Central Florida resident Tanya Williams grew up with hearing loss from infancy. Her mother had little to no resources available to help her, but she did have an ingenuity and determination to teach her daughter how to navigate and thrive in a hearing world. That is what Williams hopes others will find through Hearing Me, a support group for families with deaf and hard-of-hearing children.
Williams has no hearing in one year, moderate-to-severe hearing in the other, and she did not receive assistance from hearing aids until she was an adult. She went on to become a supervisor at Orlando Health’s Developmental Center for Infants and Children at the Howard Phillips Center for Children and Families in downtown Orlando and also at a satellite office in Osceola County.
In 2002, Williams created Hearing Me, which meets at the Howard Phillips Center but is entirely funded by donations. The group has continued to serve a core group of about 25 families with an open-to-all policy that regularly welcomes new families to its bi-monthly meetings.
Earline Holmes-Blumhagen is the mother of two deaf children and the founder of God’s Hands Agency, a different nonprofit that supports deaf families. She is also a supporter of Hearing Me, noting that it has opened the door for families to come together for fun and socializing as well as to learn more about their choices in a supportive atmosphere.
“Hearing Me is not about getting families with a deaf child to learn to sign, which can be helpful of course, but it’s much bigger than that,” Holmes-Blumhagen says. “It’s about families coming together and supporting one another and learning about their choices so that they can find out what works best for them.”
In the deaf community, there can be some backlash about supporting only one approach. For some, the idea that deafness must be corrected can be hurtful and demeaning, while for others, technology, signing and other forms of communication or hearing are gifts that can transform lives.
“We don’t want any family to think that they must get a cochlear implant for their child, or even learn to sign or teach oral language to their child,” Williams says. “We welcome all approaches to communication and learning and don’t judge or push one approach over any other.”
Both Holmes-Blumhagen and Williams say families that attend Hearing Me meetings will come away with information, but they will also come away with friends.
“We have families that have been coming since we started,” Williams says. “One dad, in particular, just told me the other day that what he got out of coming to Hearing Me and making friends with other families was finally understanding that his child could do anything. Deafness was not going to stand in her way.”
The next Hearing Me meeting will take place at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 24. If you are interested in attending this free event, contact Tanya Williams at Tanya.email@example.com or call 407-317-7430 ext. 2199.