ALDA Chicago

Linda Belice

Linda is a longtime member of ALDA Chicago who shared her hearing loss story and what our organization has meant to her at the New Members Luncheon on October 12, 2013. With her permission, we are publishing her inspiring speech here to make it more widely available.

Thanks, Joe.  Hi everybody.  I hope you enjoyed your lunch.

It’s great to be here today - with my good friends - and to see so many new faces. Welcome to all of our new members.  I hope you've had a chance to meet and talk with some of us here.  Please don’t be shy or nervous.  We’re really a friendly bunch and will go out of our way to communicate with you in any way that makes you comfortable.

As Joe mentioned, my name is Linda Belice.  Those of you who are new to ALDA Chicago might recognize me better by my AOL email address.  I’m the lady behind the scenes that sends you those emails about upcoming events and any news winding its way through the hearing loss community.  I also administer the ALDA Chicago Neighborhoods program which is a way for you to meet and get together with other ALDAns who live near you.  Each neighborhood is based on the first 3 digits of your zip code.  In my 23 years as a member, I've served several terms on the Board and for the past 10-11 years, I've been the editor/producer of ALDA Chicago’s newsletter.

My hearing loss began in 1983 when I was 33 years old.  It rapidly declined until hearing aids no longer worked for me.  That was in early 1992.  During those years, it seemed like I was always seeing an ENT or audiologist to get re-examined, have ear molds remade or the hearing aids adjusted.  Digital hearing aids were not available back then.  In hindsight, I learned that I was actually looking for a cure.  Call me naive but I couldn't believe there wasn't one.

Once I was given the bad news - that my hearing was never coming back - I was devastated and still consider those years as one of the worst of my life.  I was almost inconsolable.  As my hearing declined, so did I and along with it, my self-esteem.  No one seemed to understand me anymore or what I was going through.  I was excluded from things.

I had never met anyone who was deaf and I didn't know any sign language.  As someone new to deafness, that was troubling to me.  Sign language was the one thing that I associated with being deaf.  I realize now that I held a stereotypical view.  I just didn't know any better at the time.

My job and job performance were constantly on my mind.  I was a low-level manager of several Computer and Information Technology departments.  It was getting harder and harder to communicate with my bosses, peers and corporate executives.  It eventually got to the point where I had to have co-workers interact with others on the phone or via notes on my behalf.  It was very demeaning - like I was no longer a person.

Family gatherings were increasingly difficult, too.  I missed out on so much and often went home and just cried.  I’m sure you've all been there and done that, too.

There were no smartphones, tablets or laptops; no email, Internet or worldwide web; no websites to look at or use as a resource.  Google and any similar ways to search for help electronically were non-existent.  The only way to find someone “in the know” was to know someone “in the know” - a real catch-22.  I literally began to limit personal interaction, especially in group situations.  I isolated myself from the hearing world whenever I began to feel uncomfortable.

My house was equipped with a text telephone (TTY) and assistive listening and alerting devices (ALDs).  The TTY was the only way I could communicate by phone.  One major problem was that the person I needed to talk with had to have one, too.  The Illinois Relay then came along, eliminating the need for the second TTY but ultimately causing concerns regarding confidentiality, making people reluctant or uncomfortable using it.

Whenever my smoke alarm went off - or the alarm clock, phone or doorbell rang - lamps throughout the house would flash a certain pattern to tell me what was going on at that particular moment.  On more than one occasion, police officers came to the door to make sure I was all right.  I was told that a neighbor or someone passing by saw the lights flashing and thought something was wrong.  Once again, life took on a very impersonal, mechanical or robotic feel.

It wasn't until 1990 that I found out about ALDA.  The group was hosting a conference at the Congress Hotel in Chicago and I was encouraged to go.  I cannot adequately express how happy I was that I went.

On opening night, I attended the Welcoming Reception in one of the hotel suites set up for that purpose.  There were tables laden with various finger foods, and lots of people mulling about and conversing with each other.  Some were communicating in sign language or wrote notes back and forth.  Others typed using a personal computer set up in a corner of the room as their means of being heard and understood.  Many wore hearing aids and the majority seemed very comfortable with lipreading.  Cochlear implants did not exist back then.  Everyone I met was very welcoming and friendly, especially to newcomers, and for the first time in a long time, I felt like I belonged.  The conference workshops were all captioned and very informative, too.

I then started going to the monthly socials and attending so-called ALDA “rap” groups - not “rap music” but “rap” as in talking.  These were small gatherings of 3-6 people that met once per week.  Every meeting was captioned, a process ALDAns referred to as “ALDA Crude” at the time.  Today it is known as CART, Computer Assisted Real-time Translation. LeAnn Hibler here is a CART provider or CARTwriter.

Each group had a group leader who moderated the discussion and ensured that we stayed within a given set of parameters.  Group members voted on a topic of discussion that centered on the statement: “How I feel and cope with _____”.  Everyone took turns stating how the topic applied to them, their concerns and/or how they felt they would deal with the situation.  We weren't supposed to interrupt or make judgmental or critical statements. Some meetings were very emotional yet when you left, you generally felt better.  You were given a chance to express yourself in a safe, non-threatening environment.

We were told at the beginning of every meeting, “Remember, there are no right or wrong feelings.”  I still say that to myself sometimes.  It just kind of stuck with me all these years. Anyway, the “rap” group was a godsend for me - ALDA at its finest.  I've been an ALDAn ever since.

I honestly don’t know where I’d be today if it wasn't for ALDA and its members.  I've met so many new people and made some good and some very good friends.  The people helped me feel better about myself, to be assertive, more tolerant of others and more open-minded about the world in general.  They helped pull me out of my self-imposed isolation and were a big asset in regaining my confidence and self-esteem.  I learned a lot about myself and feel I am a better person because of the experience but most of all, because of them - the people in this organization.

I know first-hand what we can do for each other and how we can help one another.  I also value how much ALDA has helped me and want to “pay it forward” to the best of my ability. I personally promise to do all that I can to help each of you, too.  If you have a question or concern about ALDA or hearing loss, please feel free to contact me.  If I can’t give you an answer, I’ll try to steer you to someone who can or at least point you in the right direction. You are family and family matters to me - to us.  Thank you so much.

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