April Bell’s Date With History Chicago Student With Hearing Loss Perseveres, Obtains Inaugural Tickets Features
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Features  |   March 01, 2009
April Bell’s Date With History
Author Notes
  • Dee Naquin Shafer, is a former assistant managing editor of The ASHA Leader.
    Dee Naquin Shafer, is a former assistant managing editor of The ASHA Leader.×
Article Information
Hearing Disorders / Features
Features   |   March 01, 2009
April Bell’s Date With History
The ASHA Leader, March 2009, Vol. 14, 6. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR6.14032009.6
The ASHA Leader, March 2009, Vol. 14, 6. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR6.14032009.6
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  • Mike Tecklenburgtalks with April Bell, and her mother, Kate Keatley, visit the, Capitol during their trip to Washington,, D.C., for the presidential inauguration, Photo by Ben Sledge
April Bell used persistence to achieve her goal of attending the presidential inauguration in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 20. Bell figured she and the new president have some things in common: they both are from Chicago and have overcome adversity to achieve success. President Obama rose from humble beginnings, and as the first African American president, he is different from those who preceded him. Bell, 14, had to learn how to thrive despite hearing loss, and wearing bilateral hearing aids makes her different from her eighth-grade peers.
Shortly after the 2008 election and discussions with her speech-language pathologist, Judy LeDuc, Bell wrote to Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and President-elect Obama, along with Illinois Rep. Danny Davis and Sen. John Cullerton. She also wrote to Arne Duncan, recently confirmed as the new secretary of the U.S. Department of Education.
In her letters to the politicians, Bell wrote that she is reminded of her hearing loss daily, but added, “I never give up. I find ways to cope by bringing a book to lunch, using Rear Window® captioning at the movies, and staying alert when passing driveways. Each year I compete in my school’s speech contest, and three times I have made it to finals. I am not giving up and am already researching my speech for this year, and, yes, I can bring home a blue ribbon.”
With LeDuc’s encouragement, Bell called Durbin’s Capitol Hill office to request tickets to the inauguration. She was thrilled when Durbin offered her tickets. She attended with her mother, Kate Keatley.
“I thought it was really exciting—but it was really cold,” she said. Bell and her mother arrived at the National Mall at 6:30 a.m. for the noon inauguration on a blustery day of temperatures that never rose above freezing.
Fortunately their ticketed location was close to a “jumbotron” video speaker. In fact, they were almost too close to read the captioning, but the sound was so loud that Bell was able to hear directly from the speakers. Bell’s visit to Washington, D.C., also included a tour of ASHA’s Capitol Hill office and a meeting with Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi’s legislative assistant, Mike Tecklenburg, who also wears hearing aids. Her visit was capped by lunch at the Monocle, a favorite Capitol Hill restaurant of legislators and lobbyists.
Bell, who uses an FM system in school, noticed the accommodations made for those with hearing loss at the inauguration—captioning was available. She did not notice interpreters for individuals who use sign language but doubted interpreters would have been effective in the massive crowd.
Early Hearing Loss
Bell’s hearing loss was diagnosed just before her fifth birthday. At birth, she had meconium in her lungs and was treated with the standard protocol of antibiotics. Her hearing tested normal upon leaving the hospital and at her 12-month checkup. By the time Bell was 4, communication problems started to become apparent, her mother said, a result of the neonatal antiobiotic treatment. Ototoxicity in infants can damage the cilia on the hair cells in the inner ear, creating hearing loss that gradually increases.
Bell demonstrated her persistence at an early age. Upon Bell’s diagnosis, a specialist recommended that the youngster attend a school for the deaf, but LeDuc and Keatley determined that would not be the case. Bell began wearing hearing aids and then attended speech-language pathology sessions three times per week with LeDuc. She was mainstreamed into school with the the FM system as her only accommodation.
Bell wrote the president-elect and asked him to wear an FM system microphone. She explained the system she uses and noted that it provides no amplification for anyone else. “It would mean a lot to me and the rest of the hearing-impaired community if you would wear this small microphone during your inauguration,” she wrote.
Attending the presidential inauguration was exciting, but the high-achieving Bell has many other interests and goals. A straight-A student in the pre-International Baccalaureate program at her public school, she has won the science fair three years in a row, plays piano and saxophone, and recently attended the National Young Leadership State Conference in Illinois. In the spring, she plans to travel to Morocco through her school’s exchange program.
This trip was her second to Washington and she would like to return. For now, she has returned to school and regular life and is contemplating her future.
“I don’t know what I want to be—maybe a geneticist,” she said. “Or maybe I could go into politics.”
She seems to have the makings of a politician already.
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March 2009
Volume 14, Issue 3