Navigating the world in silence

How students with hearing impairment are finding their ways to success at school.

Getting ready to be recorded, sophomore Katelynn Meyer (right) takes position to sign the news for the day. As a member of Longhorn Sports Production and News (LSPN), Meyer, along with sophomore Mackenzie Brown, anchored the daily round up news which included general announcements, clubs & activities and a featured story. “After-school clubs gave me a place to be, other than the DHH room, and an opportunity to meet and to communicate with my hearing peers,” Meyer said. “LSPN News in particular helped me feel really confident in communicating with others and with larger crowds.”

Courtesy of Katelynn Meyer

Getting ready to be recorded, sophomore Katelynn Meyer (right) takes position to sign the news for the day. As a member of Longhorn Sports Production and News (LSPN), Meyer, along with sophomore Mackenzie Brown, anchored the daily round up news which included general announcements, clubs & activities and a featured story. “After-school clubs gave me a place to be, other than the DHH room, and an opportunity to meet and to communicate with my hearing peers,” Meyer said. “LSPN News in particular helped me feel really confident in communicating with others and with larger crowds.”

Living in a world of silence is the common reality for those suffering from hearing impairment. According to the CDC, as many as 15% of school-age children have significant hearing loss in at least one ear. Students who are deaf or hard of hearing (DHH) face challenges in the classroom and in the extracurricular world. 

Sophomore Katelynn Meyer has been in the DHH program since the age of four. Meyer was profoundly deaf at birth and unable to hear any sound for the first two years of her life. 

“I have been in the DHH program for my whole life. I went to Ladue Early Childhood Center for my preschool. This is where I met a lot of my close friends, lifetime friends and supporting adults. Then I attended Bellerive Elementary followed by West Middle,” Meyer said. “Being in one school system not only helped me make great friends but also helped me to explore several resources offered at the schools.”

Due to her profound deafness, Meyer did not have luck with the hearing aids she tried for the first few years of her life. She then went on to get cochlear implants, which help her hear sounds, but not understand words. Meyer relies on software, such as the Video Relay Service (VRS), where one can call an interpreter on screen to interpret what the hearing person says. Additionally, she uses AVA app, which is an artificial-intelligence based translation app that captions what the speaker says.

“I communicate with others in American Sign Language (ASL). At school I get access to a Sign Language interpreter. When the teacher is teaching, I am able to learn by looking at the interpreter who is translating and signing what the teacher is saying into my language,“ Meyer said. “At home my mom is the only one that knows ASL. My dad and my sister do not use ASL. I have to depend on my mom to communicate with them and she is the only one that truly understands me and what I am saying.  It feels like I have never had a one on one conversation with my dad or my sister. It is very sad but it is very common for deaf kids to have this happen.”

One of the biggest challenges Meyer says she faces is communicating and making connections with other people. Myers has a lot of friends who already know or are learning ASL. Additionally they use VRS, texting and Facetime to communicate with each other when at home.

“At school we use a lot of sign language with friends. If I try to lip read in a conversation I get lost and confused. I feel left out when that happens. I use this when I am with my hearing friends,” Meyer said. “I hang out more with my friends who are deaf because they know our culture and language. My deaf friends and I do not have to worry about communication barriers. Throughout my schooling, my friends have been students in the DHH program that I met at preschool and they are the same students I am going to graduate high school with. My deaf friends and I are really close to each other; we know what is going on in each other’s life and when we’re having hard times. It is like a close-knit family where we can talk about anything with each other. Those friends are for a lifetime.” 

According to Meyer, she can communicate with both hearing and non hearing peers through some social media platforms. However, on many social media there is no access for those with hearing impairment. For instance, on Tik Tok and YouTube, there are a lot of videos that do not have closed captions. Additionally videos that use the auto closed captions options are not accurate translations majority of the time.” 

“It is annoying to see the video and not be able to get the message like the hearing people,” Meyer said. “People can be talking, smiling, looking upset or excited [in the video] but you don’t know why or what it is all about and you cannot be a part of those emotions and experiences.”

Similarly, noisy environments such as classrooms, hallways, lunch rooms and football games make it even more difficult to understand other people, according to Meyer. Meyer prefers to communicate in ASL while talking one-on-one with people in the classroom. However, the situation in group discussions is different.

Focusing on interpreting, sophomore Katelynn Meyer signs the national anthem at the Deaf INC event Oct. 10, 2021. (Kim Meyer)

“In a general education classroom, [participation and working in small groups] is harder because I am trying to keep up with what everyone is talking about [despite] the background noise. It feels stressful to be in a group activity with hearing people and it does give me more anxiety. I do rely on my interpreter a lot in that setting,” Meyer said. “But in the DHH room, that is not an issue because everyone can understand what we are saying to each other.”

 Meyer suggests that students working in a group [involving a DHH student] can sit in a circle to make sure the hearing impaired student can view the interpreter, keep the noise level low and talk slowly and clearly. Additionally while making videos meant for the whole class or the entire school, students must include closed captions or interpreters so that DHH students can understand their content.

“Without closed captions or an interpreter they [the videos] will mean nothing to us. We prefer closed captions over an interpreter in the corner because we can see the captions and the video at the same time. Think [of it like] the video [having] no sound, and how do you understand the video? That is what deaf people can hear,” Meyer said.

Meyer also attributes her success in the classroom to advocating and asking for help from teachers and case managers when needed. Additionally, she is involved in several extracurricular and after-school activities, including the ASL club and LSPN.

“The reason I joined the ASL club is to be able to have a place other than the DHH room to be able to communicate with my hearing peers. This [reason] also inspired me to join LSPN,” Meyer said. “It started with me taking a broadcasting class last school year. I remember when [theatre teacher Amy] Gosset talked about LSPN, I instantly wanted to do it and I knew that was my passion.”

Meyer was the Vice President of the ASL club during her freshman year and became the first DHH student to be elected for a leadership position in ASL Club.

“I feel like that [a DHH student leading the ASL club] is how it should be because the club is about American Sign Language and deaf culture and that is the deaf person’s native language,” Meyer said. “As the leader I talk to the group and see what their idea and vision for this club is and then take that into consideration. Then I look at what everyone’s ASL level is and do a lot of fun activities. But the most important key to success is to make sure everyone is involved, learning, asking and making friends in this club.” 

As the Vice President, Meyer’s goal was to make the ASL club a safe place for DHH students to be able to communicate with their hearing peers. But this is not the only club that Meyer is a part of.

Infographic of steps Meyer lists for people to be mindful of while working or interacting with students in the DHH program. (Raj Jaladi)

“With LSPN I want to be able to show that [being able to hear or being] deaf does not matter; everyone is included and anyone can make friends and have fun with it,” Meyer said. “I am so thankful for the support from the DHH program with the two clubs I am involved with. The interpreters and DHH teachers love that I am the leader of a club.” 

  To further explore her passion and skills, and to expand her community, Meyer also participated in several sports growing up and continues to do so today. Her first sport was dance, followed by gymnastics for 10 years and cheerleading for five years. Currently, she is involved in archery and rock climbing. 

“I started shooting arrows in sixth grade at West Middle. I now do rock climbing and archery through the Disabled Athlete Sports Association (DASA) where I can play and have fun with other players like me,” Meyer said.

After graduation, Meyer is planning on attending Gallaudet University or Rochester Institute of Technology to get a degree in broadcasting or science. Gallaudet is the only university in the world where students live and learn using ASL and English. 

“For my future, I am hopeful that people are more open to communication and willing to hire people with hearing impairments at work,” Meyer said. “I feel the school experience I am going through is going to help me be able to go to college better because I know the workload of homework, how to adjust to new changes, ways to communicate with hearing peers and find a strong place both in class and activities outside of [the] classroom.”