Eighteen-year-old Amber Romney has a philosophy about her life. She got it from a children’s book she read when she was 11. The book is a familiar one, The Little Engine That Could. Amber, who is deaf, can relate to the little engine who had to tell herself over and over again, “I think I can, I think I can” as she pulled the big train up the mountain.
“In my life, my hill is my hearing impairment,” says Amber, of Mesa, Arizona. “The little engine is my strong will.”
With that attitude, Amber is able to face her daily challenges.
Amber’s positive attitude and desire to succeed have helped her to accomplish many things since a severe illness took her hearing when she was only 15 months old.
She’s learned to read lips and use sign language to communicate. Most importantly she has learned to never give up. With the help of her family, friends, and especially Heavenly Father, Amber has learned to overcome her disability and excel at many things.
“Everyone has their ups and downs,” Amber says, using her mother, Stephanie, as an interpreter. “I try to have as many ups as I can.”
Meeting people and making new friends is sometimes difficult. “I think maybe some people are intimidated because they think that they can’t talk to me,” she says. “Sometimes I have to make the first approach.”
Even if someone can’t sign to Amber, she can usually read lips. It’s a talent she says she’s continually getting better at.
She can speak to others because of years of speech therapy. She says that after the first few conversations people have with her, they usually get used to the way she talks. Then it gets easier.
Her dad, Bill, who serves as bishop of the Harmony Park Ward, Mesa Kimball Stake, says he also notices how Amber likes it if people try to sign to her. “She’s almost complimented by that,” he says, “and she always loves the opportunity to teach them or help them to sign.”
Now, thanks to Amber, most of her friends and her two younger sisters and brother know at least basic sign language, and some have even taken it as a class at school.
Amanda Lloyd, 17, who is in Amber’s ward and has been friends with her since they were both three years old, says Amber has taught her a lot about signing. “It’s not like I learned it all at once,” she says. “But since we’ve hung out so much I’ve learned it as I’ve gone.”
This year Mesa High School offered a sign language class for the first time. The class filled up immediately. Amanda says a lot of those students were people who wanted to learn to sign so they could communicate with Amber. “She’s such a sweet person,” says Amanda. “Everybody really admires her.”
Amber does something that most people probably wouldn’t think she could do. She’s a cheerleader. She made the team when she was 14 and has been cheering ever since.
Two years later she wrote an essay about being a cheerleader and won third place in a national writing contest sponsored by Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. Deaf students from around the country were asked to write about their biggest challenge.
Amber titled her paper “A Silent Cheer.” In the essay, she shared her feelings about becoming a cheerleader. “I just went for what I wanted, despite the fact that I am deaf,” she wrote. “I couldn’t hear the music or the cheers, but with other people’s help I could do it.”
Now she’s cheered for four years and no one even notices that she doesn’t hear the music, the beat, or the other girls’ voices. “She’s got great peripheral vision,” explains her mother. That, combined with lots of practice, makes for near-perfect performances.
Amber continues to rely on her positive attitude and strong will as she gets involved in other activities.
She has also participated on the varsity swim team for four years. She’s involved in National Honor Society, Mayor’s Youth Committee, Spirit Club, and Junior Optimist Club, and she served as Girls’ State delegate last summer.
Even though she’s busy, she’s never too busy to be active in Church activities, and she loves her Young Women class.
“She does what everyone else does, plus more,” says her friend Amanda. “People are always so amazed with her that she’s come so far in her life and has done some really hard things that others wouldn’t dream of doing. She’s an awesome example to me and to everyone else.”
Amber is quick to point out that her accomplishments are the result of blessings in her life. “I know that Heavenly Father is responsible for my successes,” she says. “I couldn’t get by without His help.”
Still there are times when Amber gets discouraged. It’s then that she reflects upon her blessings to restore her positive attitude. “I just think about what Heavenly Father has done for me, how much my family loves me, how much my friends help me. And I read my patriarchal blessing, and that lifts my spirit,” she says.
“I think my hearing impairment has helped me have a stronger testimony of the gospel and to appreciate life more and more each day,” she says.
With her positive attitude and great faith, Amber continues to overcome the obstacles and, like the little engine that successfully reaches the top of the mountain, she realizes, “I know I can. I know I can.”
Talking to the Deaf
How do you make friends with a fellow ward member, classmate, or neighbor who is deaf? It’s not as hard as you might think, especially if you know a little bit about what you’re doing before you try. Here are some tips:
The term deaf applies to anyone who can’t hear most of the sounds in spoken conversation, so some people use hearing aids, others read lips, and some rely completely on sign language to communicate.
Be aware that there are two forms of sign language in the United States. American Sign Language (ASL) is the original sign language. This is the language deaf people use to talk to each other. The other sign language is Signed Exact English. If you want to be accepted by the deaf community, use ASL.
Feel free to initiate conversation with a tap on the shoulder and a wave. In general, friendly advances are welcome. Most people will understand your initial awkwardness and will accommodate you by slowing their rate of signing.
For those who could hear at one time but have trouble hearing now, the best skill you can develop is rephrasing. Repeating the same thing over and over again doesn’t help the hard-of-hearing person. For instance, if they don’t understand, “How are you today?” try “Are you feeling fine today?”
When you’re speaking to someone who can lip read, maintain eye contact, but don’t over-enunciate. Speak normally. Remember, even the most talented lip reader will not understand everything you say. Some sounds, like “m” and “b” look identical on the lips. If you say the words “marry me,” and “bury me” while looking in the mirror, you’ll see that they look a lot alike!
Bear in mind that hearing aids can’t single out voices. They amplify everything. Try to be aware of background noises, like air conditioners, other conversations nearby, traffic sounds, etc. All of these will make it harder for the person wearing a hearing aid to understand you.
Be cautious about using slang and idioms like “raining cats and dogs” when conversing with people who have a hearing impairment. Those who have been deaf or hard-of-hearing all their lives will be unfamiliar with such phrases, just as people from other countries are. You’ll be surprised how many figures of speech you use, once you try not to use them!
If you want to learn sign language, the best method is to learn from a person. If no one is available, try videos. As a last measure, try books.
Remember that the deaf world is a culture within our culture, with different social rules than those for hearing people. For example, deaf people stand closer to one another than hearing people do. This may make you uncomfortable at first. Also, try to maintain eye contact. To look away is considered rude.