The handicap of deafness is not in the ear; it is in the mind.
Melissa Felder Zappala is a partner in the Washington, D.C., office of Boies, Schiller & Flexner Law Firm, where she specializes in complex commercial litigation. She is on the National Law Journal’s 2015 DC Rising Stars list of 40 lawyers under age 40 and on Super Lawyers’ 2014 and 2015 Rising Stars lists.
With her father and grandfather both being lawyers, it was a foregone conclusion that she would be a lawyer. But, this was far from the case for she is deaf!
Mellisa was diagnosed to be deaf at a young age of 1. A doctor had warned her parents that she would likely never learn to speak and that she would not read past a fourth-grade level.
Now, obviously we can see how not true the warnings were. She worked hard, very hard to defy all the “normal” expectations. Worked with auditory therapists to improve my speech and hearing, sitting in the front row in all classes to understand her teachers better, she did the grind.
Today, she is an accomplished litigator and a firm in a law firm. Mellisa lives a beautiful life with her wife who despite also working full time is the primary caregiver their little daughter and son.
On April 4, 2017, the 34th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger’s first journey. Inside NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center’s mission control center were engineers working for the flight and validating technology to test improved flight efficiency. They watched their monitors, analyzed the flight’s early stages, and all wore headsets to listen in on communications – all except one. Wearing no headset, sat a young systems engineer, Johanna Lucht, who on a day of firsts for NASA, became the first deaf engineer to carry out an active role in a NASA control center during a crewed research flight.
When she was 16-years-old, Johanna’s education experience changed when she was accepted into a Summer Academy for Advancing Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Computing program through the University of Washington. The program exposed her to computer science which she enjoyed greatly. After that, she landed an internship at NASA and was offered a full-time position upon graduation. She now works as the only Deaf engineer in NASA with a variety of roles, including an instrumentation engineer, software manager, and research system engineer.
Being the first Deaf Engineer in Active Crewed Mission Control Role did lead to some communication challenges between Johanna and her hearing colleagues. The company culture within NASA which views potential barriers or difficulty as a problem to be solved, she says. They see challenges as a positive thing and strive to find ways to overcome them. With that mindset, Johanna took to educating her colleagues about hearing a loss to overcome some of the obstacles they may face when communicating. She is working on her dream role and is very happy.
Greg Lawrence’s aviation career, logs 3,000 hours over the course of nearly a half-century, would be relatively unremarkable by general aviation standards, but for one thing – He is deaf! Greg’s, 63, hearing loss dates to an early childhood illness
Taught to speak by his grandmother, Greg retains partial hearing—enough to understand air traffic controllers more often than not. Able to speak clearly, and read lips, Lawrence’s hearing loss was unknown to his teachers until eighth grade. In 1964, with dreams of taking to the skies, he applied for a medical certificate. Not knowing what to disclose when it came to “deficiencies,” Greg said, the aviation medical examiner advised him “not to make trouble” for himself, and signed him off. He earned his private pilot certificate in 1966.
Till date, Greg remains an avid aviator and visits schools for the deaf and partially deaf around the country presenting a program with a simple message: “You can fly.”
Dr. Philip Zazove is an American physician specializing is family medicine. Attending school, college, 2 medical schools and every clinical round – a standard but, for one - He is deaf! At a tender age of 4, tested and discovered as having profound hearing loss, experts had declared that the loss was so severe, that he be lucky to hold a job as a janitor.
With Philip’s parents pushing back every advice given, declarations made, Philip attended a “normal” school, college and the likes. From being bullied in varied ways all his life, he found the support of his friends and parents, Philip poured all his energy and devotion to positively develop, learn and grow. Today, he is not only a successful physician but also a much-loved one. He is living a beautiful life with his wife and two daughters and devotes his life to work for the deaf and hard of hearing as much he does so to his practice.
On the eve of The International Deaf Week, lets us start conversations and exchange stories so that we can inspire generations of deaf and the hard of hearing. Most importantly, help the hearing population to change their notions and prejudices. The handicap is really in our minds. and create a more inclusive world with a healthy deaf working population.
“For every deaf we reach, there are a thousand hearing people.”
- to make the change that we seek, the need is to reach ALL people.