Deaf student overcomes obstacles to lead full, academic life on campus

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One simple sound can convey an entire message.

Your heart races when you hear the blast of a fire engine horn, or the roaring of a tornado siren. We’ve been programmed to know these sounds mean danger. They tell us “beware, something bad has happened;” while the sweet harmony of a choir or birds singing on a spring morning can bring comfort to just about anyone.

Many people in the deaf community have never heard these sounds. While technological advancements like hearing aids or more extreme measures like cochlear implants are used to help simulate hearing, many in the deaf community choose to bypass the options and live life just as they always have.

For Bronson Waite, sophomore in open-option, deafness is something he has known his entire life.

With just 15 percent of hearing in one ear and 20 percent in the other, Bronson said he can only hear a small range of sounds, usually high-decibel frequencies like a lawn mower or a loud band.

Bronson grew up in Salina and attended a public elementary school. There were eight deaf students at his school, but each year more of them would leave, many opting to attend the Kansas School for the Deaf in Olathe, Kan.

Bronson, however, chose to stay at public school, and by fifth grade he was the only deaf student left.

“I wanted to stay close to home. My family and I are pretty close,” he said.

Bronson’s mother, Marcia Waite, felt the same way.

“Many people thought we should send him to the Kansas School for the Deaf, but his dad and I said absolutely not,” she said. “He’s our son and he’s staying with his family.”

Bronson grew up surrounded by classmates who could hear, and with no history of hearing loss in his family, living in the hearing community was the lifestyle Bronson was familiar with.

Although having a deaf son presented many obstacles for Marcia, she said she did everything necessary to make sure her son had what he needed to stay on track with his hearing companions. When she found out Bronson was deaf, she bought a big chalkboard and a signing book. She immediately began teaching him the alphabet, how to write words and how to sign them.

“He’s always soaked up everything he could learn, especially things to do with nature, the environment, space, whatever he could get his hands on,” she said. “He was always like a sponge when it came to learning.”

But life was not always so easy.

Bronson found himself far behind his classmates by the end of elementary school. He said an almost two-year stint of chronic mono and an interpreter who spent little time helping him comprehend his schoolwork contributed to his falling behind.

He was also bullied by classmates throughout school, but said thankfully it was never too serious.

At times it took its toll on Bronson’s family as well.

“Our lives changed, of course, because our focus became getting Bronson caught up on skills that he was behind in due to being deaf,” Marcia said.

They were thrown extra obstacles when Bronson’s brother, Aaron, had an aneurysm and stroke at the age of three, leaving him with both physical and learning disabilities.

“It has been hard in a lot of ways, but we wouldn’t trade Bronson or his brother for anything,” Marcia said. “They are very special kids with good hearts, and they are worth every sacrifice we as parents made for them.”

Bronson has worked his way through many barriers by self-motivation and the help of his family.

Now Bronson is 20 years old and said it has been difficult to choose a major in college. Not because he is limited in his choices, but because he wants to do so much.

“I know for sure that I want to get into wildlife biology as my major and I also might minor in geography and geology,” he said. “Also, I’m interested in earth history and fossils, things like that. That’s why I’m struggling.”

He said he has made several great friends during the time he has spent in his residence hall. Although he said he is usually good about reading lips, once in a while deciphering the finer details in a conversation might require a pen and paper.

“Bronson seems shy at first,” said Mark Savoy, Bronson’s resident hall assistant and senior in political science and sociology. “However, throughout the year he has become increasingly social. As I got to know him better, I learned he has a sharp and dry sense of humor. It’s hard not to like the guy.”

As an adult, Bronson has decided not to receive a cochlear implant to improve his hearing.
“When I asked one of the other interpreters and one of the other deaf students what [the cochlear implant] was like, they said it’s more like beeps and rhyming tones,” he said. “I’d rather wait for them to come up with some other technology in the future that would give me sounds just like anyone else would hear.”

For Bronson, being deaf has had its ups and downs, but he has managed to stay motivated and positive throughout his experiences.

“When Bronson was about seven he came and asked me why he couldn’t hear,” Marcia said. “He said it wasn’t fair. He was right; it isn’t fair. But, you have to move on and focus on the positives, and that’s what we did.”

 

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