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Krista Biernath
Division of Human Development and Disability

Krista Biernath

When I was 17 years old, I lost all of my hearing in one ear. I learned that I had a genetic syndrome that caused tumors to grow on my hearing nerves. And I learned that someday I would become completely deaf in the other ear. I was devastated and frightened. I grew up with full hearing and didn’t know anyone who was deaf. I couldn’t imagine the world without sound. A few years later, a friend told me about a remarkable new technology called an alpha pager, a pager that could receive a message sent via a live operator. I was excited to think that someday this technology could help me.

Soon my world got quieter, but I didn’t really notice because it happened so slowly. After much urging from my frustrated family, friends, and coworkers, I got my first hearing aid. I can remember turning my hearing aid on for the first time and immediately hearing a soft, low-pitched noise. My eyes scanned the room looking for the source. My audiologist smiled and said, “That’s the air conditioner.” I went for my usual run that evening and was surprised to hear the gravel crunch beneath my feet and the croak of a bullfrog. I had forgotten that frogs make noise!

But the sounds around me continued to soften. I began using captioning on TV only a year after a federal law was enacted requiring most new television sets to include a closed captioning feature. And I became unable to use the telephone only a few years after emailing became the norm.

I’m completely deaf now. In addition to closed captions and email, I rely on technologies such as text messaging, IM (instant messaging), and CART (communication access realtime translation). Recent changes in technology, as well as other recent positive changes such as the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, have provided opportunities for people with disabilities that were not available 20 years ago. I sometimes think back to the excitement I felt when I learned that I might someday use an alpha pager, and I smile.

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