. 

[Laughter]

But, anyway, in the process of this, the noodles are done. They're poured out in the sink, in the colander and you put the butter in there and stuff, and lo and behold there's the mac and cheese, right? And the hearing kids come in and have their mac and cheese. Steven, still playing, suddenly a plate of mac and cheese magically appears in front of him, and he just didn't know why that one day, mom couldn't make mac and cheese magically appear in front of him like he had always experienced. But think about it. That's the mac and cheese story. He didn't hear any of that. So, he had no idea how it happened that he'd get mac and cheese. And people think, hard-of-hearing kid, it's not that bad they're not exposed to sounds, but think about all that incidental sounds that are happening around them. And if you consider it language of a sort, you hear the box being opened, you know something's being made. You hear the water boiling; you know that there's cooking going on in the kitchen. If you've got a deaf kid sitting in the living room playing or a hard-of-hearing kid who doesn't know that's going on, you're back to the Swiss cheese world again. There's a big old hole right there. So, I have to work with families to say, look, you have to fill in those holes on a daily basis, all the stuff that they're not able to access. I mean, that's a huge paradigm shift for a lot of families. Do you let them know that the garage door opens before dad walks in the door? Do you have an idea of what is happening in your environment, all the other kids are exposed to and they don't know? They simply don't know. Okay. If you have a profoundly deaf baby, identified at birth, there's a sense that you have to wait until there's a hearing aid involved and a cochlear implant. But what are you supposed to do in the time that you're waiting for that? They still don't hear. I mean, we know that at 25 weeks, babies can respond to sound in the womb. So, you're already 25 weeks behind when you're born deaf, -15 weeks, I'm sorry behind by the time you're born deaf. So, for 15 weeks a hearing baby has heard sounds, the sound of an environment, the sound of a voice, the sound of things. They're born and then they continue that, but not if they're born deaf. 

[A PowerPoint slide appears, with an image of cartoon people, each with a speech bubble. Above the cartoon, there is text that says what the first question parents of D/HH must ask.]

So, here's the number one question for all of us. You have to ask this every day in every situation. School, church, home, it does not matter, at any moment in any given day, are they getting 100% access, yes or no? And if it's no, what do you need to change? And we're not talking about 100% of auditory access. What can they see? What can they know? What can they understand? If you know this is something they can't access auditorily, you have to give it to them visually. There's just no other way. Where are they going to acquire the ability to hear? Maybe hearing aids and cochlear implants are going to allow that to happen, but, still, they might not be getting 100%.

[A PowerPoint slide appears, with an image of a cover of the book, Perfectly, Imperfect. The cover has a woman sitting on a table, smiling. Next to the book is a quote.]

Lee Woodruff wrote this book, who's a friend of mine. It's a great book. It's Perfectly Imperfect is the name of the book, it's fantastic.  And in the book, there's a chapter called Different Abilities, and so I am using it with her permission. So, when her daughter was born deaf and they told her she was deaf, and she said, the very first thing she thought of was, who is going to take my deaf daughter to the prom? Really, honestly, it was the first thing she thought of. So, she had a frame that immediately locked into place. And that happens for parents every single day, that particular paradigm, my child is different, who will like them, will they have friends. 

[A PowerPoint slide appears, that has quotes from the Perfectly, Imperfect book.]

And we can read this now. I'll do it. 

[Putz reading from PowerPoint]: Back then, I hadn't really understood the overarching capacity people have to adapt, to be patient, and to recover. I hadn't factored in the resilience of the human spirit.  The ability, the very real healing powers of time passing. The grace and perspective we find in moments of repose, basically moments we can reflect on how grace has touched us in our life, and the ability of the soul to regenerate. 

[Putz making a comment: As a mother, she didn't realize all of these elements could happen. Putz reading from PowerPoint: And in those long-ago days, I saw a daughter with a disability, but now I see a beautiful, -my daughter is not disabled, she has different abilities.]

[Putz continuing her presentation]: And that's the paradigm shift she had. And that's what we need to help our families with, from changing from the paradigm of disability into the paradigm of a different ability. Everybody in this room has a different ability. It's beautiful. So, how can we help our families get there? 

[A PowerPoint slide appears with a photo of a plant on the side of the home. Under the photo is a quote b Wayne Dyer.]

I love this quote. It's one of my favorites, actually. Wayne Dyer, as quoted, if you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. You see the flowers here in this picture. For years and years, I had those flowers in my garden, right? They came up every year. And one year, I don't know, we obviously had a seed land in the wrong place because here it popped right out of the middle of the walkway. So, there it was growing in my patio instead of in my garden. We had a friend come over and say, this is such a beautiful garden that you have here. And it's, like, they had been to my house a million years and they never really had noticed the beautiful flowers in the garden, it wasn't until the flower grew in this strange place that they saw it for the first time. We need to help our kids see the beauty, and we need to see the beauty in our deaf and hard-of-hearing kids. 

[A PowerPoint slide appears, with a photo of two kids sharing a shirt, smiling. Next to the photo, is text that says, “Your experiences may be someone else’s gift.”]

Remember your kids may be somebody else's gift. 

[A PowerPoint slide appears with a photo of a man pushing another person in a wheelchair, though a finish line, as crowd cheers.]

This is the Rick Hoyt, father of a child who was born with cerebral palsy. I mean, very profound, and was told by the doctors that this child needed to be institutionalized, that there was no hope for them.  They needed to spend the rest of their life in a group home. There was nothing that could be done for his son, there was nothing that could be done with his son. The parents immediately said, absolutely not, they brought their son home. And Rick grew and his dad noticed that basically he had a really quick son, he couldn't walk, but, man, he was smart. So, at some point they figured out how to give him a computer in high school, I mean, think about it, this was one of those first kind of computers. And Rick said, go Bruins. That was his very first words that he typed were, go Bruins. And it wasn't until high school that he actually said that. So, during high school, there was a 5K run, and Rick told his dad he wanted to run. His dad took one look at him and said, “I hate to tell you this, son, but you can't run.” He said, “I can if you push me.” And there you go, “I’m 52 years old,” says his dad.  But it’s like I don't know, he used to be in the military, so he said, “okay, I'll give it a try.” So, they did the 5K with his dad pushing him. Rick was so excited; it was just like thrilling for him. You could tell, he just beamed and the first thing he said is, let's do it again, and again, and again and again and again.  And they've had over a thousand races together so far. They've done the iron man together. I don't know about you guys, but this iron man, -anybody in this room completed an iron man?  It's 115 miles on a bike, 2.5 miles swimming, and then a full 26.2-mile marathon. It's like a 17-hour process. They had a 17-hour timeline, and they did it. They made it in the timeline. Our deaf and hard-of-hearing kids may be someone's gift. So Dick, the dad, and Rick, the son, now have raced, and think about every time somebody's running and just absolutely can't make it, has that moment where they think, I cannot continue to run for one more moment, and they look at these two, and that's the gift that gets them through to the finish line, you know? That's the gift. So, thank goodness I'm deaf or hard of hearing, who knows how that gift has been given to someone else because of that. 

[A PowerPoint slide appears, with text that says, “Same Kids, Same Parents, Same Schools—Different Experiences. Under the text, there is a photo of three kids jumping into a lake.]

So, I think a really important lesson for me as a mother of three deaf and hard-of-hearing children, we have same parents, same school, you can have different results with each child. Their needs, their personalities, their abilities, their thinking process, their language, everything about them is unique. So, you cannot cookie cutter the way that you teach these children. So, you have to remember the human part of education and teaching children. You can try the same thing with a million people, and you're going to get a different result every single time.

[A PowerPoint slide appears, with a quote from Richard Bach. Next to the quote are images of a caterpillar and butterfly. Below the quote and the images, there is text that says, “Some have a longer metamorphosis stage than others”.]

Another quote I really love, so, when a caterpillar may feel that metamorphosis is the end of the world, the master calls that process a butterfly. And where are we in that process, you know? Some people take longer to get through that stage, but you can get to a butterfly. Look at that kid, and those of us who say that there's a child who has some limitation that they're never going to be able to overcome, still manages to overcome that limitation opens their own restaurant, runs their own business. You just never know. You really never know. 

[A PowerPoint slide appears, with images of famous people. The slide is titled, “I want to grow up to be…”. One of the images of a celebrity has a quote by Derrick Coleman, that says, “When somebody tells me I can’t do something, all I do is say, “Watch me”.”]

I think the important thing to remember is kids need to see someone who is like them. They've got to have a role model. When I went to college, I wanted to be a nurse and the school, you know, career counselor basically said, “how in the world would you ever communicate with a physician? How would you call a doctor? What if there's a mistake made with the medication because you're not able to understand some instructions? What if you can't communicate with patients?” The first thing they did was convince me I wasn't able to do that work. So, I set aside this idea of becoming a nurse and became a counselor at a school for the deaf. And mostly it was because I had never seen or heard of a deaf nurse at the time. Years and years later I met a deaf doctor. I met a deaf nurse working in the emergency room. I met a hard-of-hearing surgical assistant, vets, everything you could possibly think of. There's a firefighter story here. A mom said during a meeting, “well, last night my 5-year-old hard-of-hearing student told me that he wanted to be a fireman, and I cried and had to tell him, I nodded to him and said he could, but I knew it would never happen and I felt so bad.” And the first thing I said to that mom was, “why do you think he could not do that?” And she said, well, “obviously you have to hear to be a firefighter.” And my response was, “no, there are deaf firefighters. In Pennsylvania, I know two.” Like two towns over from this mom there were two full-time firefighters who did not talk, signed only, and did not hear. Talk about a paradigm shift for her.  She immediately went home, talked to her son and saw him differently because of that moment. 

[A PowerPoint slide appears, titled, “Have you seen these movies?”. On the slide there are movie posters from the movies, Spider-Man, Fantastic 4, Bolt, and Pirates of the Caribbean. Next to the posters is the name, Amy Edwards Durant.]

Have you seen these movies? Any of them? Yeah, yeah, yeah. Cool. How many of you know that those films, they're all animations, right, that they were animated by a deaf woman, all four of them? One of the animators is this deaf woman who does animation, computer animation, CGI stuff, Amy Edwards Durant. So, think about it. These are very successful movies. You have a deaf person highly integrated in the creation of these movies. 

[A PowerPoint slide appears, with a screenshot from a video of three man talking in front of an airplane. Under the screenshot, there is text that says, “Robert Bond and Michael Boland, American Airline mechanics for 14 years”.]

I don't know if you've seen this movie at all. Has anybody seen this little video? These are two airline mechanics, but I want you to look closely at the man on the right. What do you see? He doesn't have a left arm. So, think about it. You've got a manager who sits down for a job interview with a candidate who is deaf and does not have a left arm, and wants to be a mechanic. But American Airlines hired him. There you go, why not? And I love to tell you that story because I just think you have to keep looking at abilities, not disabilities. 

[A PowerPoint slide appears, titled, “Someone had to be the FIRST” with a list of deaf and hard of hearing people who were first for different things.]

There's always someone who's got to be the first whatever, and you'll get this PowerPoint, but think about it, we've got all of these firsts, there's got to be some deaf person who's out there as the first airline pilot, the first physician. Why can't it be your kid? 

[A PowerPoint slide appears titled “What do these four have in common?”. Under the title, are the names, Charles Henri Nicolle, Sir Charles Scott Sherrington, Sir John Warcup Cornforth, and Dr. Andrew Manning.]

For the teachers in the room, what do these four people have in common? Does anyone know right away? They are deaf. Yes, that is true. Good guess. They are definitely all deaf or hard of hearing. But what is similar about all of them? There's something they all share.

[A PowerPoint slide appears, with the Nobel Prize logo, with text that says, “Nobel Prize Winners”.]

And this is true. They are deaf and hard-of-hearing Nobel Prize winners.

[A PowerPoint slide with a list of professions appears. On the slide there is a man working with a dog.]

Really, anything you could think of, any profession, any kind of experience, CEOs, artists, everything. And we need to let those kids know that that's possible for them, and we need the world to see that that's possible for our kids.

[A PowerPoint slide appears, with The Five-Point checklist of what today’s deaf and hard of hearing children need.]

This is what deaf and hard-of-hearing kids need, pretty simple. Communication access, 100% of the time. They need to know who they are. Know that they're okay, as they are. They need to know what their skills and abilities are. They need mindset training,- oh my gosh, this is so important. Kids need to know that they will, they can, that they're able, they need to know that they have the ability to learn. They need role models, role models, role models. Oh, man. The deaf kids today, there are so many deaf people out there that they could see as role models. Let's expose them.  And they all need mentors. At any age, there's got to be somebody who kind of brings you along that you can look up to.

[A PowerPoint slide appears, with a photo of a man in a wheelchair. Next to the photo is a quote.]

Another quick story. This is a hearing gentleman who had a motorcycle accident and 65% of his body was burned. Four years later, he was in a plane crash and paralyzed, and this is his response to his situation. He said, “well, before I was paralyzed, I had 10,000 things I could do, and now there are 9,000. So, I can either dwell on the thousand things I've lost or focus on the 9,000 things I have left.” That's what we need to do with our deaf and hard-of-hearing kids. We spend all of our time thinking about the fact that they can't hear, what if we look at all the things they can do? 

[A PowerPoint slide appears, with a photo of woman smiling. The text on the slide says, “Important lesson: Don’t think in limits. Think in possibilities and focus on the abilities”.]

Shift that focus of the work that we do to their abilities, not their disabilities. How many of you use the Internet?

Audience member: Woohoo!

Putz: Oh, so a few. What? Sorry, okay. Be honest.

[A PowerPoint slide that says, “All of this is possible because….”. Below the text there are several logos of popular social media sites.]

How many of you know that the Internet was first developed by a deaf gentleman? So, some of you have done your homework, but many of you don't know. The Internet was first developed by a deaf man, Vin Cerf. Every child should know that.  38 billion users of the Internet. And he was one of the people who helped develop it. Our kids need to know that.

[A PowerPoint slide appears, with a map of the United States. Above the map, there is text that says, “The Air and Space Museum”. Below the map, there is text that says, “Cal Rodgers 1911”. Next to the map is a photo of a man smiling with a pipe.]

Cal Rodgers, who knows Cal Rodgers' story? Just a couple of you. Okay. Cal Rodgers, in 1911, airplanes had just been invented, he was the first person to fly from New York to Los Angeles. And he was, fill in the blank. He was deaf. We're talking 1911. The first person to fly New York to L.A. was not someone who could hear. But here's the thing. The Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., who's been there? Cal Rodgers' airplane is suspended in the Air and Space Museum, with a silhouette of Cal Rodgers and his story. And I saw it and realized that the information didn't say anything about the fact that he was deaf. We're talking about a museum that millions of people visit, and they never get the chance to learn that he's deaf. He was deaf.  We're talking history. And such a missed opportunity to teach the world that deaf people can. That's one perspective. Another perspective is, well, so what? He happened to be deaf. He was out doing his job. Doing the thing he loved. Just like so many deaf people all across the world go to their jobs every day as doctors and nurses and lawyers, and they're deaf, so what? I think both perspectives are right. We should have a world that, oh, you're deaf, so what? The expectation that deaf and hard-of-hearing people are capable.

[A PowerPoint appears with a photo of a man jumping into a lake with his legs crossed, and he’s reading a book. Next to the photo is text that says, “Two lessons to wrap up with”.]

So, two quick lessons. That's my son. 

[A PowerPoint slide appears, with a photo of mountain tops. Below the photo is a quote by Sasha Azevedo.]

And here's a quote I want to share, “I certainly don't regret my experiences because without them, I couldn't imagine who or where I would be today. Life is an amazing gift to those who have overcome great obstacles-And attitude is everything.” That's the lesson. Your attitude. You choose your attitude. You choose the attitude you share with the world. And the deaf and hard-of-hearing students you work with are watching your attitude every single day and are learning from you.

[A PowerPoint slide, that says “What is your gift?”. Surrounding this text is a quote from David Viscott.]

And, finally, the purpose of life is to discover your gift. The meaning of life is to give it away. Don't hide your gifts. Find it and share it with the world. And our job as families, as professionals, as educators, to see deaf and hard-of-hearing students and recognize the gifts that they have. That's our work. So, we're way over time. Thank you so much for coming tonight. It's been a long day. So, I want you all to leave and go out and make a difference in your work. Do what matters. Thank you. 

back to top