Conference Reflections

Three first-time conference attendees were asked to share their thoughts about the 2019 ADARA-AMPHL Conference in Baltimore, MD. If you are interested in sharing what you thought of the conference, please email us at admin@amphl.org.


Jessica Williams

Jessica Williams is a third-year medical student at the University of Florida and is interested in specializing in child neurology.

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Walking through the Marriott lobby that first morning of Baltimore 2019 as a completely oral and profoundly deaf cochlear implant user, I was astounded at how much conversation surrounded me without a single word being spoken. After being deafened by pneumococcal meningitis at 19 months of age, I was raised in the hearing world by two hearing parents in a time where social media wasn’t around to connect me to the community. The only other deaf people my family ever met were fellow pediatric cochlear implant users at my auditory-verbal therapist’s office with the same amount of “hearing success” that I had. For many years, I falsely believed that cochlear implants were the answer to any deaf person’s “problem,” until I met an adolescent boy who had gone through undetected device failure. My rose-tinted view of hearing technology had cracked, and I started to wonder what other stories of hearing loss there existed in the world. I volunteered at the Central Institute for the Deaf in St. Louis and attained an undergraduate degree in Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences, yet even those limited hearing-centric experiences could not broaden my worldview of the Deaf/HoH experience.

This weekend with AMPHL and ADARA did exactly that, however, and I do not regret one second of my journey through the hearing world or my parents’ choice to implant me. Everything together brought me to the University of Florida College of Medicine, where I met just the right faculty member who had worked with Dr. Michael McKee throughout his medical education. With a friendly email introduction including a link to baltimore2019.com, Dr. McKee welcomed me into a whole new tribe. To simply say that this conference was a great opportunity for networking and meeting others with hearing loss is a vast understatement. Baltimore 2019 challenged me to break through communicative barriers, to examine my upbringing as just one story rather than The Deaf/HoH story, and to embrace my future as a physician, researcher, role model, and Deaf/HoH advocate. I was beyond inspired by my predecessors who burst through barriers to institute the rightful representation of Deaf/HoH people in medical professions, by my new lifelong friends who are teaching academic centers around the world exactly what we need to succeed, and by those that will come after me in a new age of disability in medicine becoming standard. I am forever grateful to AMPHL for this conference weekend and will be counting down the days until San Francisco 2021.


Kyle Aldrich, R.T.(R)(ARRT)

Kyle Aldrich received his A.S. in Health Sciences in 2017 and a second A.S. in Radiologic Technology in 2019 from Cabrillo College in California. Last month, Kyle was certified as a Registered Technologist by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists. He also has certificates in venipuncture, fluoroscopy, and diagnostic imaging. Kyle is currently seeking entry level employment as a Radiologic Technologist using fluoroscopy.

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It is difficult to amount so many different emotions and experiences into words, so I'll do my best. I had  a lot on my mind when someone told me about AMPHL. At the time, I have never heard of it, or anyone involved. I was also stressed about my finals and my last week of clinical internship before I would graduate. I was also somewhat anxious about how I would get a job and compete against my classmates for local jobs post graduation. My interpreter suggested that I talk to someone from AMPHL and apply for membership, mentors and especially the scholarship. I admit, I almost did not fill anything out because $35 per year was a big commitment since I haven't made any money for almost two years while being intern and a student at this program. My interpreters told me to fill it out anyway and never look back. I applied for the scholarship and ended up getting it. I had to fly out to Baltimore and stay at a fancy hotel for almost a week and somehow have the funds to pay for it on internship. I gave up on the spot and I needed to focus on my finals and passing the boards when I graduate. That is when my interpreters arranged a crowd-funding site to send me there. Various of donations came pouring in and pushed me over the limit of $3,000. I took my boards and passed the day before I flew to Baltimore, and that's when it changed my life.

I admit that there isn't an mentor for Radiologic Technologist, but that didn't stop me from sharing my experiences in the world field and as a medical student. I no longer felt so alone, one of the biggest frustration that there isn't a lot of Deaf exposure, yet alone a Deaf medical professional to talk to. I was a little shy and felt that my experiences weren't “good enough” to share. I love being wrong, and watching others share theirs. It drives me to open myself up and share my experiences and other people have empathized with me as I would them. A support system and networking develops, and unspoken strong bond that we created in so short time is amazing to me. It allowed me to grow and ascend to a more of a Deaf medical professional, and if it can do that for me in matter of days, imagine what it would do for me after years to come? It was an area that I was allowed to thrive, and to be with others that can sign or speak in any given time and most importantly, to grow us into something better. I was so inspired that I signed up for AMPHL mentorship. I also plan to be one of the presenters for the 2021 AMPHL conference, a lot of people told me that my experiences is not just “good enough,” they're “great.” That feeling you get when you're no longer alone, no matter how tired I am, I wouldn't trade that for anything. You cannot buy this. For that, it changed me. Thanks, AMPHL!


Casar Jacobson, M.Sc, HCA

Casar Jacobson recently graduated with honors from a Health Care Assistant program at Saint Elizabeth Health Career College in Canada without the use of an interpreter and assistive technology and is currently studying for the MCAT with the hopes of matriculating into a medical school in the United States. She was previously a biotechnologist specializing in genetics and plant sciences.

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I am bilaterally profoundly Deaf, and implanted unilaterally on the left in November of 2018 – I’m still in the rehabilitation and mapping processes. I just finished one health care program which was a different direction to my previous education. Additionally, I’m studying for the MCAT with the goal to attend a university in the United States. I currently utilize Sign Language and spoken English for communication preferences in Canada where I live. However, I grew up in Norway and spoken Norwegian is my first language.

I felt isolated and anxious to go to Baltimore. Not everyone feels anxious about these events, some are purely elated, but that is representative of the additional diversities and stories within the deaf and hard of hearing realm. I was able to handpick which rooms I entered and therefore which topics I chose. I chose to learn about technology access like the amplified stethoscope (I discovered that not all audiologists are aware of how hearing aid or CI users utilize them), to learn from a deaf person of color and the marginalization that they face, and the Helen Keller National Centre for Deaf/Blind and the LGBTQ+ community about the struggles they face. There is a reason this is all relevant in health care – when we understand someone more, we create a better atmosphere for everyone.  When we shift our thinking and act on it, this creates a ripple, when we find a group of people equally or similarly marginalized – it creates a tsunami.

Anytime an individual is pulled away from language and communication they are pulled away from dignity, education, society, rights and freedoms. How we flourish despite the reality that we live in a hearing world all depends on extensive variables, that is another benefit to attending this event. Being Deaf can be very isolating or exceptionally vibrant, sometimes equally both simultaneously. This often depends on the environment, and as I learned at the event, our ‘fund of information.’ Pocahontas said it best with, “if you walk the footsteps of a stranger, you’ll learn things you never knew you never knew.” For me, the conference provided me with a fund of people with various educational backgrounds and experiences. From Audiologists to psychiatrists to nurses to medical interpreters, some of whom only use sign language or spoken language or both, and wear hearing aids or cochlear implants or neither, or an amalgamation of any of the above.

We can utilize our experience, not to continue to remind ourselves of the struggle, educational, basic access, or professional barriers that many of us fought through; but to let other deaf or hard of hearing persons know that they are not alone. There are others walking that path and you can, too, and even if they don’t fully resonate with the story of another. The conference was a space we could talk or sign freely in and share information to help one another get to where we want to go.

I’m thankful I went, as deep down whether I am accepted or not is not relevant to my determination and pursuit of my goals, but it certainly helps everyone to collaborate and share the strategies on how to succeed and when that is possible and where it is possible. Having someone learn beside you is like learning how to swim at the same time as your friend who is also learning to swim and they first discover and relay that they learned that swallowing water during each breaststroke is undoubtedly a negative result. After all, a wise man learns from the mistakes of others, some already have the wisdom not to swallow water, so they feel no need for a mentor.  Having a mentor in health care is someone who has gone through the part you are about to go through with similar barriers who can connect you with better methods, or suggest programs that are accessible, or provide insight on strategies that equip you for success. It is more than ‘don’t swallow the water’ – it can mean the difference of just barely swimming or joining the Olympic swim team.

When one individual approached me during the mentor MD luncheon shortly after my introduction and said, “I will be your friend,” nothing felt simulated about their words, it felt real. As deaf persons we are a marginalized group, we do not need to further marginalize ourselves by comparing every thread of our being, we can come together with the honesty, the dedication, and the hard work, our unique stories, our insecurities, our strengths, and diversities in an already diverse group. All of this jointly is what constructs a greater future for persons who are deaf and hard of hearing.