Marjorie Madsen Keilers and her daughter, Chloe Keilers, spoke to the Rotary Club of Los Alamos March 11 about their work with the New Mexico Chapter of Hands & Voices, an organization for families of children who are deaf or hard of hearing, and about the challenges faced by deaf and hard of hearing young people.
Hands & Voices is non-biased about communication methodologies and believes that families can make the best choices for their child if they have access to good information and support. Three out of 1,000 babies are born deaf or hard of hearing.
Chloe was diagnosed as hard of hearing at age 18 months. She is an honor student at Los Alamos High School. Chloe is the only student at the high school who wears hearing aids.
“Sometimes it’s hard to go to a mainstream school,” Chloe said. “Your experience depends on how much you want to work for it.”
Chloe has started a sign language club at the high school. She has a blog, HearChloe, at http://www.hearchloe.blogspot.com/. The blog helps her to connect with other deaf and hard of hearing teens that are in mainstream schools.
“I know people like me, but they are spread around the country,” Chloe said. “Teen to teen support is really important.
Chloe and Marjorie recently attended the national Hands & Voices Conference, where Chloe was the only teen. In addition to providing support, the New Mexico Hands & Voices chapter works to make sure deaf and hard of hearing children are diagnoses as soon as possible. Early detection means deaf and hard of hearing children can get therapy, medical intervention and hearing aids as soon as possible, Marjorie said. Hands & Voices provides advice and support to parents of children who are diagnosed as deaf or hard of hearing.
The organization also works to improve access to the broader world for the deaf and hard of hearing by making sure the resources they need are available at public places and at events. In New Mexico, a number of deaf and hard of hearing people speak Spanish as a first language. This creates extra challenges when working to make places and events accessible, Marjorie said.
There has been controversy in the deaf and hard of hearing community over whether communication via American Sign Language, vocal speech or a combination works best for them. Some families choose education geared to the deaf or hard of hearing, while others choose mainstream education. Hands & Voices supports families in making the choices that are right for them.
“What works for your child is what makes the choice right,” Marjorie said.