Growing up with hearing loss was a mixture of positive and negative experiences that ultimately motivated me to pursue a career in pediatric audiology. While my hearing loss challenges me daily, it also has served as a source of motivation, pride, and knowledge which has helped me throughout my studies as an Au.D. student. As a direct result of my hearing loss, I am passionate about helping patients and families achieve their goals and improve their quality of life. I believe that my personal experiences enhance the services I offer, and I hope that I may serve as a positive role model for patients as an audiologist who wears hearing aids.
I am fortunate to have my older sister, who also wears hearing aids, as a role model and peer. I knew no other children with hearing loss who wore hearing aids. Because of my admiration for her success, I was eager to perform well in school and refused to allow my hearing loss to stop me from learning. In high school, I decided that I wanted to become an audiologist, and I have since channeled my enthusiasm for education into this goal. As a doctoral student with hearing loss, I enjoy serving a similar role for a child with hearing loss through patient encounters, volunteer work at the local Deaf and hard of hearing center, and pediatric hearing aid research. I hope that my presence in the field can lessen hearing loss stigma and inspire children with hearing loss to achieve great things.
My desire to help parents like mine deal with difficult diagnoses gives my work additional purpose. As an adult, I can empathize with the emotions that my mother and father experienced as a result of my sister’s and my own diagnosis. Although two decades have passed since I was fit with my first hearing aids, I think of them often when parents show fear and emotional pain in clinic, and am touched by parents’ strength to continue to fight through it for their child. I draw on my strong relationship with my parents to guide me when I work with parents who need support and reassurance.
I am motivated to help patients with hearing loss have the best quality of life possible because I also struggle with daily challenges associated with hearing loss. Like many of my patients, I rely on speechreading in noisy environments, ask people to repeat themselves frequently, and struggle to understand voices on the radio and television. In the past three years, I have been able to stream phone calls, music, and videos directly from my cell phone to my hearing aids, which has allowed me to enjoy wireless technology much more than I have in the past. I encourage patients to experiment with assistive devices such as remote microphones, telephone streaming and captioning, and visual alerts, because I understand how small changes to day-to-day functions can dramatically improve someone’s quality of life.
It is a true pleasure to play a supporting role in a family’s hearing loss story. While my hearing loss does pose challenges, I am thankful that it has provided me with the opportunity to bond with patients on a unique level. I look forward to watching young patients grow up and chase their own aspirations, and I especially look forward to giving parents hope and strength during challenging times.
Claire Umeda is a graduate audiology student pursuing a career in pediatric audiology at Vanderbilt University. Claire was a recipient of a CaptionCall scholarship for the 2017-18 school year.