Hear Me Out: Personal stories and experts show disabilities don’t define a person

When Emely Cuervo was two years old, she was diagnosed with severe hearing loss that would require her to wear cochlear implants. Her parents took her to five different hospitals, four of which assured her that she was perfectly normal before receiving an accurate diagnosis.

​”My mother noticed that I wasn’t hearing anything well or I wasn’t answering her questions when she was talking to me,” Cuervo said. 

​Cuervo underwent cochlear implant surgery on her left ear when she was four years old and got a cochlear implant for her right ear two years later. Approximately 736,900 cochlear implants have been implanted worldwide as of 2019, according to the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. In the United States, about 118,100 devices have been implanted in adults and 65,000 in children.

​“That technology is really amazing. I use that many times when I go to the restaurant or a concert, anything that has noises around me,” said Cuervo.

Jared Martinez was born deaf, but his parents didn’t know until he was a year old. They noticed their son wasn’t hearing well and that he wasn’t picking up on their voices. Martinez eventually got cochlear implants at two years old after a formal diagnosis from doctors. 

“I was struggling, I tried to listen to music with the headphones over my ears and of course I cannot hear using earbuds,” explained Martinez about the troubles of hearing growing up.

​According to the NIDCD, two to three of every 1,000 children in the United States are born with a detectable level of hearing loss in one or both ears. Dr. Michael Hoffer, professor of Otolaryngology and Neurological Surgery at the University of Miami, says every newborn in Florida has a hearing screening before leaving the hospital. Dr. Hoffer says pediatricians can also detect hearing loss if children are not developing a certain amount of words at a particular age.

​“If the parents notice things like loud noises and the child does not turn to hear, those are warning signs,” Dr. Hoffer said. 

Cuervo and Martinez both attended Kenwood K-8 Center through middle school. The school has a specially designed program for its hard-of-hearing students in elementary grade levels. The school also provides speech therapy for students who face social challenges.

“We have an auditory and oral program, which means that the students here have a hearing loss; however, they don’t use sign language to communicate, it’s completely oral,” said Rachelle Coca, a second and third-grade teacher at Kenwood K-8 Center. 

Cuervo was in kindergarten when she transferred to Kenwood K-8 Center from The Debbie School at the University of Miami. The school is significantly smaller than Kenwood K-8 Center and doesn’t have the same services. Cuervo felt a bigger sense of belonging knowing there were many more deaf students with cochlear implants or hearing aids. 

“It made me realize that there are so many things I learned in that school in the special classes for deaf students. I became a better listener, I can do many things despite being deaf,” Cuervo said.

​Martinez was also in another school before attending Kenwood K-8 Center. He was failing classes because he couldn’t hear the teachers. One of his teachers suggested he transfer to a more specialized school that would be able to help him with speech therapy. 

“I couldn’t speak as well as other people wanted me to or they couldn’t understand me. I couldn’t say the ‘s’ or the ‘x’ sounds as I tried to talk to them,” Martinez explained. 

According to the NIDCD, children with hearing loss can have trouble learning words, speaking clearly, composing and learning complex sentences. They can miss sounds like ‘s,’ ‘sh,’ ‘f,’ ‘t,’ or ‘k.” This may cause children to have trouble making friends, lower their self-esteem, and cause them to feel lonely.

Cuervo and Martinez have become life-long friends ever since meeting in third grade at Kenwood K-8 Center. They are both grateful for their friends at the school, as well as the program that provided them with the opportunity to grow academically. The teachers share the same level of pride to see their students succeed.

“These kids that we have in our classrooms, that have walked through our doors, they’re doing an amazing job. We’re so proud of them,” said Coca.

If there’s one thing to take away it’s that disabilities don’t define a person. Everyone wants to be accepted, appreciated, and recognized for their talents and contributions. They just want to say, “Hear me out.”

Nicolle Hernandez is a hearing-impaired student at Florida International University. She is a Digital Communication and Media major with a concentration in Digital Journalism. She is also pursuing a minor in Social Media and E-Marketing Analytics. She is passionate about her studies and after graduation, she hopes to explore a career in the digital marketing field.