What it’s like: Growing up with a hearing disability

As part of a new weekly series, the NT News will spotlight students and staff whose experiences provide a unique perspective.



Special ed teacher Sari Daybrook embraces her disability

Sari Daybook wakes up every morning to her four cats, sister, and most noticeably, silence.

This lack of noise isn’t just the usual quiet of a peaceful morning, but a hearing disability that has been a part of Daybook’s life since she was born. Her hearing disability affects several aspects of her life, from things as complex as her high school education and working as an instructional assistant in the Special Education Department at New Trier to as simple as a visit to the nail salon.

“I had to learn that even though everyone doesn’t understand, it doesn’t make them a bad person. I can’t expect everyone to want to learn sign language. Or, for example, when I get my nails done, they have masks on, so while they’re doing my nails I can’t understand them,” Daybook explained.

Last time she got her nails done, she ran into communication problems because the employees would talk to her during the process, and wouldn’t take their masks off when she asked.

“I’ve changed nail salons because I don’t want them or me to feel stressed, and I found a place where I’m more comfortable and they know to take it off, or theyjust won’t talk until they’re done,” Daybook said.

But other than these rare occurrences, Daybook goes through her day-to-day life like anyone else might.

“I would say my daily routine is like everybody else, except remembering to put my hearing aids on every single day before I leave,” Daybook explained.

Without her hearing aids she can only hear about 10-15% of sounds, and even with them her hearing is still only at 35-40% capacity. For her, that’s more than she and her family could have wished for.

“When I was born, I was diagnosed with severe hearing impairment, about 85-90% hearing loss in both ears,” Daybook said. “It was suggested that I would not be able to hear or talk.”

At the time, the news was heartbreaking. Modern technology was still evolving, so the future seemed bleak. But Daybook’s parents were extremely supportive.

“I’m going to be honest, it was sad, and it was scary. But my parents went to work, and they had to work extra hard for me to thrive. Their goal

was for me to hear and to talk, no sign language. So it was a little bit of extra work but it brought everybody together. And I’m grateful for them.”

Within the deaf community, this is only one of the many routes people take when faced with such a diagnosis. Some people will choose to teach their child sign language rather than speaking, but this is a minority, with only 25% of deaf people using ASL as their natural language, according to StartASL. com. There are also those who rely solely on hearing aids, and those who rely solely on reading lips, and those somewhere in between.

Daybook, for example, can only hear around 40% with her hearing aids, and relies on lip reading or ASL for a more definitive understanding.

There is huge diversity within the deaf community. Daybook understands this, and when mentioning her deaf uncle and his choice not to learn ASL, she simplysaid “he took a different path.”

Daybook’s own path evolved as she grew up. When she was in high school she was part of a deaf education program, meaning she was in classrooms with other deaf or hard of hearing students and teachers that knew ASL.

“It was wonderful, I was a B-honor roll student because I was getting the education that I needed,” Daybook said. “I also had an IEP, so every year I met with my parents to set a goal for high school, and my goals were: I needed sign language, I needed an interpreter, and I needed extended test timing.”

Daybook had a positive high school experience and received the support she needed. But before high school, her learning environment was much more challenging.

“I went to the school near my house for middle school, so I was the only student who was deaf. And that was harder because there was no sign language, which I didn’t know yet, and there were 30 kids in one class with one teacher,” she explained. “When I moved to high school it was awesome. I was getting the help that I needed.”

Daybook’s primary school experience is far from rare, though. In 2014, over 75% of deaf or hard of hearing U.S. students went through public school programs, half of them spending most of their day in a general education classroom with an interpreter or helper. For a student with a hearing disability, this could put them at a large disadvantage learning-wise.

Daybook said that despite New Trier not having an official deaf education program, both her and hearing impaired students at this school are very welcome and get the support they need.

“Here, all the teachers have been incredibly supportive throughout my New Trier experience. Making sure I have what I need for the students I’m working with, and being patient. They’re great,” Daybook said.

Many of her coworkers are taking the initiative to learn ASL, be able to better communicate with her.

“She’s been an amazing teacher when teaching me sign language, and she’s always very patient and kind in supporting us learning ASL. Also, it makes me more aware of our learning environment and trying to make it work for every student, hearing impaired or not,” one of her coworkers, Lisa Devereux, said.

Daybook receives support in other areas of her life as well, with her cats alerting her to weird noises in her apartment, and also support from her temple.

“I’m in the deaf signing choir at my temple, so I sign and dance to the music. I feel rewarded and special as a deaf woman to be able to dance to the beat and look at the lyrics and create a sign-dance motion. I’m proud of it even though I sometimes need help following the lyrics, and that’s okay,” Daybook said.

Daybook admitted that sometimes she feels guilty for this extra help she needs, but is pushing past it and embracing who she is.

“I was born with a disability, something that’s not going to go away, so it’s something that I have to take pride in,” she said. “And that makes me really happy, just being a well rounded adult with a little extra help that’s needed, but doesn’t define me. I’m just happy with everything that I have. I can’t complain.”