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Share Your Story: Emilia

Updated: Oct 6, 2023

Emilia is a chatty 22-year-old who at the time of writing is waitressing at her local café, flatting with friends and has just finished two years of a Communication Design degree at Otago Polytechnic. She is also profoundly Deaf and wears a cochlear implant on both ears.

Since our interview she has decided to take a break from studying graphic design, to advance her knowledge and skills in farming. Hoping to run a farm and use the skills that she has gained from her degree to help other farmers to start/run a business.

As a baby, Emilia was diagnosed with high-frequency hearing loss, and at just 18-months-old, Emilia was given her first pair of hearing aids.

“When I was a baby, the doctors told my Mum that I had a sensorineural progressive hearing loss where I initially lost high frequency sounds and then gradually would lose the lower frequency sounds as well. The impact of my hearing loss was that my speech developed more slowly than other children. I was beginning to string small sentences together at the age of three.”

As her hearing loss became more profound, Emilia received her cochlear implants, the first when she was eight and the second when she was thirteen. She also underwent intensive speech therapy to build up her language skills, which was at times exhausting, both physically and mentally.

“My mum was always very determined to get my speaking up to standards because she was told when I was a baby that when I turned five, I’d have the speech and language of a two-year-old, and she didn’t want that for me. I’m very fortunate for her in that sense.

When I was doing speech therapy some days were very hard. I felt like no one could understand just how hard it was to hear those sounds the speech therapist was asking me to decipher. Especially when she would cover her mouth and I had to figure out what she was saying… it was very frustrating…

…There were days when afterwards I wouldn’t want to do anything, didn’t want to talk to anyone. I would be so completely drained from the concentration.”

“I am a very determined person though and quite stubborn, so I stuck it out. And look how far I have come!"

As well as language therapy, Emilia’s mum made sure she had lots of visual ways to connect so that they were not only relying on hearing.

“Mum and I did a lot of crafty things. We used to collect shells from the beach to make photo frames or read picture books… we also had this blank book and in it, we would write letters to each other. They would be about what happened in our day, how we were feeling, our dreams… anything really. And then each night we would give each other the book. It was really helpful for communicating things when I was tired, or the things that I might not feel like talking about, like if I got bullied that day. It was also really nice because it meant I could tell Mum things without having to see her reaction. It helped build a strong relationship between the two of us.”

Their special bond, and the friendship of a wonderful teacher aide Kirsty, have been key relationships within Emilia’s life, helping her get through the challenges of NCEA and high school bullies.

“I got bullied and I got picked on because I was Deaf and other kids thought I was weird in that sense. But it made me stronger. And it made me realise who I wanted to be around and who I didn’t want to be around.

I was very fortunate to have Kirsty, my teacher aide, from year 6 to year 12. Having her as the solid stable person throughout my high school experience made such a difference… we built a very strong relationship and bond. As well as helping me get through NCEA, it was really amazing to have someone that I could talk to about anything whether that was school, work or even relationships. I owe her a lot.

Passing NCEA and getting UE was a really hard journey for me and I am so lucky that I had a lot of support along the way…”

Emilia has also overcome what many Deaf people would find a nightmare – working as a waitress in a busy café.

“I don’t know how I did it but when I was 16 years old, I decided to get a job as a coffee runner during the summer in an industrial building (concrete floor and brick walls). Although, at the start it was very tiring having to concentrate on what people were saying, I did get used to it and progressed on to waitressing, bartending and working on the coffee machine. Two years ago, I was given a management position helping to run a café.

It can be very hard to hear people at times, especially with the background noise, but all my customers are really understanding. I’ll just ask them to repeat what they have said and speak a bit louder – normally I don’t even have to bring up that I am Deaf! Sometimes the customers notice the cochlear implant and pull me aside to ask me how I do it and that they feel inspired by how I wear my hair back and show it off.

It’s been a process to get to where I am now. The years of speech therapy, countless hearing tests… I have had to work to be the person I am today.

There will be times when you may not see the light at the end of the tunnel. But it will be there. And there will be times where it's so hard that you just want to give up on everything. But you just can’t give up. You are here for a reason. Your story is valuable.”

Emilia has come a long way and NFDHH are proud to have played a small part in her journey. Last year, Emilia was a successful applicant for our Deaf Education Scholarship, using the funds to purchase an iPad Pro for her design degree.

“It has made a huge difference. The design process I was using before was really long and time-consuming, so the iPad has been great. Using the iPad is a big help with anything I do, especially now that I am heading into farming. I can take photos or draw diagrams and write blurbs down quickly rather than doing a long process of printing and gluing it in a book. The process [to apply for the grant] was really easy and I was quite honoured that you guys accepted my application. Thank you!

My farm course is a one year course at Telford which is great because I can get into a job quite quickly and with my knowledge in design I can put my own sort of ring to it. I am not going to disappear from designing in the future. It is something that a lot of people are seeking and I would love to work with some companies that support Deaf and hard of hearing people like Southern Cochlear Implant and just be able to give back to them! Showing the Deaf community that we aren’t restricted to certain jobs that we can do the impossible is something I am hoping to show with my story.”

Applications for our Deaf Education Scholarship are now open. If you would like to find out more, please click here.

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