It has been a month since the CHHA National Conference took place in Sidney, British Columbia. Why did it take me this long to write a post? Well other than the excuse of being busy, the time lapse provides the opportunity to recognize the profound impact the conference has on me. Upon returning from the conference I became much more confident, social, and proactive in navigating my life.
Earlier this year I went through a period of struggle experiencing burnout from the many commitments I was involved in. While I have great working relationship with my colleagues at work it was difficult for me to foster social connections with them. The nature of the job requires me to be on the go, leaving little time to stay for chats. The noise in the staffroom and the quick pace of conversations added to the frustration. This led to feeling isolated from the community and never really “fitting in”. It is quite ironic as I teach my students self advocacy skills so they can navigate conversations with their peers and yet I struggle to do it with my peers – the adults. Eventually I started questioning what it is I am doing and why I am doing it, which included the Peer Support Program. After staggering for months with my emotions being on a roller coaster ride, the CHHA National Conference was around the corner, at just the right time when I was at crossroads.
I always love going to events for the deaf and hard of hearing community. There is no place that is more accessible than the CHHA events with our needs taken into consideration. All the attendees may come from different walks of life, but they have one thing in common: understanding the challenges of living with hearing loss. This makes everyone the best communication partners a hard of hearing person can ever ask for. There is no hesitation to ask for repetition because you know they will be glad to do so. In my case, meeting other young adults from across the country, most of whom I already knew and some I met for the first time, was exactly what I needed. Simply listening to their experiences and finding commonalities in their struggles was enough to remind me that I am not alone. We then shared strategies and gave suggestions on making them more effective. In her keynote presentation at the young adult retreat Dr. Jessica Dunkley, one of the few deaf medical practitioners in Canada, sent a powerful message about being an advocate. Here are the 5 points that resonated with me:
- Be upfront about what you need to minimize potential problems,
- Challenge yourself to do one thing different (venture out of your comfort zone),
- Make the environment suitable for you,
- Stop being cautious and go all out (it never hurts to try), and
- Be proactive – tell people who you are from the get go, rather than getting by and hoping things will be okay
By the end of the retreat it was as if I had discovered the secret of the universe, everything just made sense to me in terms of communicating with people. I know exactly what I had to do from that moment on to make sure I am included in conversations at work, asking the right questions and taking more initiatives, etc. Ever since coming back from the conference every day was simply perfect! There were challenges for sure, but I was ready to tackle anything with the newfound skills I acquired that weekend in Sidney.
Socializing with other hard of hearing young adults is always a highlight because we just clicked
right away. It was very easy to talk to one another and before you know it we had some crazy fun times! I made a comment to my travel group about how they are my best friends because they are hard of hearing and I always feel comfortable around them. One of them responded, “Couldn’t it be because we just happen to be really good friends? Maybe it is our personalities that make us work so well together, doesn’t have to do with our hearing loss”. Wise words, indeed. I am grateful to have her and other hard of hearing people in my life, knowing that I can go to them for guidance.
Me at a CHHA Event in 2000
Couple of us recreating the pose in 2017
There is so much more I can say about my experience at the conference, but what I do want to say is that it emphasizes the importance of providing opportunities for students with hearing loss to connect socially. The hearing assistive technology may have given them the ability to integrate into mainstream classrooms, but it cannot do anything for the emotional and social isolations these students may feel, always being “that kid”. They need a safe space where they can meet others who are like them in the hearing context and explore their identities together, just as I did through the young adult retreat.
This is what the CHHA-BC Youth Peer Support Program offers. Through our events such as BC Buddies, panel workshops, etc., elementary, high school, and post-secondary students can come together to learn various information while having a blast. These are all facilitated by hard of hearing young adults serving as role models. I am excited that for the first time in six years, the Family Weekend Camp will take place in September in partnership with CHHA-BC Parents Branch. I look forward to seeing the connections the children will make with each other and form lasting friendships.
In its fifth year since inauguration The CHHA-BC Youth Peer Support Program was formally recognized at the conference, receiving the Lynn Wheadon Education Award. This attests to the professionalism and quality of services that the program provides. While the program is functional we are in need of people (hearing, hard of hearing, or deaf) who are interested in helping with the planning of activities, running the website, and many other tasks so that the program can expand beyond the Lower Mainland. We are also looking to recruit hard of hearing young adults (age 18-35) as mentors. Please feel free to contact us at email@example.com.
Closing on a personal note it has been my pleasure to serve the deaf and hard of hearing community in many different capacities. Even though I took a tumble along the road, thanks to the people I met at the conference particularly Joy Gong, my fellow co-founder, I am coming back stronger and more motivated than ever. We will continue to work closely with community agencies and make the Peer Support Program an experience that deaf and hard of hearing youth will never forget.
Written by Bowen Tang – Co-Founder & Coordinator, CHHA-BC Youth Peer Support Program