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All About navigating deaf identity with -Episode 86

Read the full transcript here

Today’s guest on the All About Audiology podcast is Kellina Powell of Kellina Empowerment. Tune in for Kellina’s story. She remembers that at the age of 4, her hearing suddenly and drastically changed. She had an ear infection, and remembers that she did not receive appropriate care. Kellina talks about her experiences attended both hearing and deaf schools, including the challenges along the way. Now, she is passionate about spreading positivity and sharing her story to help others. 

This week on the All About Audiology podcast

3:00 – Young kids remember experiences and it is critical to ensure comfort and safety to avoid future trauma

4:00 – Kellina shared her discomfort with being in the hospital, without understanding her surroundings. The physical atmosphere at medical centers and offices affects a childs experience.

6:00 – Demonstrating the use of a hearing aid by using a teddy bear helped Kellina feel comfortable with using hearing aids.

7:00 – It is important to create positive associations between hearing aid technology for children. Parents and loved ones play a big role in supporting this process.

9:20 – Children who are living in both the hearing and Deaf communities, can find it hard to solidify their true identity and learn to advocate for themselves.

14:00 – Kellina’s message: Every child is different and a specialist needs to take each individual’s needs into consideration.

For more resources and research visit:
All About Audiology Website 
All About Audiology Facebook group  
All About Audiology Instagram
The Prodana pay-it-forward platform here:–dr–lilach-saperstein

Support the podcast:

Connect with Kellina:

Mentioned in this episode:
The Concept of Auditory Oral Rehab
Kellina’s upcoming book: Everyday I am just deaf

Related Episodes
The Ups and Downs of Tara’s Communication Journey – Episode 85
All About Educational Audiology – Episode 57 with Dr. Tina Childress
“Deaf Cochlear Implant User” All About You – Episode 16 with Toby Coleman


Dr. Lilach Saperstein:

Welcome back to the All About Audiology Podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Liliach Saperstein. And this is the All About Audiology Podcast because it’s really so many things that intersect with the concept of Audiology, the field of Audiology. And really what’s so important and what we want to put the focus on are the people who need the services of Audiology and who are affected by the work of professionals, and my colleagues [such as] SLPs and such. So really who the focus is on is on Deaf and Hard of Hearing children who become Deaf and Hard of Hearing adults. That’s kind of the whole point of everything we’re doing is to support them and support the people who love them. So thank you for being a listener of the show. As a reminder, to our supporters on Patreon, it really means a lot to keep a show going. 

And today I’m very excited to introduce you to the guest Kellina Powell. We are connected on Instagram and we’ve been really excited to have this chat for so long. So welcome Kellina to the show. How are you doing?

Kellina Powell:

I am doing great. Thank you for having me today.


I would love to hear about your background, how you grew up. And just keep in mind that a lot of people who are listening to the show or reading the full transcript are mostly hearing parents of Deaf or HoH children, which is the most common setup there is. And learning from when you have a newborn baby or a toddler, saying what might their life be like in the future. So sharing your story is really helping so many families so I won’t interrupt anymore. Go ahead.


Thank you so much. Honestly, my story is very interesting. Get ready for popcorn. I became deaf at the age of 4 due to an ear infection. I had an ear drop. The daycare did not properly follow instructions. Unfortunately, that one day I went home, I lost my hearing. Literally in one day. My family found out because I didn’t realize my TV was on loud. I was in front of the TV; you know a typical four year old. And my family thought I was joking and I was just playing around. And I looked at my mom very seriously and I said ‘wait, I can’t hear you.’ And she looked at me [saying] like ‘I called you’ and I said ‘I can’t hear.’ And my mom thought I was joking, so she called my grandma. Luckily my grandma is a nurse, and my grandma was able to come home very quickly from work. [She] tried to figure out what was going on with me. My grandma did some testing with me when she came home to see if I was really deaf. And so it looked like I was deaf. So, my grandma said to my mom that I was not kidding, she is literally deaf. So right on the spot, my grandma and my mom called my family doctor to find out if there’s any booking space for me to come in. And so we went to my family doctor, we did more testing [there]. At this point. I was very annoyed because I was like ‘what is happening? I don’t know.’ So I was just getting mad and frustrated. Probably two hours later my doctor said, ‘unfortunately there’s nothing we can do.’ So from there, my life literally changed.


Yeah, a few things are standing out to me. First of all, four years old, and you remember it all – the experience of it and how everyone reacted. One piece that we talk about a lot is how much our children and us, when we were children, remember and know and experience. We’re full human people, even as children. 

LS and KP:


And I think that’s one of those big messages that’s in my heart always to share and remind parents – that even though we have these tiny humans in our care, they really remember and experience our full human emotions. And communication with a child is so crucial. And also I want to say big kudos to your mom and your grandma for being so proactive. And believing you right away jumping in to see what was going on. Wow. So what happened next?


I went to a hospital called Sick Kid Hospital to speak with an Audiologist to do more testing [and] get myself a hearing aid. And when I got into Sick Kid Hospital, it was really funny: I was looking around and there’s a bunch of teddy bears on the wall. I didn’t think I was in a hospital actually, and I saw a lot of kids. And it was just  really cute, and I felt like I’d fit in. And when I went to the audiologist, and we did the testing booth. In the testing booth, I literally ripped off the tools out of my ears because I was like ‘why did you stick it in my ears’ and my grandma literally looked at my face [and said] ‘stop moving.’ So that when I know oh, she’s not playing, like I need to behave myself. And so that was being at the hospital, and I didn’t know I was in a hospital. I thought I was just doing something in my ears. So I did really bad in the booth. I was young. I didn’t even know what was happening. [I was thinking] why do I keep going to so many doctors. Traveling so much. The hospital- it’s like an hour from my house. So I was sitting there for so long. I don’t know what’s going on. So, when I came out of the booth, my grandma spoke to the audiologist and signed a bunch of paperwork because my mom was a young mom. She was in college at the time. So she was finishing her college program. So my grandma literally took over and helped with the bills because hearing aids are expensive. 

So now moving forward. Now school comes so that’s where my family had a very good discussion in terms of where to put me in. So we found out that there was a deaf school probably like 30 minutes away from my house at the time. And then there’s a hearing school three minutes walk [away]. So my family had to figure it out: okay, which school is better for Kellina. So my family came up with a really cool idea. So basically what my grandma and mom did: I’ll be in my deaf school in the morning and then I’ll be in the hearing school in the afternoon to help me balance both communities and help me learn how to find who I am in both communities and especially know how to communicate.


Can you talk a little about the experience of getting hearing aids or having them? Was it overwhelming? Did you like them?


Honestly, I don’t remember too much of it. I remember they gave it to me in hand. The small hearing aid without the tube and the audiologist made me look at it. I’m like ‘is this a toy?’ [laughs] So the audiologist was very sweet and they showed me a teddy bear with the hearing aids to show me that this is what I’m going to be looking like. I’m like ‘aw! I want to be wearing that too, like a teddy bear. It was very cute. And it helped me to build my confidence a little bit more seeing that there’s more people out there like me. And when I put it in my ears, I did not like it. I took it out quickly. I’m like ‘ah.’ 

And they had to write things down on paper for me to understand as a four year old.  I don’t know how they did it. 



And they said ‘leave that thing in your ears for a second.’ And so, I don’t know how they tried to get me to put the thing in my ear. I really don’t know. And I finally put the thing in my ear. I left it in my ears, and my mom hold my hand. [And she said] ‘do not touch it.’ And I’m like ‘okay.’  So I put it in my ears. I was shaking my head a lot because it’s too loud and the audiologist was trying to adjust the sounds for me to see if it was too loud. I just did not like it. I remember the next two days, I literally took the thing and put the thing in the garbage. I don’t know who found it in the garbage, I think maybe my aunt found it. I don’t remember.


Very wise! You knew what you wanted and what you didn’t want. But that transition is so jarring for children. I mean, it is for adults. You know how hard it is for adults who suddenly need hearing aids. And that adjustment period takes days and weeks and even months of getting used to what this device can do for you. [Then] re-tweaking it, going in for appointments, and changing. People say certain environments they feel very comfortable in, but in other environments it’s too loud, or they can hear but they don’t understand. These are all such common things that people experience. 

Now, put all of that on a little kid and that there’s going to be an adjustment period. So I love the one thing you said about when they put in the hearing aids, your mom held your hand just to sort of distract you from how it feels and let you have a chance to also listen with it and see if you’re actually getting any interest, or benefit, or curiosity even from where all the sounds are coming in. So that’s a really nice tip and a good one to keep the hands busy. Give the kids a toy like a sensory toy. We love slime and playdough – I mean I don’t love those things because they’re very messy, but they’re good. [laughs] 

And then another good idea we share often with parents is to turn on a song that they really like or to sing a song that every time it’s associated with – this is the hearing aid song or a turn on whatever Spotify playlist they love. To say ‘okay, now we’re going to be doing a listening activity and here’s sort of a prize of what you get to listen to something that you’d like to listen to. But it really takes time, and I want to encourage all the parents listening that there are so many strategies and there are ideas. But we have to realize that this is a difficult process. I’m assuming you got through that time. So now, do you use your hearing aids or no?


Yeah! I always use my hearing aids like there’s no tomorrow. [laughs] My hearing aids are bluetooth so that is my lifesaver. I’m able to hear very well through cell phones now. No more struggles.


Wow. So you have the audio coming out of your phone, or whatever device, go right to your hearing aids. That’s a really, really wonderful feature with no other device in between, right? You don’t have anything around your neck or anything. And that’s newer technology over the last three to five years. Things have so much connectivity. Great! 

So take me back to when you were in school and you were in both of these schools. So you had a foot in each world. What was that experience like?


So the both school experiences was both good, but I did have challenges a lot in the hearing communities and deaf school. I had a bit of challenges, in terms of, I would say finding myself in my two communities. I didn’t know how to represent myself. I did not know that my personality could be split. And I thought I was more myself in the deaf school. Versus in the hearing school, I was so shut down and so out because there was no one there like myself. And because the teachers in the hearing school were not accommodating. I was basically a lot of the teachers’ first Deaf students and they think they’re helping me but they’re not. And I would try to tell them like ‘hey, like it’s not working,’ especially the FM system in the hearing school and they would not follow instructions. [inaudible] to be on my own. 

[Eventually] I left the deaf school because my family said it was too much for them because of going back and forth. And my mom had worked, my grandma had to work. It wasn’t fair for my aunt because my aunt was actually in middle school at the time that I was born. So it wasn’t fair for her. It was very challenging, and I think it was in grade 2, I left the deaf school. I was bullied a lot in the hearing school. A lot. To the point where I got bruises on my arms. It was just very disgusting. It was very bad. And thank goodness to my two best friends to this day. They were the ones kinda who stood up for me and bullied the bully back with me. [laughs] So obviously of course, I did bully the bully back to make a difference. But it didn’t really make a difference however. It happens, right, when you’re little you do things you’re not supposed to do. I was that typical little girl that like I’m going to do things on my own. Because being transferred to two different communities, I learned about how to be an advocate of myself – the deaf school really taught me that. [for example] ‘if you need this, you say this.’


When you were at the deaf school were you learning sign there and did your family learn sign? How did that go?


None of my family knows how to sign at all. I did pick up signing when I was in the deaf school. Because I stopped [in] grade 2, so I was not able to continue signing. And when I went to the hearing school, nobody did signing either. So I didn’t learn at all.


And do you feel like that’s something that you’re more comfortable with? Even you saying you picked it up is saying a lot about how natural it is, how accessible it is as a visual language. I’m curious about your thoughts on that being one of the biggest decisions that parents face as well.


It’s a lot easier listening than having to read lips. You know, always constantly reading lips 24/7 as it gets tired and draining. So my family chose not to do sign language because they wanted me to be independent when I get older. And they knew that everybody is going to be accessible when I get older, especially if I want to make a phone call on my own, so that was my family’s decision.


Yeah, it’s very, very difficult to weigh all the pros and cons, and they tried to put you in a community where you were understood and everything was more comfortable – like the way you said you were more yourself among your peers who were also communicating the same way that you were. Whereas in the hearing school, you’re sort of swimming upstream and at the same time you did get all of these skills of advocating for yourself and really succeeding through there. So it’s really one of those big decisions that parents make, and there’s not one right answer. Even looking back you can’t change what they knew at the time. But I always find it very important to bring to people’s attention that, the first thing you mentioned, was about your self – identity, your self concept. This is actually something I teach my students, now I’m teaching at a university level course, about Auditory Oral Rehab and a counseling aspect. All the things that I’m very passionate about, and we talked a lot about what it means to help a child develop their self concept, who they are. Not just their identity as an individual, but what community they are part of and about belonging. And that’s not usually a conversation you have with an audiologist. So I’m glad you brought that up, and I’m curious how that plays out in your life today, if you don’t mind sharing a little about what you’re up to nowadays.


A lot of things have changed. [laughs] You know, being 24 year old, graduating from psychology and [inaudible] because I am starting my own mental health program for people who are deaf and who have disabilities as well. So my goal is to help and teach the Deaf community how to advocate for themselves in the hearing community. And tell them that they can do what they want to do. And that they shouldn’t feel cheap just because the tool is not available. And I want to teach the Deaf community that technology are changing. The future is here. There’s a lot of brand new things. And I tell people ‘you can do it.’ So that’s why I do my coaching. I do one on one, family, and couples. And my second thing I’m doing now is I’m writing a book Everyday I am just deaf. So it’s about me being deaf in the hearing community so that way the hearing community can have an idea of what it’s like to be deaf. And that’s something that I love to do. 


That is incredible. So many things that you are using your experiences to pass it on forward. And I think it’s really helpful for families to hear and realize that there’s so much out there, so many amazing people who share their stories and also support you. So that’s really good to know that you’re doing that. Specifically about the idea that it doesn’t have to be an all or nothing decision, and you’re either in or out on either side of the spectrum. But there’s so much that can be incorporated. And building a bridge in our different experiences. That’s really special. 


Thank you.


Would you tell us one piece of advice that you really hope that most of our listeners will take to heart as they support the children that they work with or the children that they love?


I would say that every child is different. And I feel like a lot of people get that confused because they think just because they work with my children that they can do the same to the next children. For me, I don’t know sign language, and I’m a Deaf person. So my bite is: really just a lot of care to get out there and let them find themselves because it is hard and it is difficult. But at the end there will be a sunlight.


Oo! I feel warm. I feel the sunlight even though it is right around 9:30pm where I am. That is a very warming and beautiful thing to hear. Thank you so much for your encouragement. If families want to reach out to you, or we want to hear about your book. Where should we be following you?


So if you really want to know where my book is coming out, go on my website: And there’ll be a top box, ‘never miss an email.’ So you’re going to be on my email list. I will send you an email when my book is coming out and you can preorder in the meantime while you are waiting for my book.

And for social media because following me on my instagram which is @deafqueenboss.


That is so awesome. We’ll have all those links in the show notes at

As well as wherever you get your podcast, the allaboutaudiology podcast is there with a full transcript and all of the links that we mentioned. Okay, thank you so much. This is the All About Audiology podcast. And I am Dr. Lilach Saperstein.

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