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My Life in the Deaf and Hearing Worlds|
With my younger brother Dave, December 1952.
My public school experiences long predated Public Law 94-142, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, which was enacted in the mid-1970s (and renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act—IDEA—about fifteen years later). Among other things, this legislation requires “free and appropriate public educational services” for children with disabilities. Even though this was not the law when I attended school, I did receive a small number of school-based services. The most obvious one at my repeated request and sometimes the more vocal request of my parents was to be seated at the front of the room and to be in a class where the teacher spoke clearly. I also was seen periodically by a speech therapist in lieu of attending music classes while I was in elementary school. Music classes were difficult for me in the days before assistive listening devices or other forms of classroom amplification were used and before creative music teachers emphasized movement and playing instruments, not just sitting around singing songs. Most of the therapy consisted of listening to various war stories the therapist, a World War II veteran, told during these sessions. I don’t think this speech therapy lasted for more than a year, but the experience is somewhat ironic because my wife Arlene was a dynamic and creative elementary school music teacher who focused on movement and having the children play sophisticated musical instruments such as recorders, glockenspiels, and xylophones. Moreover, with my cochlear implant, I now enjoy listening to many types of music, especially modern and classical jazz, Japanese taiko drums, and Spanish flamenco.
As a youngster, I was especially into baseball and, in my wholly objective assessment, was quite good at it, at least during the little league years when I was between nine and twelve. (In Salt Lake City, this was not the formal Little League but something called the Western Boys Baseball Association.) I was a bit chubby and tall, played first base, hit a lot of home runs, and made the all-star team. This brought a certain amount of status, which I enjoyed. We also played pickup baseball games in our neighborhood and frequently played late into the summer nights.
At that age, baseball skills (and athletic ability in general) counted for quite a lot in the adolescent pecking order, and whatever communication difficulties I faced as a hard of hearing youngster were typically ignored or quickly forgotten, especially after I hit a few home runs. Although not of major importance, communication issues were not completely absent on the ball field. The first time my hearing loss became an issue while playing organized baseball was when, as a nascent nine-year-old, I was in right field (the usual position for first-year players) and collided with the center fielder as we were both running to catch a fly ball. I had not heard my teammate yell, “I got it,” and we all became conscious of the need to communicate more clearly on the field. This incident had little lasting significance beyond that, however, since my hearing was still good enough for me to communicate in most situations with my friends, teammates, and coaches. Even though I was hard of hearing, that aspect of my identity did not become a major issue when I was a young adolescent, especially when I was involved in sports.
One of the highlights of my little league years came early one spring morning when a friend and I, fully decked out in our baseball uniforms, strolled around the restaurant of a fancy local hotel and asked the major league players who were having breakfast there for their autographs. The players were in Salt Lake to participate in one of the last games of spring training before the major league season began a few days later. The team was the 1956 (or perhaps 1957) New York Giants, a team that had won the World Series in 1954. As every older baseball fan knows, the star of that team was the incomparable Willie Mays. My friend’s mother, who worked at the hotel, arranged for this