Young Adult Spotlight: Yat Li

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life” – Matthew 6:25-34

Depending on your school of thought, born deaf and hard of hearing can be a challenge or a blessing. I will share with you how I went from despising my physical self to not worrying about it at all.

I was born with profound bilateral hearing loss. In addition, I have atresia, which is an absence of external ear. In my case, both my external ears were severely underdeveloped at birth. In one December night in 1988 in Hong Kong, my mom cried – after giving birth to me – for a full month. In what was supposed to be a happy ending to a 9 month pregnancy, my parents were shocked to find out that the baby in my mother’s womb have problems hearing. Struggling to find a school that would accept me as who I am in Hong Kong, my family immigrated to Vancouver, British Columbia, in hopes to help me settle in with an accepting community. Thankfully, I had numerous amounts of support in school to acclimatize to a new culture. Audiologists I worked with at School District #43, especially Max, Nicole, Frances and Leslie Bennett all played a big role in helping me overcome my challenges. I still remember for the longest time I could not pronounce the letter “S” or “T” and “P” because these were all high frequency letters which I couldn’t even hear properly, let alone speak. The day I finally learned how to enunciate the words, I was literally jumping for joy!

Throughout elementary, I wore a conventional hearing aid which amplifies sound that passes through the earmold, the ear canal, through the middle ear and to the inner ear. Yes, with all this passing around, you can imagine the amount of sound that is lost in translation. When I was 12, I was approved by doctors to install a titanium abutment behind my ear. I would be equipped to use the Bone Anchored Hearing Aids, which clips itself to the titanium abutment. The direct connection reduces distortion in sound. Between ages 12-21, I wore silicon prosthetic ears to deflect attention on my underdeveloped ears while in school. During this time, I spent over 30 minutes each morning gluing my prosthetic ears to the side of my head. This was when I learned about responsibility and patience. That meant waking up extra early to do “my thing” before going out.

When I was 21, I had surgery to remove my two underdeveloped ears with screws which made it more convenient to place the prosthetics and aesthetically real. It’s much more convenient when playing sports. In the past, when I sweat, the ears would fall off. Those were definitely Mr. Potato Head moments.

I work in marketing and communication as a CRM Specialist at Coast Hotels. I lead the email marketing initiatives and strategically deploy them to increase guest retention and direct bookings. I love the field I’m in. I’ve also had the opportunity to speak at multiple brand conferences to hotel executives and industry experts. It’s so humbling to hear comments and feedback from delegates about my strong cadence and on-stage presence. I’m seriously considering a future career as an inspirational speaker!

My word of advice to youth who struggle with hearing loss is to seek consultation with audiologists. Find out all the support you can get and realize that your uniqueness is completely normal. The moment you share and lead the introduction with a new person about your hearing loss is a step forward to understanding, respect and empathy. This is one thing I started to realize in the past few years. If you don’t share your situation, nobody will ever understand you. In fact, it may even create assumptions and generalizations which you don’t like! So, take charge of your situation, embrace your uniqueness, be the light in our hard of hearing community and share with them what makes you awesome.