People of Georgian: Hearing loss doesn’t stop campus support officer from embracing ‘joie de vivre’
October 09, 2020

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People of Georgian: Meet Melissa Smith

I was born with congenital rubella. This has resulted in moderate hearing loss in my right ear and I’m deaf in the left.

My early experiences as a hard-of-hearing person were really shaped by the times. I was born at the end of 1974, and there wasn’t as much awareness of disabilities or rights of the disabled.

In fact, despite my mother’s insistence that I was hard of hearing, the doctors didn’t believe her, and so I wasn’t outfitted with hearing aids until I was six or seven.

I had to fight misconceptions as well – that I wasn’t smart or capable – and the social isolation that comes with this particular disability. I spent a lot of my time nosed into books.

It set in motion a reserved personality and exhaustive drive to stay on the periphery, so I wouldn’t say – or do – anything out of turn.

I ramped up the self-imposed isolation in high school by sitting at the back of each class. This meant missing instructions and lessons in part or full. It affected me academically at times, but it also damaged my self-confidence.

I excelled at writing – an, albeit, solitary pursuit. I used this to express myself and communicate with the hearing world.

Person looks at the camera while holding a chocolate Oscar and pointing at it with their other hand.
Melissa celebrates the Muskoka team’s Board of Governors award with a chocolate Oscar.
A smiling baby sits on the floor.

‘My (dis)ability didn’t hold me back’

In university, I continued to sit in the back corner of the lecture hall where I couldn’t be called on to participate in discussions. This further alienated me from my classmates and a fuller postsecondary experience.

Philosophy, my chosen major, fostered free and original thought, but it didn’t connect me with people; it aided in my seeming pursuit of a singular one-dimensional world.

But over time, I started to see my disability differently; started acting differently, and so others are beginning to respond to me differently as well.

My (dis)ability didn’t hold me back. I did that very much on my own.

Now, rather than ruing my years are half-done, I’m embracing the joie de vivre that comes with wanting to live my best (mid-) life.

I’m also realizing just how far I’ve come. Despite systemic barriers to achieving postsecondary education as a hard-of-hearing person, I have a bachelor’s degree, a graduate certificate and am currently working on a second one.

I’m looking forward to seeing what else I can accomplish.

Melissa Smith, Campus Support Officer for Georgian’s Muskoka Campus.

She and three Muskoka Campus colleagues – Erin Doyle, James Fielding and Michelle Kennedy – won the Team Award from Georgian’s 2020 Board of Governors’ Awards of Distinction.

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