A woman with beautiful gray hair came up to me and sat next to me. She immediately began signing. "Are you here for the ALDA lunch?"
"Yes, I am."
We both had arrived early for the Association of Late-Deafened Adults gathering. So we shared our stories of becoming deaf and finding our way to ALDA. She began losing her hearing in her 40's and little by little, her hearing diminished. She struggled to communicate as she navigated the once familiar world in a different way. She and her husband had to learn new ways to have conversations. She began to learn sign language and found new friends by joining ALDA.
I was born with normal hearing and grew up hard of hearing. When I was 19, I tripped over a wake while barefoot water skiing and ended up cartwheeling on the water. I climbed into the boat deaf, but I didn't realize it at the time. I simply thought I had water in my ears and figured that the hearing that I had left would return. It didn't. Being deaf was here to stay.
In the mid-80's, a group of late-deafened adults began attending informal meetings held by an Illinois social worker, Kathie Skyer Hering. Bill Graham, one of the founders, showed up at one of the meetings. In March of 1987, ALDA became a reality.
I asked Bill to share some of his memories of how ALDA came about:
I found that I fit in nowhere all that well: not the Deaf world, not the
hard-of-hearing world, not the hearing world.
Somehow I found out about a
support group for people who became deaf led by Kathie Hering at Ravenswood
Hospital. I was single, and having nothing better to do, I went one night. There were
only two people there and we communicated horribly: Kathie could sign but I
couldn't lipread her because of her facial paralysis from NF2. The other
person couldn't lipread or sign. Despite the lack of verbal understanding, I
sensed a common bond in the room.
Later, I asked Kathie for the list of
late-deafened adults that she had compiled as a vocational rehabilitation counselor. I took the list and invited everyone on it to come
to my apartment for a pizza party. I didn't know any of them with the exception of Kathie. Thirteen people showed up. I had a great time (goood pizza!), and so I wrote to them all again.
I put another party together and I kept writing between parties. My letter
was passed around and around-- and suddenly people in other states were on the
mailing list. The rest is history ("his" because I'm telling this story).
bottom line was that there were tons of people out there who shared my
experience and so what I wrote resonated with them.
Every year, ALDA hosts a conference called the ALDAcon. Late-deafened adults come from everywhere to attend this conference. For many of them, it's the only time they can connect with other adults who understand the same journey. Real time captioning by National Court Reporters Association was introduced at the first ALDAcon and it has been a model for many other conferences since then. Sign language interpreters are also provided. The official communication policy of ALDA is simply "whatever works."
At the ALDAcon in Boston, the group decided to introduce karaoke at a Saturday night social event. "Karaoke was pretty new in the United States and nobody knew what to make of it
or if people would be offended at having music they couldn't hear at the
conference," Bill recalled. "At first, nobody did anything, and then after about an hour some
people got up and started singing and dancing. After another hour, almost everybody
was out there. The tears flowed, let me tell ya! I remember particularly getting
up on the stage with other ALDA leaders and singing "If I Had a Hammer." My tears
then flowed. Marylyn Howe (past president) and I ask for the song at every ALDAcon....memories!"
I was able to experience my first karaoke night at the ALDAcon in Colorado over Labor Day weekend. At first, I was a little shy to get up on the stage, but after a glass of Merlot, I gathered up the courage and jumped on the stage. After the third glass, I was having a blast. The rest of the night, I didn't touch another drop. I made a few new friends that night!
Last Saturday, I joined a group of new ALDA members for a lunch at a local restaurant. I had the wonderful opportunity to connect with Sarah who is known as the Speak Up Librarian on her blog. Sarah and I connected online a few years ago but this was the first time for us to sit down and get to know each other. I'm looking forward to more opportunities to get together again!
ALDA is a valuable organization for folks who have lost their hearing, whether suddenly or gradually over several years. For more information or to contact ALDA: email@example.com. To join the Chicago group, www.aldachicago.org or email them at: firstname.lastname@example.org.