I was invited to the 27th Annual VOICE conference on May 3 to 4. At this conference, I promoted my book Hearing Differently, attended educational speaker sessions and had the opportunity to speak with a group of teens affiliated with VOICE. In this post, I will talk about what VOICE is and my experience at the conference.
What is VOICE?
VOICE for deaf and hard of hearing children is a not-for-profit organization that develops and implements services and events that support advocacy, family support and education of deaf and hard of hearing children.
VOICE was created in the early ‘60s by parents that wanted to offer support to other families with children who have hearing loss. These parents wanted to make sure that their children will have the same opportunities that other children in mainstream schools have.
Now VOICE has several chapters across Ontario and affiliates in Alberta, Manitoba and Quebec. The organization is still growing as they work towards achieving their vision of “a world where deaf and hard of hearing children have the opportunity to maximize their listening and spoken language potential.”
The 27th Annual Conference
The conference was split in two days. Friday was geared towards professionals in the field such as doctors, professors, and members of various hearing loss organizations. Saturday was open to everyone, but geared towards families with or affected by hearing loss.
Promoting Hearing Differently
I attended both days. On both days, I had a tabletop set up with books (and bookmarks) to promote my book and to speak to conference attendees. I sold several books and had a chance to speak to various professionals such as audiologists, itinerant teachers of the deaf/hard of hearing, and professionals that are part of companies such as Cochlear and Union Hearing Aid.
The conference had several speaking sessions that covered a range of topics such as navigating post-secondary education with hearing loss, a recipient’s journey with cochlear implants, an insight on what is normal for those with hearing loss and more. I unfortunately couldn’t attend all of the speaker sessions because I split my time managing the tabletop and interacting with the teens.
However, I had the opportunity to listen to a former NHL player, Jim Kyte, talk about his experiences with growing up with profound hearing loss (hearing loss from 90 dBHL – you will need to rely on lip-reading, sign language and/or an implant).
One key message I took away from it is to never use your hearing loss as an excuse to not do something. Jim Kyte took the dynamics of an incredible busy game, full of shouting, multiple orders from the coach, hockey players skating every which way on the ice, and made it his own to become the best player that he can be, in spite of his hearing loss.
Talking to the Teens
The conference had a separate speaking track dedicated to teens only. No parents were allowed to attend this speaking track, making this a safe space for teens with hearing loss to share their stories and questions. This group of teens ranged from being 13 years old to in their early 20s.
As someone who did not grow up with VOICE, it was enlightening to talk to teens about their experiences with growing up with hearing loss, their views on the right and wrong way to advocate for themselves and their feelings about deafness. The varying experiences from people at different stages of their life raised a lot of questions that I am excited to answer in future posts!
It was a pleasure meeting professionals, families and teens and hearing their different perspectives on what hearing loss has bought to their lives. A special shout out to Faye Hetz, my former itinerant teacher that has helped and supported me every step of the way, from the time I was three years old to now.
VOICE made me take pause, slow down, and listen to everyone’s stories. Even with the same impairment, our different life experiences make us ‘hear differently’.