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Finding Herself at AG Bell’s LOFT

At LOFT, Catherine Shrubshall realized she did not have to hide or justify her actions. “These people just understand intrinsically on a different level and I don’t have to constantly back up my decisions and explain myself,” she said.

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By Kirsten Ballard

For Catherine Shrubshall, AG Bell’s Leadership Opportunity For Teens (LOFT) Program was a “game changer.”

Catherine was born deaf and received a cochlear implant when she was nine months old. Growing up, she often felt uncomfortable admitting her disability.

“I did feel quite isolated by my hearing loss,” she says. “I mean, I’m really proud of it now, and I will happily blab to the world that I have it, but back then, I just wasn’t confident in it.”

Her parents were familiar with AG Bell and suggested the LOFT program when Catherine was 16. “I think part of me was just like, ‘Well, if I just meet some people who are like me and who understand the issues that I’m dealing with’…and so I remember when I met them for the first time, I think it was the first time I’d really felt seen by people. So that sounds really deep and dramatic, but when I was 16, it felt dramatic.”

Catherine often was hesitant to divulge her hearing loss, often hiding it. “It was the same with a lot of people I met in LOFT; a lot of times we almost have to explain ourselves to everybody if we can’t hear them or make a mistake or miss something. You have to explain yourself and justify why you’re not as good as everybody else. But at the same time, there’s a risk by justifying it, you’re going to get judged for it because you’re suddenly no longer ‘my friend Catherine’ it’s ‘my friend Catherine, who has a disability.’”

At LOFT, she realized she did not have to hide or justify her actions. “These people just understand intrinsically on a different level and I don’t have to constantly back up my decisions and explain myself…I only went to a school for the deaf when I was young and I joined mainstream school after that,” she says. “I think there was always a weird sort of internal identity crisis monologue going on because I’ve not really ever been around large groups of people that are like me.”

Now Catherine is 21 and is in her third year of studying medicine at Edinburgh in Scotland, with the dream of working in a pediatric-related practice of medicine.

She is thinking of writing her dissertation on the specific niche of young people who are deaf while examining the psychosocial implications of having an invisible disability.

“[Deafness has] for generations been a very visible disability, what is it now like to have it be something you can only experience on the inside?” she says. “I know for me, it’s exhausting. I feel the fatigue of it, that my brain has to work 150 percent harder, but nobody remembers that I’m deaf. So it comes with this whole package of when I get, for example, extra time on an exam or extra support, people are like ‘why are you getting that? You don’t struggle with anything.’ And it’s because you can’t see it on the outside.”

She is passionate about connecting with other young people who are deaf and creating a community. Last summer, Catherine interned at AG Bell and designed a program to get young people more involved. She didn’t see her experience reflected in the experiences of older people who are deaf that she met and she wanted to carve out a community. She is in an active group chat with her LOFT cohort and wanted to replicate that community.

“I really felt there was a gap amongst my peers. We’re kind of a unique circumstance,” she says. “We’re really the first sort of generation of people where [CIs] have been in our entire life. You know, it’s not something that’s happened to us halfway through.”

Encontrarse a sí Misma en LOFT

Para Catherine Shrubshall, el programa LOFT (Oportunidades de liderazgo para adolescentes) de AG Bell fue una gran oportunidad. 

Catherine nació con sordera y recibió un implante coclear cuando tenía nueve meses. Durante su desarrollo, solía sentirse incómoda al admitir su discapacidad. 

«Me sentía bastante aislada por mi pérdida auditiva», asegura. «Quiero decir que ahora me siento muy orgullosa y le contaré felizmente al mundo que la tengo, pero entonces no tenía mucha confianza». 

Sus padres tenían conocimiento de AG Bell y le sugirieron el programa LOFT cuando Catherine tenía 16 años. «Creo que una parte de mí decía: “bueno, si por lo menos conozco a algunas personas que son como yo y que entienden los problemas a los que me enfrento”… y recuerdo que, cuando las conocí, fue la primera vez que verdaderamente sentí que la gente me veía. Suena realmente profundo y dramático pero, cuando tenía 16 años, era dramático».  

Catherine solía dudar acerca de dar a conocer su pérdida auditiva y a menudo la ocultaba. «Esto les pasaba a muchas personas que conocí en LOFT; es frecuente que casi tengamos que dar explicaciones a alguien si no le oímos o cometemos un error o nos perdemos algo. Tienes que explicarte y justificar por qué no oyes tan bien como el resto. Pero, al mismo tiempo, existe un riesgo al justificarlo, ya que te van a juzgar por ello y de repente dejas de ser «mi amiga Catherine» y pasas a ser «mi amiga Catherine, que tiene una discapacidad». 

En LOFT, se dio cuenta de que no tenía que ocultar ni justificar sus acciones. «Estas personas simplemente entienden intrínsecamente en un nivel diferente y no tengo que respaldar constantemente mis decisiones ni dar explicaciones… Solo fui a una escuela para personas con sordera cuando era muy joven y después me incorporé a una escuela del sistema ordinario», explica. Creo que siempre hubo una especie de monólogo interno de crisis de identidad porque en realidad nunca me he juntado con grandes grupos de personas que fueran como yo». 

Actualmente, Catherine tiene 21 años y estudia tercero de medicina en Edimburgo, Escocia, con el sueño de trabajar en un consultorio de medicina pediátrica.  

Se plantea escribir su tesis sobre el nicho específico de los jóvenes con sordera, además de examinar las implicaciones psicosociales de tener una discapacidad invisible.  

«[La sordera] durante generaciones ha sido una discapacidad muy visible, ¿cómo es que en la actualidad sea algo que solo puedes experimentar internamente?», se pregunta. «Lo sé de primera mano, es agotador. Siento el cansancio que me provoca, ya que mi cerebro tiene que trabajar un 150 por ciento más, pero nadie se acuerda de que tengo sordera. Todo viene en el mismo paquete y cuando, por ejemplo, dispongo de tiempo extra en un examen o apoyo extra, la gente me pregunta “¿por qué te lo dan? Si no tienes problemas con nada”. La razón es que no se puede ver desde el exterior». 

Le entusiasma conectar con otros jóvenes con sordera y crear una comunidad. El verano pasado, Catherine realizó unas prácticas en AG Bell y diseñó un programa para involucrar más a los jóvenes. No veía su experiencia reflejada en las experiencias de las personas mayores con sordera que había conocido y quería formar una comunidad. Participa en un chat grupal activo con su cohorte de LOFT y quería reproducir esta comunidad.  

«Sentía de verdad que había una brecha entre mis compañeros. Nuestra circunstancia es de alguna manera única», añade. «Somos realmente la primera generación de personas que hemos tenido IC toda nuestra vida. No fue algo con lo que nos encontrásemos en mitad del camino». 

 

 

 

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