Interview with Zina Jawadi

by Zina Jawadi (via Hands & Voices interview)

California Resident

Can you please share a little about you, your family and any hobbies you have?

My name is Zina Jawadi, and I was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. I was diagnosed with hearing loss when I was 3.5 years old. Predicting that I would never speak normally, ear doctors suggested speech therapy and special education schooling. Although I did undergo eight years of speech therapy, I have been mainstreamed my entire life. In fact, I took all honors courses at one of the most difficult schools besides speech therapy, classical piano, public speaking tournaments, and other extracurricular activities.

Truthfully, I despised speech therapy. Nevertheless, I have since revised Robert Fulghum’s All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten to All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Speech Therapy. I had several speech therapists, each with different foci, methods, and techniques. For instance, auditory-verbal therapy taught me how to listen without speechreading. Despite years of intensive speech therapy, I am still asked where I am from because of my accent. Most people expect me to respond with my ethnicity (I am Arab American) and are surprised when I tell them that my accent is “deaf.”

Since early childhood, I have been an avid reader. I also love bicycling, hiking, socializing with friends, and advocating for people with disabilities.

Looking back, do you have a memory of a particularly good teacher? And can you pinpoint a few specific reasons why that teacher comes to mind?

I have had many outstanding teachers, and two particularly stand out.

Mr. Daniel Ajerman incorporated a wide variety of teaching techniques to suit every student’s needs. Furthermore, he understood the impact of psychoacoustics on students in the classroom. His class taught me more about my learning style and my needs as a student with hearing loss than all my years of self-advocacy combined. Mr. Ajerman was also my scientific mentor. Mr. Ajerman himself explained, “there is a difference between teaching and being a teacher.” He exemplifies the latter.

Mr. Bradley Stoll was another exemplary teacher. Mr. Stoll literally changed his teaching methodology, incorporating techniques to help those with hearing loss, discovering that all students benefited.

During your educational journey were you on a 504 plan or an IEP, and what type of accommodations did you use?

Because I attended a private school, I did not have a 504 plan or an IEP, so most of my accommodations were based on self-advocacy and on my parents’ advocacy. At the beginning of the year, I met with my amazing counselor to discuss which teachers I could hear. With support and permission from the administration, my school kindly allowed me to sit through other teacher’s classes and switch, if necessary, because I could not hear the teacher or because of classroom acoustics.

I also wrote substantial notes in class, had my own color-coding system, and noted what I did not hear in class. I would use extra help to review material I did not hear in class. While my school offered note-takers for me, I preferred writing my own notes, because it allowed me to learn the material better.

Additionally, at the beginning of the year, I would talk to my teachers, explaining my hearing loss and suggesting ways to help. I always asked teachers to seat me in front and to face the class when speaking.

Can you think of anyone who might have been resistant to accommodations and how you or your family advocated for your rights?

As a private institution, my school was not required by law to offer me accommodations, yet the school was extraordinarily progressive, supportive, accommodating, and encouraging. The counselors and administration were truly remarkable. Although not obligated to, most teachers were willing to help. As I mentioned, some teachers went out of their way to assist. Conversely, a few either declined to help or just gave lip service only. In that case, if possible, I would switch to a different teacher; otherwise, I would ask the counselor to intervene. In rare cases, I was unable to switch because the course is only taught by one teacher, and the teacher was unwilling to cooperate. One particular teacher, among other unkindness, refused to even let me change seats to hear better.

Can you share a little about your experience with the transition from high school to college and the world of work?

My transition from high-school to college went smoothly. Surprisingly, I found some lectures easier to hear than sections with small groups of students. The large classes are equipped for everybody to hear. Since I sit in the front, and since most lecturers use microphones, I have had little trouble hearing. Stanford’s Office of Accessible Education is phenomenal. My only recommendation for incoming college students is to talk to professors, whose classes have clicker questions. In high school, I would always restudy everything, to confirm that I heard the material correctly in class. However, with clicker questions, material is tested immediately. If you do no hear something properly, you will not answer the question correctly. My professors have been understanding. Another suggestion is to find a group of friends to sit with in class to support each other.

What course of study have you decided on and what career ambitions do you have?

I hope to become a pediatric ear surgeon and a disability rights advocate.

Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. Our final question is open ended with – Is there a final inspirational message, or final details about your journey that you would like to share with families reading this interview?

My advice when facing obstacles is to be proactive. Furthermore, for parents, challenge your hearing-impaired child from early age. Take risks, and give your child as much speech therapy as possible. Most importantly, have a positive attitude. When talking to a teacher about accommodations, thoroughly explain how the accommodations are important for your child and for the entire class. Grades are an excellent indication of how well your child is hearing in class. Beginnings are difficult, because you have to figure out what works and what does not work, but it gets easier.