From patient to provider: Stephanie Renaas’s journey to audiology
Stephanie spent her childhood using services at Island Deaf and Hard of Hearing Centre. Now she works as an audiologist at their Nanaimo office.
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Stephanie spent her childhood using services at Island Deaf and Hard of Hearing Centre. Now she works as an audiologist at their Nanaimo office.
Stephanie spent her childhood using services at Island Deaf and Hard of Hearing Centre. Now she works as an audiologist at their Nanaimo office.
Today’s episode of the Capital Daily podcast is fully accessible to those in the Deaf community or those who are hard of hearing. The podcast is available below in three formats: an audio-only format, a video file with an ASL interpreter, and a text transcription. Thanks to the Island Deaf and Hard of Hearing Centre for making this possible.
In the episode, we learn more about the centre and the story of Stephanie Renaas, an audiologist at the centre’s Nanaimo office.
Renaas was diagnosed with hearing loss as a toddler and has worked with the Island Deaf and Hard of Hearing Centre since she was a child to create a successful life for herself. Now, she has come full circle through her role working with the Deaf and hard of hearing communities at the IDHHC.
In today’s episode, we are joined by Renaas, as well as Denise Roberston, the executive director of IDHHC.
Jackie: My name is Jackie Lamport. Today is Friday July 16th. Welcome to the Capital Daily podcast today on the show.
Denise: I'm going to well up just even talking about it. I know Stephanie does the same thing, right. [Stephanie agreeing faintly in background] You have an individual who comes into your office with a family member who hasn't heard their voice for ten years. Reconnecting with family, community, friends, is amazing."
Jackie: On this Good News Friday we speak to Stephanie Renaas about her journey from using island Health Deaf and Hard of HearingC entre's services to becoming an audiologist at the Centre as an adult. We'll also learn more about the Centre and their program to provide hearing aids to people in need.
Today's episode is unique. We have worked with the Island Deaf and Hard of Hearing Centre to make this episode completely accessible to those who are Deaf or hard of hearing. Along with this audio file we have posted a video with an ASL interpreter and we have fully transcribed the episode for those who would prefer to read. That is all available in one spot on our website at capitaldaily.ca.
Perhaps that's where you are accessing this episode right now. But if you do know somebody in your life that would like to experience the show in one of these ways, please we encourage you to share. Today we are going to learn about the personal journey of Stephanie Renaas, an audiologist at the Island Deaf and Hard of Hearing Centre Nanaimo Office. She began using their services as a toddler and is now giving back the same services she received growing up.
We also speak to Denise Robertson, the executive director of Island Deaf and Hard of Hearing Centre to learn more about the Centreand to learn more about its program that provides hearing aids to people in need.
Denise and Stephanie, welcome to the show!
Denise: Thank you, excited to be here.
Stephanie: Yes, good to be here.
Jackie: Stephanie, let's start with you. I know that you have had hearing loss since birth. How did that shape your early childhood?
Stephanie: Well, it shaped my childhood in a lot of ways. I was diagnosed with having severe to profound hearing loss when I was two. And at that time my parents basically had a choice of either putting hearing aids on me and raising me oral, without any ASL, American Sign Language exposure or exposure to the Deaf community. Or they could raise me with that exposure. And I was lucky enough that they wanted to give me all the choices possible so I grew up learning American Sign Language, having exposure to the Deaf community and also learning how to speak.
So I had the best of being part of the Deaf community and also being part of the hearing world. So in a big way, it definitely shaped my life.
Jackie: And you actually worked with the Island Deaf and Hard of Hearing Centre.
Stephanie: I do, yes.
Jackie: As a child you did, sorry. You used their services.
Stephanie: Yes, yes.
Jackie: Denise, can you actually tell me a bit about the Island Deaf and Hard of Hearing Centre so people understand what it is?
Denise: Absolutely. Island Deaf and Hard of Hearing Centre or IDHHC has been around on Vancouver Island for about thirty years. We're the only non profit organization that serves the entire Vancouver Island and Gulf Islands. We have what we consider four pillars of service.
Our services are for Deaf, deaf-blind, hard of hearing - individuals, families, communities from birth to senior.
So our four areas of service really are about hearing health services is one of the areas. That's where Stephanie and the audiology team work from. And they do again a huge myriad of programs and services available there.
We have a family and community group that provides supports for parents, families, across the Island. For Deaf and hard of hearing individuals.
We have an interpreting and captioning program that we provide ASL interpreting and captioning services as well. So you'll have seen recently, certainly in the last year with Minister Dix and Dr. Bonnie Henry, the ASL translation services that were available. Those were brought to you by Island Deaf and Hard of Hearing Centre.
And the other service we provide is employment services. So working along with Work BC we are a subcontractor and work with individuals to help maintain and gain meaningful employment if you're an individual who is Deaf or hard of hearing. And we also work with employers. We do a great deal of work with employers to help employers understand accommodation and how great it is to employ individuals who are Deaf and hard of hearing.
Jackie: That's fantastic. And I know that Stephanie has some experience so we'll get to that a little bit later. But Stephanie, I wanted to focus in on your journey. I read that your neighbour's children, who you grew upas playmates with, also took ASL classes. Looking back is that something that maybe played a major role in your growing up?
Stephanie: Oh, definitely. It was being able to communicate with hearing peers at such a young age allowed me to be included and to be able to socialize with others more easily. So instead of having to struggle and work around the language barrier, they removed that by learning how to sign. And kind of developed our own language. That was really nice having that.
It was the same throughout my life. All of my good friends have learned how to sign in order for me to have communication with them.
Jackie: What was school like for you growing up?
Stephanie: It was good. I was lucky in that from kindergarten to grade 12 I had a really good support network which was my family, my teachers. I had a teacher through Deaf and Hard of Hearing. And that support network always made sure I had equal access to everything. And made sure I did well.
But the main thing - I always had access to qualified American Sign Language interpreters. So that is why I had equal access to education and language all through my school life.
As I became an adult and started to enter my university years, I didn't have that same support network. I was on my own- I'm an adult now, right. So I had to learn some self advocacy skills and I had to learn what I needed in order to get the best access possible.
So the disability centres in universities were able to provide me with interpreters and notetakers, so I never had a problem with that. But the barriers I did come across were more discrimination barriers. So for examples, professors that weren't very inclusive. Or being told that I couldn't do certain things because of my hearing loss. But through these barriers I learned how to self-advocate. I learned a great deal of self empowerment. So even though it hurt it really moved my life in a good way.
Without learning how to overcome those barriers, even though at the time it's almost traumatizing, without learning how to overcome them I would still be back in the state of not very confident in myself, not knowing what I needed. I wouldn't know how to pick up myself. That's the one big thing I learned from those experiences, definitely.
Jackie: When you grew up to working age, there were also barriers in finding employment in which you went to the IDHHC as well. Can you tell me about that?
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Stephanie: I did. It was pretty hard to find employment. I was lucky when I was really young because I worked on farms and you don't really - communication isn't really a big deal working with animals. So that was fine. But then it's hard physical labour. So I wanted something - and I wanted to work with people more.
So I found that when I was applying for jobs it was hard because I wasn't sure if I should disclose my hearing loss on my resume. Would that cause employers to not hire me? It was hard to find jobs just due to discrimination. And employers not wanting to bother with providing accommodation.
I find that a lot of employers are really nervous about hiring Deaf individuals when they don't know anything about us. Just due to safety or lack of knowledge. They're not comfortable. That sort of thing. When I was younger I got a job as a healthcare aid. So when I got the job I had to work nightshift but in order to do night shift safely I needed some accommodation.
Which meant an alarm clock that vibrated, because I can't hear alarm clocks. I needed something to signal me if one of my residents woke up in the middle of the night because I couldn't hear them. So I needed a flashing light.
So I was a bit stuck and didn't know what to do. I reached out to Island Deaf and Hard of Hearing and got on top of employment services. I actually didn't know they existed at the time. Someone, I think it was my audiologist that told me about them. And that made a huge difference for me.
Because first of all they got me funding to get new hearing aids. That was huge, because mine weren't working. And then they were able to get me those assistive devices that I needed and also deaf awareness training for my employer. Because of all of that, it made my job so much easier. And my coworkers, my employer all much more understanding if I didn't hear something, or if I missed something. They would make sure I was included with that. So Island Deaf and Hard of Hearing definitely helped me out big time.
Jackie: Actually Denise can you tell me about the ways that you help - [Denise and Jackie talking at the same time; audio mismatch]
Denise: An individual comes to us looking for employment. We do know that typically Deaf individuals are underemployed across Canada. And so individuals just looking to find that right fit; like we all do, the career position you want to stay at and looking for opportunities for training and education. So we help individuals navigate those systems. Many times those systems are not set up for individuals who are Deaf or hard of hearing. There's barriers just in the navigation of trying to find that information. So doing a lot of work with resumes, references - practising. Your interview skills, a number of those pieces. Reaching out to employers we develop numerous relationships across the Island with employers. And try to find that right employer and that right individual. We find that fit for people.
That's all of us. We want that job. We want the one that fits. We do certainly work with employers. The other piece with employers is to really, as Stephanie said, you know, help employers understand that it's OK. If you've never worked with a Deaf individual it's kind of scary. And we want to let you know there's no reason to be. 90% of the individuals that we place or that get placed in employment services - those people end up in jobs for years. And like Stephanie, right. We assisted Stephanie early on in her career with work. We, like Stephanie, we have another young man, an example. We were there when he was diagnosed as a very young man, at a very early age with his family. Diagnosed with profound hearing loss. We supported the family through their journey. We helped him get his first job. We were there supporting him when he celebrated his 15th anniversary. And moved into management in that role. We're still there today as he is a dad, helping him with transition with a hearing daughter. And he's now one of our ASL instructors. So you know - very much like Stephanie Island Deaf and Hard of Hearing works with a family through their entire life, from start to finish but certainly around employment. That's a really big piece for individuals.
Jackie: Stephanie, it was around this time where you discovered that you actually wanted to become an audiologist. What attracted you to that profession?
Stephanie: Well, during my early 20s I was working as a healthcare aid. And I really enjoyed working with the people but I wanted to be able to work with them in a way I was more passionate about. So I was looking at different career paths and audiology never really occurred to me until I had a conversation with my old teacher from Island Deaf and Hard of Hearing and she randomly commented, "oh, you'd make a great audiologist." And like - click! Oh! That would be a really cool job. I could give back to others in a way that I was helped growing up. So that's why I went into audiology. And I love being an audiologist.
Jackie: And after your undergrad when you went into that, you went to study for your Masters in Vancouver and this is around the time when you received your cochlear implant. Can you tell me about that process?
Stephanie: Yes! So I love my hearing aids. I've had hearing aids since I was two years old and I was very happy with them, I did well with them. But because my hearing loss is so severe to profound, I really struggled to hear speech. Hearing aids really only gave me environmental awareness. So especially with those who have really unfamiliar voices or accents, it's very hard for me to hear. So as I was on my way to become an audiologist I knew that I was going to have to be able to communicate with patients every day. So I wanted to be able to communicate easily. And not struggle too much, for my patients benefit but also for myself. So I decided to pursue cochlear implantation.
St Paul's Hospital in Vancouver is the only cochlear implants that are in BC so they performed an assessment to see whether I was a candidate for the surgery. I was. And at the time there was a two year waitlist for the surgery. I finally got mine done in 2015 which was right in the middle of my Masters' program, right in the middle of the summer between the two years. Crazy! Not the best timing. [Jackie laughs.]
But having said that it's actually really neat for myself and my classmates to see me going through the process. So I had a really good support network from that. So it was actually really good. And though it was successful it was definitely an adjustment. I've never heard half of these sounds in my life. So I've never heard birds singing, I've never heard branches rustling in the wind - that sort of thing. And then when I got my cochlear implant, all of a sudden I could hear that. It was weird. It was really weird for me actually. Like, wow, we live in a very noisy world! [Jackie and Stephanie laughing]
Jackie: We do, yeah! What was that like? Like how did you- When it first started happening did it feel overwhelming?
Stephanie: It definitely did, yeah. I remember when it first got activated, when the implant part got turned on, it feels like - I always say it's like R2D2 from Star Wars. Beeping, that sound in my head. It was so weird. I remember thinking, oh no. What have I done - what have I done to myself? [Jackie laughing.] But then after about five or ten minutes, it was like my brain clicked. I could hear speech. People sounded like Donald Duck. It was very high pitched and quacky. It was a bit weird. But I could hear speech much more clearly than I ever did with hearing aids. Even after the first day - everything sounded normal, sounded natural - so it was weird and overwhelming but in a good way.
Jackie: Did you ever feel like, oh, I just want to take this out and get some peace and quiet?
Jackie: How did things change for you after?
Stephanie: Well, speech became a lot easier to hear. I could hear my husband's voice in another room - sometimes. Which I never could before. I could talk on the phone to people who were familiar. I'd never been able to talk on the phone in my life. And the cochlear implant gave me enough intelligibility to be able to do that.
My own speech changed. Because I could hear myself talking and I could hear myself missing those specific speech sounds. I'm still not perfect. But it changed so much. Everyone commented on how much my voice has changed when I got the cochlear implant.
Stephanie: It's been interesting. But generally I can be part of the hearing world a little more. I feel a little more connected and not as isolated as I used to be because I don't have to struggle as hard to be able to be included. So that's one big change that happened from the cochlear implant.
Jackie: Now things have come full circle for you. When you were a child you started working with the Island Deaf and Hard of Hearing Centre as someone using the services, and now you're working to help provide services. What's that like?
Stephanie: It's crazy! [Chuckling.] It really has - it has come full circle. My family first got services from IDHHC when I was three years old and now I'm working as a staff member to help give back to the community through the same organization that helped me so much! It's really funny and I feel really thankful to be able to work with such an amazing organization and I love that it has the accessibility and the capacity to help such a dynamic range of patients. I've never been able to do that before in my professional as an audiologist.
And [can't hear] with one of my colleagues in Victoria who's an audiologist there! So full circle!
Jackie: Wow! [Laughs.] We'll take a quick break here for a word from our sponsor.
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Denise, you were saying that this isn't extremely unique where people are involved their entire lives really. Can you describe a little more about the culture at IDHHC?
Denise: Sure, Jackie. We're really fortunate at IDHHC. A big part of our culture is individuals like Stephanie, high level professional team we're fortunate enough to have come work for us. Who are really dedicated to the vision and the mission of the organization. So really believing in what we do and really understanding that there can't be a barrier to access. There really can't, whether it's financial or in any other term. Really working with individuals and families to learn about advocacy. How do you advocate for yourself? What does it look like?
We have a number of individuals who are bicultural and linguistic in in organization so really do understand what the Deaf and hard of hearing community is going through. What life is like for you. What the challenges are, and can really be - show you a part of the achievements and objectives and the goal and get you to the place that you want to be and provide those supports and services. You know, as Stephanie said too early on she had a great support network as she was a young lady but once you get into those adult years, where is that support? What does that look like? So I think all through an individual's life it's important that we have that continued and maintained support.
And the other part that's important to us as a nonprofit is really looking at our accountability. We have an enormous accountability to our community that we serve and to the donors and the supporters and the people that look at our work and say "we believe in that, we want to fund you. We help what you do."
Jackie: Mmhmm. I know there's a big difference between Deaf culture and hard of hearing culture. Can you explain that for people who are not familiar?
Denise: Certainly. So Deaf culture is - are individuals, as Stephanie talked about earlier, who have a cultural and linguistic, they have their own language, they have a culture of their own, they're a community. And when you look at Deaf culture that is typically we a capital D as it would reference to a Canadian with a capital C. That refers to you in a particular cultural sense.
Whereas hard of hearing individuals are not part of a specific culture, we would say. So you know, typically hard of hearing comes on later in life. That is very common. Individuals certainly are hard of hearing at a younger age - that does happen, but it is more so at an older age. Again it's usually individuals don't use ASL who are hard of hearing. They have speech. They have language. So it's a hearing loss over a period of time. It's quite different.
Jackie: OK. Also at the IDHHC there is a program to provide refurbished hearing aids to those in need. Can you tell us about that?
Denise: Sure, happy to. We get pretty excited about that! Sound of Change program. So for a number of years we had calls from individuals - is there anything? Is there any way somebody could help with financially - hearing aids, technical aids, they're very expensive, they are very costly. Lots of low-income seniors out there. When you choose between paying your rent or paying hydro, are you buying food, are you buying hearing aids? The hearing aids certainly get left behind given the expense.
So looking at a number of factors around that. We looked at some information provided to us by the senior's advocate in her research as well as information that was across Canada and in the US research done. It turned out that basically hearing aids in British Columbia cost more than almost any other province in Canada. There was no subsidies available in British Columbia to support individuals. So you know, we also have probably the highest demographics, and especially on Vancouver Island of seniors in a particular area.
So all of those factors, you know, we looked at those numbers and the way you crunch them out. There was about 40 to 50,000 individuals in the capital region alone who couldn't afford hearing aids which to us was a real shame. A group of people who were really isolated and that affects all kinds of things. Mental health, physical health, our connection, communication. All those pieces are negatively impacted.
So we decided to launch the Sound of Change. And it was a program where we partnered with the Lions of British Columbia and started refurbishing hearing aids. We started with a group of about 25 people and before we know it we're 5 years later now and 550 individuals later and probably 1100 hearing aids which is a retail value of about 2.5 million dollars. All free of charge.
Jackie: What kind of impact does it make on people?
Denise: Enormous. Enormous. I'm going to well up just even talking about it. I know Stephanie does the same thing, right. [Stephanie agreeing faintly in background] You have an individual who comes into your office with a family member who hasn't heard their voice for ten years. Reconnecting with family, community, friends, is amazing."
The quality of life is what people talk about. As Stephanie mentioned with her cochlear implant we have individuals telling us, for the first time I went for a walk on the seawall and I could hear the ocean. I could hear the birds. Suddenly there was a little clickety clack in my house and I couldn't figure out what it was until, it was my little dog! His little nails on the tile and I didn't even realize he made that noise and I've had him for three years. So it's all of those kinds of things that suddenly - it's almost like a rebirth. People suddenly are excited to be a part of something. To connect with family, to go out and volunteer, to be a part of going to dinner. Just all those little things that for somehow, we just take for granted.
It's interesting because I think Covid has really shown us something different. So many of us who are perfectly - have perfect hearing or so we thought we did, suddenly there was plexiglass and there were masks and there was social distancing and next thing you know you're saying "pardon, I didn't get that? What were you saying, I couldn't hear that?" And before you know it, you actually can't see people because believe it or not, you were reading their lips and now that they have a mask on you're not really getting the context of the conversation.
So an interesting thing about Covid was that for many of us we're now able to look back and say you know what, that's what individuals who are hard of hearing face every day. So really giving us a little bit of sense of some of the challenges that that brings. Really the Sound of Change for us is an exciting program and one we definitely want people to know about.
Jackie: For the public that would be interested in helping this program out, how can they do that?
Denise: All you need to do is go on our website and/or give us a call. Pick up - send us an email or give us a call. Of course we have offices in Nanaimo which is where Stephanie is and in Victoria. Programs available in both of those offices as are all of our other services. If you know a family member, if you know someone who could really use that support of any kind give us a call. Let us know. Because we do have that area - that level of expertise in all of those areas. So we can help with all of those questions.
The other thing we want people to know is absolutely send your family members - bring your family members. If you want to donate hearing aids or tech aids, absolutely. We'd love to have them. We will refurbish them. And as always - donations. If you want to make a contribution to this particular program or any of our services, we would love to have that. Any contribution that you make today allows us to help someone else in the community around you.
Jackie: Denise, I want to ask you a personal question. How did you come to work at Island Deaf and Hard of Hearing Centre?
Denise: Wow, good question. I interviewed the chair of the board at that time when I saw the posting. So I kind of did a bit of a reverse. Instead of going in for an interview I asked to interview him. And he painted this picture of this really super easy job. It was just, you know, a walk in the park and all that good stuff, only had to work four days a week. And yeah - to this day I hold that against him! [Laughter.] But no really, I did. I interviewed the chair of the board, Michael, and got to meet the staff a little bit. And just really found that I was interested in what they did.
I have spent 30 years in British Columbia as a fundraiser for national organizations. I also did a great deal of traveling and really wanted to sort of get back to my roots, which were the island and providing community development services on the Island which I was excited about. And really found this organization incredibly unique. It is one of a kind. The people that work here - they are driven by the mission. It's a huge need. And it's a need that is not recognized. And so if I could play a part in that and support - my job is just to support. My role is to support the great team that leads this organization. So if I can do that in any way I'm happy to.
Jackie: Stephanie I want to end on you. What has it been like to be part of this organization and to give back the same support that you received.
Stephanie: Oh, it's been so rewarding. I remember feeling as a client of IDHHC, incredibly grateful with all the support I received. And now that same feeling is reciprocated as a staff member. So it's just - it's a big part of my life. It's always my goal as an audiologist to provide the same value and mission as audiology provides. So it fits my life perfectly. It's been amazing.
Jackie: Denise, Stephanie, thank you so much. This has been wonderful.
Stephanie: Thank you.
Denise: Good to be here.
Jackie: If you accessed this podcast through a listening service feel free to also explore the page at Capital Daily Dossier that has an ASL interpretation and a transcript. If you want to help support Capital Daily's local journalism and connect your business with our engaged and curious audience of 50,000 email our partnership team at [email protected]
Thanks so much for joining us on this Good News Friday. If you enjoyed listening please leave a rating and a review and also subscribe so that you don't miss any episodes going forward. We post new shows every Monday to Friday. My name is Jackie Lamport. This is the Capital Daily podcast. We'll talk to you Monday.