Joyce Edmiston was formerly a Sign Language teacher at a private school in Harrisburg, PA as a Signing Time Academy Instructor. She served on the Pennsylvania Telecommunications Relay Service Advisory Board as well as the Pennsylvania Advisory Board for Hearing Loss Association of America until last autumn when she and her family moved to the Southern Oregon Coast. Crocheting, reading and beach combing are a few of Joyce’s hobbies. Joyce was a hearing impaired child who eventually became deafened later in life.
Q: Can you tell me about your personal journey of hearing loss? You are certified to teach sign language to children? What have you learned through this journey?
JE: We suspect I began losing my hearing as a young child when I had either the measles or mumps. High fevers from illnesses can cause hearing loss. I had an ENT doctor once tell me that we could look into what exactly was the cause, but it would cost a lot of money. He said the diagnoses until then is “Chronic Ear Disease”, which simply means they don’t really know. With many of the illnesses over my lifetime, ear infections and hearing loss followed. At this stage of my life, I suspect it is part of the aging process. Many baby boomers are experiencing hearing loss, and as we live longer, the chances of hearing loss become greater with every decade of life.
When I was a young girl, I wanted to grow up to be an English teacher. I loved words and reading.
School was very difficult because I did not have hearing aids, nor were there Sign Language classes available. I did not understand how others could hear better than I, and I did not understand my hearing loss enough to be able to advocate for myself. I did not even know that there was Sign Language until much later.
In elementary school, I was put into special education classes in fifth grade because I could not follow directions. It’s difficult to follow instructions if you can’t hear what’s being said. In math, for example, the teachers would write on the blackboard and give directions as to how to solve the equations, etc. with their backs turned toward the class. It was not until I was a little older that I came to realize that I was a lip reader and needed to see faces in order to follow the gist of what is being said.
In Junior High, I took French classes all three years. The teacher was very kind and would make time for me each week with the new vocabulary to be sure I was not only pronouncing the words correctly, but to also be sure I was able to read them on her lips. When I got to High School, entering my fourth year of French, the instructor did not understand this, and I had difficulty trying to explain if I could see what was being said and how it was being said, I would do very well. She hooked us up to headsets in cubicles where we had to listen and repeat what the voice on the tape was saying. After a couple of weeks, she said that though I could comprehend what I read and express myself excellently with writing in French, I was failing because I was not pronouncing the words or understanding the spoken words on the tapes. She said I was failing and recommended I take a different class. I wish I had known how to speak up and advocate for myself with this teacher because I ended up living in a small village in Germany where some of the people spoke French. I also got to go on tour to Paris.
When I was expecting my daughter, the man I was married to at the time made an appointment for me with an audiologist in Nurnberg. He was afraid I would not hear the baby. Taking his concern seriously, I went to see the doctor. Within 2 weeks of that appointment, I had my first pair of hearing aids at age 24. When I left his office wearing them, I heard birds chirping for the first time in many, many years. When sounds slowly fade with hearing loss, you don’t realize what you are missing.
Several years after we returned to the States and after I was divorced from my daughter’s father, I learned the local college had Sign Language classes available. I took my first class and I loved it! I signed up again several years later and one of the assistants in the class was a deaf gentleman. We soon began dating. Sign Language came very natural and easily to me, and I became incredibly fluent in no time at all.
During the course of my college education, I lost more hearing and it was too difficult to function in large classrooms. My dream of becoming an English teacher died . Children’s voices were too difficult for me to understand what they were saying, even with the help of hearing aids. I changed my degree toward an Associates in Applied Sciences and took classes to become a counselor. During a later term, I became very ill and lost more hearing. I dropped out of college again, and did not return because while note takers were helpful, the notes don’t help if I can’t read the lips of the instructors or students in the class. Not all people are easy to read, and I have a vision impairment that sometimes makes it difficult if I’m not right in front of the person to see the micro expressions clearly.
When my son came along 10 years ago, I signed to him all the time. I checked out Signing Time videos from our local library and we watched them together every day. He began signing back to me when he was 8 months old.
When he started Kindergarten, his teacher asked me if I would be interested in coming in and teaching a few signs to the class. At first I was hesitant, but my Fabulous Husband encouraged me to say, “Yes.” He contacted the people at Signing Time to purchase the videos for me and learned that I could be a certified Signing Time Instructor. He encouraged me to become a Signing Time Academy Instructor.
While I had only agreed to come teach the one class just one time, the children loved it and the teacher asked me to come back. The First Grade class saw the Kindergaren class learning Signs, and they wanted to learn, too. She asked if I would come teach her class as well. I began teaching classes each week, and continued to do so for a few years at the school.
It didn’t dawn on me right away that I was living my childhood dream. While I wanted to be an English teacher, I had no idea I would be teaching a variation of my dream. I was teaching an American Language – American Sign Language.
Sometimes we become so focused on the details of how we think things are supposed to be and what we want to do, we can easily miss a wonderful opportunity of doing what we love that is even better than what we visualize, simply because we don’t take time to recognize it when it happens.
Q: What advice would you give to an earlier version of yourself?
JE: Avoid people who criticize, mock and transpose their fears or assumptions onto others. Find people who are encouraging, gentle, peace loving and kind. We can too easily become like the people we spend the most time with: choose friends carefully.
Q: What do you wish people knew about the deaf community?
JE: That’s an excellent question!! Deaf people are intelligent and creative. The best communicators in the world are in the Deaf Communities. Pick up Dr. Bruno Khan’s book “Deaf Tips” and you will be amazed at the experiments and research he covers regarding the differences in communication between Deaf community and the hearing community. His research clearly shows that Deaf efficiently communicate more clearly and than hearing people.
Q: Life is beauty and pain. Tell me about pain in your life.
JE: I don’t share much about the pain I’ve lived through, because I have so many blessings I would rather focus on. My father never accepted me and never believed that I could not hear well. He disowned me about 8 years ago. He would not let me call my mom or come visit her. When I came back from Pennsylvania to visit in 2012, one of the first things he asked me was, “Are you hearing better?”
I said, “No, I’m deaf now.”
Dad looked at my husband and asked, “How do you put up with that?”
My Fabulous Husband looked at me with pure love and compassion. He did not dignify the question with an answer, but instead reached out to me, reminding me of what he said earlier when I told him I did not want to have to see my dad again, “This time, it will be different. You have me, now.” It WAS different. My Fabulous Husband was there beside me the entire time giving me support and encouragement.
Though I had a very unkind, controlling, manipulative, contentious father, I had a remarkable mother who gave me unconditional love and a love for words. If I had to go through it all again just to have the mother I did, I would. She was amazing.
Q: What are your recent accomplishments in the past year that you are most pleased with?
JE: In January, a book was published by Michelle Jay in which I contributed a chapter about the controversial topic of “Deaf Discrimination Against Deaf” in “Don’t Just Sign – Communicate! A Student’s Guide to the Deaf Experience”.
Last spring and summer, with the help and encouragement from my friend, Nancy Kingsley, we brought live captioning for the Deaf and Hard of hearing at both the Beth Moore conference and the Joyce Meyer conference at the Giant Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania for the first time. People with hearing loss who need captions to see what is being said may now contact Hershey Entertainment for any event and request captioning. It is listed under “captioning services”.
Last summer, I was nominated by Speak up Librarian Sara Wegley for Oticon’s Focus on People in the category of Advocacy for my blog. People from around the world took time to vote, and I won! I have a fabulous new set of state of the art hearing aids and all the accessories to go with them. It is has been life changing! I am extremely grateful to Sarah for nominating me, to everyone who voted for me and to Oticon for their generous gifts of the hearing aids. Oticon also gave a $1,000.00 check to the charity of my choice which was the Lancaster chapter of Hearing Loss Association of America.
My life has been filled these past few years with inspiring people I am blessed to call friends. Having encouraging and understanding friends and family makes all the difference. I would not be where I am today without them.