sound waves showing hearing. Deaf.

Edina’s Story: Don’t Tell Me I Can’t

“Don’t cry, Daddy. Everything will be alright!”, said Edina when she woke up in the ambulance on its way to the hospital. Edina and I met at Cal State Northridge (CSUN) in the 90s where she was studying sociology. It was many years after a car had hit her while crossing the street at a crosswalk. She was merely 15 years old when she lost her hearing. Today, she’s the Head of Disabilities and Support Program and Services at a community college in San Jose.

Born in Hungary, she was the first deaf person in the country to get a driver’s license and earn a college degree—actually she earned two—before coming to the US. She has a total of 5 degrees next to her name, including a PhD in Social Psychology. In addition to speaking English and Hungarian, she learned Spanish and American Sign Language (ASL) after she became deaf.

“A lot of little things that many hearing people take for granted I have to fight for or have to figure out how to bypass. I believe I am now a person with three different cultural experiences – Hungarian, American, Deaf – and this makes me who I am.”

I sat down with her to find out how she found the strength to become the amazing human being she is today. This is what she had to say:

1. Accept what is

“I was in and out of coma for about a week. My first memory is when my mom was trying to talk with me but I could not understand her. That’s when we realized that I had lost my hearing. Nobody could explain why. It could have been due to the head trauma or the life-saving medication I had received. I’ll never know and that’s ok. Initially, there was hope that I could regain my hearing, but there was so much damage to my skull that nobody knew for sure.” Edina has always had a “let’s roll with the punches” attitude and after many visits to allopathic doctors, chiropractors, homeopathic healthcare providers and acupuncturists, she told her parents that she was done with treatments. She wanted to find peace with the situation and just move on. She believes that it happened for a reason and she has no regrets.

There’s no what if, only what is. There’s no point in what if-ing about the past or the future. Click To Tweet

2. Rely on your support system

She drew all her strength from her family, friends and faith. “I am so grateful to my parents for all they did. We developed a new lifestyle and my family helped me move on without overprotecting me–they did everything to make sure I remained as independent as possible.”, says Edina. They installed a flashing alarm system so she would know if someone was ringing the bell or knocking on the door. They hired a private tutor to help her with school and her classmates became her note takers so she could keep up. She forged strong friendships with people that stood by her and found faith along the way.

3. Adapt to succeed

She had to figure out who she was as a person. “Am I a “hearing person” who cannot hear or a “deaf person” with a hearing mind? Being deaf is so much more than the inability to hear. I was living in two worlds”, she says.

At the time of the accident, she was studying foreign trade in the hopes of becoming an international trade manager one day. She knew that this field required excellent communications skills, which was a challenge for her. Remember, her accident took place in Hungary in the 80s, at a time when higher education and white-collar jobs were not accessible to most people with disabilities. So instead of foreign trade, she opted for English Literature and Sociology.

Attitude is everything. There’s always a silver lining, make the most of it. Click To Tweet

4. Keep your eyes on the prize

She was determined to finish high school and graduate from college. “I had to do a lot of after-school reading and studying just to keep up. The “normal” life of a teenager didn’t exist for me. I learned to read lips so I could meet with people one on one but partying and group events were out of the question.” She made huge sacrifices along the way to achieve what she had set out to do.

5. Don’t be afraid to chart your own course

“I first came to the US as a camp counselor, which was another one of those “unheard of” things, and it turned out to be another life-changing event. That was the first time that I met deaf people and the first time that I saw people using sign language (ASL). I made some wonderful friends, some of whom I now consider family.”

In graduate school at CSUN, she opted for dorm living with deaf students so she could learn how to sign. After graduating, she moved to Reno where she was teaching ASL 1 & 2 and disabilities studies while attending the PhD program in Social Psychology. From that point on, she has dedicated her life to connecting people with disabilities to opportunities.

6. Be human

“My own obstacles and the struggles I’ve seen others go through have made me more empathetic. We keep running, stressing, multi-tasking but in the end, it always leads to frailty, illness, exhaustion, and ultimately, loss of profit. I believe that if businesses take good care of their employees and encourage them to take care of themselves, they can be happier and more productive”, she advises.

How does she do it in her own life? She keeps her work email on her tablet but not on her phone and guards her “downtime” so she could enjoy uninterrupted mental and physical breaks from the office.

Edina, you said to me once that success to you would mean that your story has inspired somebody to have more empathy. Without a doubt, your story has touched my life profoundly and I know that I’m not alone. Thank you for sharing and for fighting for those who are unable to fight for themselves!

 

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Image by Mihai Andoni, freeimages.com

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