Meet Elisa Cimento

Elisa CimentoLast June, I attended AG Bell’s program Leadership Opportunities for Teens (LOFT), which changed the way I think about my hearing loss and led to my coming of age in ways that I am still realizing. When I got on the plane to head back home after the program was over, I had three major take-aways:

  1. I had a cell phone with 20 new numbers of people who are deaf and hard of hearing when previously I had known only one other person “like me.”
  2. There was a flash-drive in the mail that held more pictures than I have taken in a lifetime, and I was only gone for four days.
  3. It suddenly seemed unthinkable that I ever lived my life being unable to accept my deafness. Everything I do not like about my deafness does not go away, of course, but suddenly the “problems” are easier and not as scary as before. I no longer feel ashamed of who I am; instead, those who treat me as less than I am are now the problem, not me.

Fast forward six months later and I am immersed in finals during my first semester of college. My friends at other colleges are either ignoring me, or being ignored by me, because they are either pursuing grades or because they started winter break earlier. High school friends have been forgotten because the old, terrifying finals in AP classes have been replaced by the stress of 10-page papers. My college friends are either having nervous breakdowns or getting close to one after a week of minimal sleep. Coffee is now a necessity, not a nice drink. In the midst of this time period I receive an email. It is a friend from LOFT who heard of an internship for someone interested in hearing health science. Was I?

When I started college as a young, naïve freshman, I was unaware of many things. One of my biggest surprises was how many of my fellow classmates with typical hearing were interested in speech and hearing sciences. These courses were very popular and hard to get into. At the same time, four months after LOFT, I was beginning to feel lonely and weary of being “different” once again. Texting was the only interaction I had with my LOFT friends. It felt weird being out in the hearing world without much exposure to the world of deafness and hearing loss. I missed being around people who knew what I was talking about when my tinnitus started up again. I missed personally knowing people who understood how hearing aids and speechreading work. I missed learning about and understanding deafness, which is something that I had grown up with, but knew so little about before.

Yes, I was interested in the job!

So I applied for, and got a position as an intern for the Hearing Industries Association. The organization has been advocating for the passage of the Hearing Aid Tax Credit. If enacted, it would provide a $500 tax credit per hearing aid available once every five years. 

Specifically, I was hired to help plan and prepare for the association’s combined annual meeting and “Hearing on the Hill” event, their three-day conference which raises awareness about hearing loss. My job was a mixture of a typical intern’s experience, and the chance to learn about the political side of hearing health, with which I previously had very little experience. I did make a lot of copies, call people, find a lot of addresses, and put together packets. All of these activities gave me good office experience.

I was also immersed in a policy environment, which made me aware of a number of issues. For example, I discovered that currently 20 states in the United States, including Oregon, require insurance coverage of hearing aids for children. Being from California, I have apparently lived one state too far south for the first 18 years of my life, as California does not currently require coverage for hearing aids. Furthermore, not enough people take advantage of medical deductibles on their Schedule A tax forms, which allow deductions for medical expenses that exceed 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income. Finally, making your voice heard is so important: just because a senator or a representative co-sponsored a particular bill, such as the Hearing Aid Tax Credit, in the previous Congress does not mean that he or she will automatically do so again in the new Congress. In fact, it is important that the people who care about the bill return to demonstrate that the issue is still important to them, as we did during “Hearing on the Hill.”

I was honored at the end of conference to receive an award from the Hearing Industries Association for “Outstanding Dedication and Service,” which was a wonderful and surprising acknowledgement because I felt throughout that I was only doing my job. Additionally, I was named a HearStrong Champion and received a medal for being an advocate for the positive acceptance of deafness and encouraging those who have not yet done so to accept their deafness.

In retrospect, LOFT gave me a group of friends and a support group. Through my internship, I was able to acquire more information about a topic that will continue to have an impact on me for the rest of my life. Both of these experiences have educated and empowered me to continue to strive for success.

I have been asked to stay on after the annual meeting and the “Hearing on the Hill” event, and will get a chance to help prepare for and attend meetings with congressional staff. I am excited to see where in my learning experience I am taken next.

Source: Volta Voices, May/June 2013