Living with a disability like hearing loss comes with challenges, but whether or not it challenges the way you live is all a matter of perspective, says Glenn Kolonel.
Support From the Start
Glenn was two years old when he got measles and a combination of fever and infection caused him to become profoundly deaf. One of the middle children of eight, he was the only person in his family with hearing loss.
His parents, then living on Bell Island, helped him learn to speak, ensured he had speech therapy, and chose for him to attend standard stream school, rather than the Newfoundland School for the Deaf.
“The first years, it was not recommended to start off with hearing aids – that’s a bit archaic now – but (it was the way at that time) so I could learn certain cues for speaking, to hear better on my own. I made myself independently secure, and I think in my case it was useful because by the time I got the hearing aids they were truly aids,” Glenn says.
“I used supports to help me through, and I think that’s one of the values that came through for me; letting others help. You’re not just letting others to help you, they have the “challenge” to help you. Because without other people around – if I were in a room myself – I wouldn’t have a disability. But put another person in there and two people have the same challenge,” he explains. “I have to help them so they can help me.”
The Here and Now
Today, Glenn works for the Provincial Government as a Labour Market Development Officer, helping businesses and business owners with various resources including training tools and funding supports for them and for their employees. His work helping people is part and parcel with his personal cornerstone philosophy.
“Some people with hearing loss may become hearing experts, or audiologists, or doctors. But in my case, I think my strength is providing supports to others, connecting to others, finding the way to bridge the gap,” he says.
That’s not to say it’s always smooth sailing. Glenn says there have been some challenges at work and at home. For example when his wife tries to talk to him from another room or when he meets someone with a voice that’s difficult to hear with his hearing aids, then Glenn is greatly challenged.
“I believe disabilities are natural, but I believe we also have natural inclination, meaning we’re more inclined toward the status quo. My life experience shows that evidence. I’m very forgiving of that,” he says. “We don’t fight over the hearing loss, but (my wife is) struggling all the time. She might forget herself, but let’s be honest, she’s just doing what’s natural. I could have a chip on my shoulder and say she’s forgetting herself, poor me, but I’m not doing that. There isn’t a poor me in my vocabulary.
“If I miss something I don’t get panicky or strung out. I believe how disability is managed isn’t just about doing the right things. It’s complicated by what your personality is. I just happen to be a calm person by nature.”
What Could Have Been
Though he doesn’t do it often, Glenn admits to thinking about what life would be like without hearing loss. He says he’d like for the challenges to be removed, but he knows he’d be a different person, too.
To help cope with the challenges that he does face, Glenn and his wife walk and hike. He averages about 240,000 steps per week on his FitBit, while she averages 280,000. On the weekends, the pair walk from their west end St. John’s home up and around Signal Hill before walking home again.
Glenn says it’s part of his commitment to himself to be as extroverted as possible.
“Making myself an extrovert means … on the simplest level being out somewhere for a walk and seeing a stranger and saying hello; to seek opportunities, meaning like volunteering, like when I’m in an office environment, joining the social club,” he says. “Having a disability doesn’t make you fragile. The individual doesn’t need to adapt to your disability, they don’t need to walk on eggshells.”
Overall, getting perspective has shaped Glenn’s life with hearing loss. He regularly contemplates what matters most to him, what he’s not willing to compromise on, and what he can give back.
“The other thing is, looking at my strengths, not like in a job interview. What am I really good at? Knowing, really knowing, what am I excellent at. So my disability becomes something about me rather than the whole me. There’s a strength about me that may or may not be part of my disability.”
Glenn’s story starts with support. He knows that for challenging listening situations there are other pieces of technology available at the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association – Newfoundland and Labrador (CHHA-NL) that can help. Recently Glenn tried amplified headsets from the technology lending program and found that the experience enabled him to move forward with the purchase of a similar set for work.
If you need help – from hearing devices to connections with like-minded individuals – get in touch with the helpful team of hearing loss support specialists and find out how the CHHA-NL can help you get your perspective.