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Meet Jasmine Simmons, Au.D, CCC-A, Blazing a Path for Future Black Audiologists who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing

Despite having been to numerous audiology appointments throughout her life, Jasmine Simmons had never seen an audiologist that looked like her.

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Written By: Lisa A. Goldstein

Despite having been to numerous audiology appointments throughout her life, Jasmine Simmons had never seen an audiologist that looked like her.

“It was not until high school that I remember seeing the first Black audiologist, and it gave me hope,” Simmons recalls. “This first interaction impacted me more than I was able to comprehend at the time. From that point on, I began to understand the importance of seeing other people [who] looked like me in audiology.”

Simmons had wanted to be an audiologist since she was in seventh grade when she told her mother she wanted to help people, but wasn’t sure how. Her mom suggested audiology.

Born in Columbus, Ohio, with a profound sensorineural hearing loss in both ears, Simmons was diagnosed at six months old and received cochlear implants at 24 months of age. The youngest sibling of three brothers, Simmons’ youngest brother is also profoundly deaf and has cochlear implants.

Simmons was raised auditory-verbal/auditory-oral and had years of therapy from birth until her freshman year of high school.

When Simmons was seven and her brother was nine, they were diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa. Usher syndrome was brought up at the time. Genetic testing later confirmed it, and they were officially diagnosed several months ago. Simmons says it has impacted her life as she knows her vision is slowly getting worse.

Nonetheless, “my parents were very supportive and pushed us to be the best we could be,” Simmons says.

But it wasn’t until she met a Black audiologist that she felt the profession truly calling to her.

Now the 26-year-old’s dream has come true. After receiving her doctorate of audiology from Central Michigan University in May 2020, she has begun her career as an audiologist at a private practice in Florida.

Lightbulb Moment

At a conference her sophomore year of undergraduate study at the University of Akron, where she studied communication disorders, Simmons met Jocelyn Tubbs, Au.D., in what became a pivotal relationship. During their many discussions, they shared experiences such as being the only Black people in their college, the only Black people in their cohort during graduate school, and how mentally taxing it can become.

In 2019, the pair started Black Audiologist United (BAU). At the time, there were only three members, but as word of mouth spread, it grew. After the death of George Floyd, their numbers increased drastically. Today, they have over 150 members. Black audiologists make up about four percent of the profession.

“This group is a safe space for Black audiologists to share their stories regarding race or ask for professional opinions regarding clinic or research,” Simmons explains.

Making a Difference

That wasn’t enough for Simmons. In June 2020, she joined the National Black Association for Speech Language & Hearing (NBASLH). She says the organization has a lot of purposes, but a big one is to “promote an increase in the number of Black speech, language, and hearing professionals.”

“This is extremely important because if Black children are not seeing healthcare professionals out there that look like them, it makes them question if it is truly possible that they can achieve that goal,” Simmons says. “We as Black healthcare professionals have a mission to encourage and show children that they can be whatever they want to be when they set their mind to it. Being a part of this organization, I hope we can spread the word on what our profession is all about and inspire young Black children and teenagers that speech-language pathology and audiology exist and are great careers to explore.”

Simmons is also serving on AG Bell’s Higher Education Task Force, which was formed to help young students with hearing loss succeed in higher education. A group of young adults, including Jasmine, were invited to describe their post-secondary experiences. This information and other resources will be on a new Higher Education Resources website, launching in May.

“We anticipate that it will be useful for students, their families, and professionals who work with students preparing for higher education,” AG Bell board chair Susan Lenihan, Ph.D., says. “We believe that the shared experiences of young adults who have succeeded in higher education is the best way to prepare incoming students for a positive outcome.”

Simmons is giving back to AG Bell in another way as well. When in high school, she participated in the Leadership Opportunities for Teens (LOFT) program. Now she’s a counselor.

Working as an Audiologist

Tired of the cold and wanting a change of scenery, Simmons moved to Florida for the job opportunity. She absolutely loves it there, especially its proximity to the beach. In her free time, she also enjoys playing sports, going on nature walks, and finding random places to explore.

As far as the job, Simmons works with all ages and provides all types of services including fitting hearing aids, cochlear implant-related services, and diagnostic testing. She loves being able to relate to her patients, though she doesn’t always disclose her own hearing loss.

“I always want to make sure that the patient knows that it is always about them and not about me,” Simmons says. “I disclose when I am giving out advice regarding my personal experience if it will benefit the patient or to tell them that they are not alone in their hearing journey. Having a hearing loss is not easy and patients need to understand that they are not alone in this process.”

While Simmons has had patients and co-workers randomly touch her hair or her cochlear implants without her consent, being an audiologist with hearing loss is extremely rewarding.

“I see the sense of relief on patients’ faces when they find out that I also have a hearing loss,” Simmons says. “They become so excited to have a healthcare professional that is able to relate to them. It’s absolutely an honor to help patients throughout their hearing journey.”

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Jasmine Simmons, una pionera de los futuros audiólogos negros con sordera e hipoacusia

A pesar de haber acudido a numerosas consultas de audiología a lo largo de su vida, Jasmine Simmons nunca había visto a un audiólogo que se pareciese a ella.

“Recuerdo que hasta que empecé la etapa de secundaria no había visto a ningún audiólogo negro, lo que me dio esperanza”, comenta Jasmine. “Esta primera interacción me influyó más de lo que creía en aquellos momentos. A partir de entonces comencé a comprender la importancia de que hubiera otras personas en la audiología que se parecieran a mí”.

Jasmine había querido ser audióloga desde que estaba en séptimo curso y le dijo a su madre que quería ayudar a la gente, pero que no estaba segura de cómo hacerlo. Su madre le sugirió que estudiase audiología.

Habiendo nacido en Columbus, Ohio, con una pérdida auditiva neurosensorial profunda en ambos oídos, Jasmine recibió el diagnóstico a los seis meses y los implantes cocleares a los 24 meses. El menor de los tres hermanos de Jasmine también tiene una sordera profunda y utiliza implantes cocleares.

Jasmine tuvo una educación auditivo-verbal/auditivo-oral y asistió durante años a terapia, desde el nacimiento hasta el primer año de secundaria.

Cuando Jasmine tenía siete años y su hermano nueve, les diagnosticaron una retinitis pigmentaria. En esos momentos, se sugirió un posible síndrome de Usher. Las pruebas genéticas lo confirmaron posteriormente y fueron diagnosticadas oficialmente hace unos meses. Jasmine asegura que este hecho ha tenido un gran impacto en su vida, dado que su visión empeora lentamente.

No obstante, “nuestros padres siempre nos han apoyado y nos animan a que alcancemos todo nuestro potencial”, comenta Jasmine.

Sin embargo, no fue hasta que conoció a un audiólogo negro que sintió que la profesión realmente le atraía.

En la actualidad, el sueño de esta joven de 26 años se ha hecho realidad. Después de estudiar un doctorado en audiología en mayo de 2020 en la Central Michigan University, comenzó su carrera profesional como audióloga en una consulta privada en Florida.

Momento de inspiración

En una conferencia a la que asistió en su segundo año de estudios universitarios en la University of Akron, donde estudiaba trastornos de la comunicación, Jasmine conoció a la Dra. Jocelyn Tubbs con la que establecería una relación fundamental. Durante sus numerosas conversaciones, compartieron experiencias como ser las únicas personas negras de su universidad y también de su grupo en la etapa de posgrado, y lo agotador que podía llegar a ser mentalmente.

En 2019 ambas fundaron Black Audiologist United (BAU). En aquellos momentos solo contaban con tres socios pero, a medida que se difundió mediante el “boca a boca”, fueron aumentando. Tras la muerte de George Floyd, la cifra creció drásticamente. Actualmente, cuentan con más de 150 socios. Los audiólogos negros representan aproximadamente el 4% de la profesión.

“Este grupo es un espacio seguro para que los audiólogos negros compartan sus relatos con respecto a la raza o soliciten opiniones profesionales con respecto a la clínica o la investigación”, explica Jasmine.

Marcar la diferencia

Esto no era suficiente para Jasmine. En junio de 2020 se unió a la NBASLH (National Black Association for Speech Language & Hearing). Asegura que la organización tiene numerosos objetivos, pero uno de los más importantes es “fomentar el aumento del número de profesionales negros en el ámbito del habla, el lenguaje y la audición”.

“Es extremadamente importante, porque si a los niños negros no les atienden profesionales sanitarios que se parezcan a ellos, se cuestionan si es realmente posible poder alcanzar este objetivo”, afirma Jasmine. “Nosotros, como profesionales sanitarios negros, tenemos la misión de alentar y demostrar a los niños que pueden ser lo que quieran cuando se lo propongan. Espero que, a través de esta organización, podamos dar a conocer en qué consiste nuestra profesión y explicar a los niños y adolescentes negros que la logopedia y la audiología existen, y que son excelentes carreras profesionales”.

Jasmine forma también parte del Grupo de trabajo de educación superior de AG Bell, que se formó para ayudar a los alumnos jóvenes con una pérdida auditiva a desenvolverse con éxito en la educación superior. Se invitó a un grupo de adultos jóvenes, entre ellos a Jasmine, a que describieran sus experiencias después de la etapa de secundaria. Se podrá acceder a esta información y a otros recursos en un nuevo sitio web de Recursos de educación superior que estará disponible en mayo.

“Estamos convencidos de que será de utilidad para los alumnos y sus familias, así como para los profesionales que trabajan con alumnos que se preparan para la educación superior”, afirma la presidenta de la junta directiva de AG Bell, la Dra. Susan Lenihan. “Creemos que las experiencias compartidas de los adultos jóvenes que han tenido éxito en la educación superior son la mejor manera de preparar a los nuevos alumnos para que obtengan resultados positivos”.

Jasmine también facilita ayuda a AG Bell de otra manera. Cuando estudiaba secundaria, participó en el programa LOFT (Oportunidades de liderazgo para adolescentes). Actualmente es asesora.

El trabajo de audiólogo

Cansada del frío y con ganas de cambiar de entorno, Jasmine se trasladó a Florida en busca de una oportunidad laboral. Le encanta el lugar y especialmente su proximidad a la playa. En su tiempo libre, también le gusta practicar deportes, hacer senderismo y encontrar lugares para explorar al azar.

En cuanto a su trabajo, Jasmine atiende a personas de todas las edades y ofrece todo tipo de servicios, que incluyen la adaptación de audífonos, los servicios relacionados con implantes cocleares y las pruebas de diagnóstico. Le encanta poder relacionarse con sus pacientes, aunque no siempre les da a conocer su propia pérdida auditiva.

“Me gusta asegurarme de que los pacientes sientan que se trata de ellos y no de mí”, comenta. “Hablo de mi pérdida auditiva cuando les facilito consejos basados en mi experiencia personal que les puedan beneficiar o para que sepan que no están solos en su itinerario auditivo. Tener una pérdida auditiva no es fácil y los pacientes necesitan darse cuenta de que no están solos en este proceso”.

Si bien Jasmine ha tenido pacientes y compañeros de trabajo que le han tocado el cabello o los implantes cocleares inesperadamente y sin su consentimiento, ser una audióloga con pérdida auditiva es extremadamente gratificante.

“Veo la sensación de alivio en los rostros de los pacientes cuando descubren que yo también tengo una pérdida auditiva”, afirma Jasmine. “Les emociona contar con un profesional sanitario con el que tienen relación. Es absolutamente un honor ayudar a los pacientes a lo largo de su itinerario auditivo”.

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