This was in 1994 with my mother. I was 10 months old when that incident occurred. My mum knew that due to my lack of response to her voice, there was something wrong with me. It took five months to get an answer, as I was a bright and happy baby, and doctors were convinced there was nothing wrong with me. At 15 months of age, I was diagnosed as being profoundly deaf. The cause of my deafness is unknown, there is no family history and I had not had any major illnesses. With a family that was all hearing, it was hard for my parents to be told by a number of specialists that I was unlikely to develop any usable speech. They were told that I would have to learn to sign, go to schools far away from my house, and become a part of a community they knew nothing about and one that they would never truly belong in. My communication level would be better with my siblings than it ever would be with my parents, and there would be an entire family I would never be able to truly communicate with.
One day, the phone rang. A representative from the Cora Barclay Centre in Adelaide had gotten a hold of our number and invited my parents to come for a visit. They hesitated, but decided to try it. During the tour of the centre, the principal told my parents, “We believe we can teach Bethany how to speak.” My parents began to believe that there was a chance and went ahead with the centre’s program. I was fitted with hearing aids, and started intensive auditory verbal therapy, with my teacher, Kerry. But the lessons didn’t stop there - there were listening games every day, in the morning, before bed, and during the day, when my mum would constantly talk to me about everything to fully immerse me in a world of sound. I was two years old when my hearing was re-tested and it was discovered the little hearing I had deteriorated even further. I was taken to my ENT, Dr John Rice, who told my parents that the time had come to seriously consider a cochlear implant.
It was early days of children receiving cochlear implants and only ever considered for the deafest of the deaf. It was a hard decision for my parents, who eventually decided it was the best option for me - I would lose nothing because I had no hearing, and if the implant failed, I could still learn to sign. But if I did not receive the implant, and soon, I would never develop normal speech. More than a year later, I was implanted, and switched on, September the 10th, 1997.
To this day I still remember running outside and hearing things I had never heard before. The sprinkler was pointed out to me, the birds flew above, the clock was ticking and the pram with my younger brother in it was rolling along the path.
There was still a lot of work to do. When it was time for me to leave kindergarten, and go to school, there was much debate as to whether I should be held back or not. This was because I was 5 years old and had the language age of a 3 year old. I was allowed to enter Reception, with the idea that if I was behind, I could repeat. It was difficult to find a school that would accept me, because it was early days when children with implants were entering the school system. All the schools happily accepted my older sister, but would not promise a place for me, until we found a school happy to take me on despite the challenges. I ended the year, and went into year 1 the next year.
I started to excel in the classroom. By the time I was 10, I tested as speaking as an adult in some areas of my language skills. I went from two visits a week to once a term on a merely monitor service over the course of 7 years at school.
At the age of 12, mum and I were flown out to Sydney to be trained as part of a new initiative by cochlear - called the Cochlear Awareness Network or CAN. Mum and I were heavily involved for several years, speaking to over 60 service clubs and groups in the state about our experiences. We received a Hearo award in 2010 for our efforts, and stopped when I started part time work at Kmart and entered year 11.
In year 12, I entered a public speaking competition called ‘Lion’s Youth of the Year.’ I was lucky enough to progress to the state finals - one of only two students from my high school to have done so.
I finished High School in 2011, as top of my class in 4 of 5 of my final year subjects. I achieved an ATAR in the 90’s, and a merit for my research project on Australian Children’s magazines.
I started my Bachelor Degree in Media, with a major in journalism in 2012. I also left Kmart, and started working at Melbas Chocolate Factory in Woodside, where I worked until 2015. I started to make videos for CAN, with some success. I received another Hearo award this same year.
I was lucky enough to meet Professor Graeme Clarke, a man I owe so much to in 2012. He is a humble man, who still works to improve the lives of the hearing impaired.
In 2013, with generous support, I was able to study abroad for a semester. I went to California, USA. I studied at a liberal arts college about an hour away from Los Angeles called Pitzer College. I had the time of my life - I made many friends who I will keep for life, and saw many things I will never forget. When my semester at Pitzer ended, I travelled around the country for a bit. This included having my first ever white Christmas, and experiencing snow fall. I also went to many places I’d read about, or seen on a screen, such as the Lincoln Memorial, and Route 66.
In 2014, I received a scholarship to travel to Japan and study media. I did not know a word of Japanese, but that did not stop me from having an incredible time. This trip was the first time my classmates were told I had a hearing impairment, and many were quite shocked.
I finished my Bachelor’s degree in 2014, juggling three part time jobs. I completed internships at ABC, Radio Adelaide and Total Girl Magazine. I did cause 'dead air' on Radio Adelaide for a few seconds because I could not hear that the sound was not coming through - I only wear a cochlear implant on my right side, and the audio came through the left side of the headphone. I turned 21 at the end of the year, with celebrations postponed because of a paid internship I received.
In 2015, I was accepted into RMIT’s media communication honours program, something I worked hard for. After a month long stint as an intern in Brisbane, I returned to Adelaide for two weeks before moving to Melbourne. To this day, no one knows about my hearing loss unless I tell them, because long hair is fashionable! I know I face different challenges but I am proud of what I have already achieved, and know I will go on to achieve more.
I moved to Melbourne not knowing anyone. 7 months after my move, I am satisfied that I made the right decision, because of the wonderful opportunities and people I’ve met. In the middle of the year I went on a week-long tour in New Zealand. As Louise at the Cora Barclay Centre once said to me, ‘You don’t let the grass grow under your feet do you!’
I am so grateful to my parents, the Cora Barclay Centre, my family, my churches and my schools. Because of them, I have the ability to live a wonderful and adventurous life. I wake up every day excited of what it will bring. The day isn’t started until my cochlear implant is on!