Building A Foundation for Self-Advocacy

By Joy Santos

Becoming a parent opens your eyes and your heart to a world of adventures and emotions. In my experience thus far, it’s been a rollercoaster of dynamic and often conflicting sentiments! 

I want to be able to provide my daughter with everything the world has to offer, and also protect her from anything undesirable that might come with some experiences. I want her to be fearless and pounce on any opportunity that comes her way, no holds barred… and I want her to be cautious and take carefully calculated actions. I want her to be independent and confident in leaving the nest to explore, learn from her experiences and live her purpose… and I want to keep her with me forever, hold her hand and guide her through life.

As parents in a time where an overabundance of information, advice and opinions are easily accessible, one common thing rings true for us: we all have our children’s best interests at heart, and we want them to thrive as they grow into responsible adults.

Through my journey as a parent, I’ve come to realize that worrying about our children is part of the package. The worries seem to be more pronounced when our children are not developmentally typical and have different needs. When my daughter was first identified as Deaf, I went through the stages of grief and had many questions. Why did this happen? Why her? This is not real; she is going to get better. I worried about the social and educational aspects of her future. How will she communicate with friends? What if she gets bullied? How will she navigate through her young adult life when the biggest barrier that I can foresee is the lack of accessibility to information and communication? How will the world accommodate my daughter’s Deafness? What adjustments will my daughter have to learn to make in order to succeed?

I pondered how I could parent in a way that ensures that she is on the best path. My personal process to determine this was to first do some inner work. I had to define what my image of a Deaf child was. Are Deaf children capable of succeeding and having “normal” childhoods, or is their Deafness a hindrance that will result in them being sold short? I felt the need to sort this out within myself, in order to know what my role as a parent would entail.

How I managed to define it in the end is that Deaf children are absolutely capable of achieving and utilizing the same opportunities that are provided to hearing children, with the caveat being that they MUST also have the privilege of receiving the same access to information as typical children. Deaf children must not be deprived of language, only be given partial information, or be unable to receive information in real time. Deafness itself is not the hindrance, but rather, the lack of access to opportunities and information is.

If I could narrow it down to ONE essential skill that my Deaf daughter must have confidence and mastery over, it would be self-advocacy. I strongly believe that this is the most important skill she needs, and everything else will naturally follow suit and fall into place.

Based on how I had defined my image of a Deaf child, I strived to raise her to know, experience and affirm that she always deserves nothing less than complete, correct, and immediate access to language and information. I wanted to model this to her from an early age because I felt that this was the best way to build a solid foundation and make self-advocacy a second nature habit, and a part of her identity.

The following are some examples of how I made efforts to make self-advocacy a part of our everyday lives. Naturally, I adapted to provide age-appropriate experiences.

  • From a young age, I always encouraged her to order her own food at restaurants. I would start off by informing our server that Teanna is Deaf and will be ordering on her own. I have never encountered any staff who was not accommodating. In the early years, she would do this by either pointing to the item that she wanted on the menu or circling it with the crayons provided with children’s menus. When she learned to read and write, and eventually started ordering her meal from the adult menu, she used pen and paper to communicate.
  • I always provided her with an interpreter from when she started learning American Sign Language at 2½ years old. Whether it was trips to the Vancouver Aquarium, weddings we attended or visits to attractions during vacations, I always made searching for and booking an interpreter part of my planning process. Now that she is a teen in high school, she has taken it upon herself to be responsible for booking her own interpreters for school meetings. She also asked to use the “remote interpreter on wheels” during her recent COVID vaccination appointment. This allowed her to receive correct information, ask questions, receive answers and have the autonomy to consent to the procedure.
  • We have constant communication and discussions about barriers that she encounters in her day to day. When we have any upcoming events or outings, I encourage her to think ahead about any potential barriers she might face. This helps her plan ahead and brainstorm about how to either prevent or manage these obstacles in case they happen. 

Parenting this way has had some challenges, of course. I think challenges in any scenario are inevitable. When she was younger, part of me wondered if I should bring her attention to the fact that she is different from typical children her age. She was born with what the world perceives as a disability, and I struggled at times with whether or not I should emphasize this. I felt that it was contradictory to let her know that she will encounter limitations in life, when I hoped to raise her knowing that the world is her oyster. But how can she advocate for herself if she is not aware that there is something to advocate for? She is Deaf, it is a fact.

Do I feel scared whenever she has opportunities to spread her wings? Absolutely. All parents have fears when it comes to their children’s well-being, acceptance, safety and self-esteem. For me, it is those fears that are catalysts to why I guide her this way. I want a guarantee that no matter what she decides to do and where she chooses to go, she will be just fine. That is what I am aiming to set the stage for. Easing my worries and making sure that my heart is strong and brave enough to watch her learn through life is an ongoing work in progress.

A key piece of advice that I can offer as a parent of a Deaf child is to instill in your child the knowledge that they have a voice, their opinions matter, and they always deserve full access to the best quality of life.  

Teanna’s Experiences in Self-Advocacy

  • When I was younger, around 7 years old, I went to White Spot and I picked my own order for food. I chose a hamburger. The waiter came up and asked my mom first, so I could learn and watch how to order independently. It was my turn. I pointed to the picture of the hamburger and French fries on the menu. The waiter nodded his head, so I knew that he understood. Sometimes, I will circle the picture of what I want on the menu. Before, when I didn’t know how to read yet, and if the menu doesn’t have pictures, my mom will tell me the words and I will circle them to show to the staff.
  • I was at the food court in Metrotown with my friend Thomas. I was still young, maybe around 9 years old. We went to A&W and wanted to drink Mountain Dew. My mom always reminds me to have pen and paper when I am out. I wrote down “Can I have 2 Mountain Dew, please” then showed it to the staff. She understood and nodded her head, then I paid for the drinks. Now that I am older and have a phone, I usually just use my phone to type what I need to communicate to hearing people. I also have a card that says “I am Deaf” on it. I show it to people sometimes so they will become aware that they need to communicate with me differently.
  • I am part of the Gay-Straight Alliance or GSA in my school. I go to the Deaf School but there are also hearing kids there. The GSA meetings are for Deaf and hearing kids. Everyone is welcome. But it is my responsibility to apply to have an interpreter there. I usually email the interpreter to let her know when there will be a meeting. I am learning from my mom and from my school about how and where I can find services for ASL Interpreters, because maybe in the future I will need it for things like doctor appointments or job interviews.

Joy Santos is a licensed Early Childhood Educator who has been working in childcare settings with children aged 0-5 since 2009. Her daughter, Teanna, is currently 13 years old. Teanna was born with bilateral sensorineural hearing loss in the severe-profound range. Teanna identifies as culturally Deaf. Her first language is American Sign Language, and she uses a cochlear implant in one ear. Together, Joy and Teanna love to travel, participate in outdoor activities, try different cuisines, help animals, and binge-watch streamed movies and series. Joy is a board member with BC Hands & Voices, and a Parent Guide with Guide By Your Side.

Posted in Advocacy, Articles, Deaf Culture, Families to Families | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Building A Foundation for Self-Advocacy

The Joyce of Reading

by Rosalind Ho

For the past year and more, as the COVID-19 pandemic has raged across the world, we have lived our lives in small bubbles. Within those circles, we have been  confined to the boundaries of monitor screens or the pages of books, consuming news by scrolling newsfeeds or catching up on the stories behind Bridgerton or The Martian.

While some people have grown tired of the limitations of pandemic life, reading has always been a joy to me, not an escape from reality. And there really was a Joyce.

The first time I met Joyce was when I was just a toddler. Diagnosed with a severe hearing loss at eight months old, my world might have been a quiet one, but it has been peopled with princesses, thieves, artisans, runaway tomboys, wizards, and the like — none of whom I would have met if it hadn’t been for a kind and warm-hearted librarian.

I met Joyce because of my mom, Amy. My mom was a newcomer to Canada whose first language was not English. She was determined that her daughter would succeed despite her hearing loss. The first step in her plan for my language development was to get me interested in stories and reading.

At the library one day when I was about 18 months old, my mom spotted a sign advertising their storytimes, and she signed me up right away for the Little Bears storytime for toddlers 18 months to 2 ½ years old.

Joyce ran a weekly half-hour storytime for babies, toddlers, and young children at the Cameron branch of the Burnaby Public Library. She used to read aloud short children’s stories or sing nursery rhymes/songs such as “Little Miss Muffett” and “Ring Around the Roses”. She used puppets, gestures, and facial expressions to keep the attention of a group of tiny wriggly little tots.

Joyce often greeted the group with a frog puppet that she made jump up out of a basket. Mom would sit me on her lap and rock me to the tunes of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and I would watch Joyce, fascinated by her lively gestures and expressive (unmasked!) face.

Despite my enjoyment of Joyce’s visual performances, my speech understanding was still developing. My mom wanted to teach me to hear and understand English while my young brain was still plastic enough to learn quickly. Mom went to Joyce and asked if we could borrow the books or songs to take home. Back then, the storytime materials were not available for loan because they were needed for another storytime. But once Joyce learned why my mom wanted them, she agreed to let us borrow the materials for a week after the storytime and then bring them back so that she could use them at another library.

At home, Mom would take out the story and/or song and read it aloud to me every day. I learned to read by listening to my mother’s soft voice hum “Ba ba black sheep, have you any wool?” pointing to the words on the page as she sang and signed them. My mom liked being able to go through the songs and stories with me right after the storytime while they were still fresh in my mind so that I would remember and understand better.

Years since those early days of puppets and nursery rhymes, it is now my turn to be the one to flip the pages of books while reading aloud to my 3-year-old niece and to sing and sign “Row Row Your Boat” to my baby nephew during video calls, sparking the same joy of stories and songs in them. 

Though the days when I watched Kermit the Frog jump and laughed at Oscar the Grouch are far behind me, I have never forgotten the twinkling star who first set me upon the road to reading. Thank you so much, Joyce.

Posted in Articles, Babies | Comments Off on The Joyce of Reading

Parent Connect Night on Zoom – ‘New to the Journey? Keep Calm & Ask!’ 

Download our flyer here: Keep Calm & Ask 6.17.2021

Posted in Coffee Night, Events | Comments Off on Parent Connect Night on Zoom – ‘New to the Journey? Keep Calm & Ask!’ 

The Silent Language

By Maria Ruiz

I tuck her hair
Behind her ears
Without the aids
Without the sounds
Only language she hears
Is the one my heart speaks
My eyes tell
She knows
This language
The silence
So full
Of sound
Can you hear it?
How can you
Like a dance
She hears
The sounds
Of the silent moments
Most dismiss
She hears
The sound
Of the quiet
The unknown
The language
Of poets
Of musicians
Of the thinkers
Just you and me
Sweet girl
We dance
With the letters
Of the alphabet
We make our own language
Without syllables
Without rules
Just freedom
A slowness
A stillness
That is complete
Teach me
The language
Of your heart
Yell it at the top of your lungs
So the world knows
And your alphabet
To the song
In your head
That no one else
Needs to hear
Do you hear
That voice
I hear it too
And it’s the only voice
You need
To hear
I hear you
Sweet girl
And that’s all that matters
I hear
All of you


Maria Ruiz discovered she was a poet by accident in Grade 7, when she was writing down all her emotions about a boy who was driving her crazy. From there, she has discovered that there is a world behind each word, and she often gets lost in between worlds. When she isn’t writing poetry, Maria is busy homeschooling her 3 children: Miah, Andrew, and Lilah. Homeschooling her kids has been such an adventure and gift that she treasures and holds dear. Apart from homeschooling her kids, and being a stay at home mother, Maria loves to run and is aiming to run another half marathon this summer. Together with Edwin, her husband of fourteen years, they strive to learn more about the deaf and hard of hearing community in order to help support their two children who are hard of hearing. Maria finds such deep inspiration from her children and their hearing differences and hopes to use her poetry to highlight the determination, struggles, and beauty of life.

Posted in Articles, Families to Families | Comments Off on The Silent Language

Learning to be Flexible

By Lisa Cable

I am the oldest child in my family and a classic “Type A” personality.  As such, I LOVE to be in control.  I want to know what’s going to be happening and actively plan for each and every event so that there are no surprises.  I like lists, spreadsheets, calendars and anything that helps me to plan and keep track of all the little details.  But as every parent knows, having children can throw even the best planner for a loop.

We are lucky to have two fantastic, spirited and opinionated children.  Our son is 12 (almost a teenager!) and our daughter is 10.  While our son has typical hearing, our daughter, Lily was born hard of hearing.  When she was first identified, at 8 weeks old, as being hard of hearing it was a shock.  However, I quickly shifted to figuring out what we needed to do for her and dove in head-first with early intervention, audiology appointments and meeting other families.  It was certainly a shift from how it was with my son during his first year of life, but one that I was happy to make for the sake of my daughter.  

By the time Lily was 18 months old I felt like I had a handle on how things were going.  We’d settled into a routine of appointments, baby groups, intervention services and such.  We’d worked hard to learn as much as we could so that we could make informed choices; we reached out to other families and deaf/hard of hearing role models to learn from their experiences.  Lily wore tiny little hearing aids and was progressing well – we were happy.  

Just before her second birthday we learned that Lily had Enlarged Vestibular Aqueduct (EVA) Syndrome and that it was very possible this could result in a progressive hearing loss.  Within two months she experienced her first “drop” in hearing, sending us scrambling to figure out what to do.  Managing a feisty two-year old with fluctuating hearing levels was something we were not prepared for.  It was the first time I felt like I didn’t know what to do or how to manage the rapid changes that were besetting themselves upon my tiny daughter.  

After three more years of progressive hearing loss, switching hearing aids to keep up with the changes, two cochlear implant surgeries and simultaneously navigating two different preschool programs, both Lily and I came out the other side different people.  She was resilient, confident and ready to take on the world.  I had learned the hard lesson that life cannot be controlled and planned for the way I always want it to be.  I needed to be flexible – not a pushover, but someone who could accept what comes and figure out ways to make the best of each day and each situation.  

Once Lily began Kindergarten (for which I’d planned extensively!) I figured things would be easier.  She was thriving with her cochlear implants, in mainstream school with her brother and her friends from the neighbourhood while also having a wonderful circle of deaf and hard of hearing friends to connect with. 

However, just when we think that we’ve got it all figured out, life has a way of keeping us on our toes.  Navigating elementary school with Lily has been a constant lesson for all of us in how to be flexible.  Equipment breaks down or doesn’t work, there are substitute teachers who aren’t aware of how to best communicate with her, challenges with noisy school assemblies or playing outside during lunchtime – to name a few.  Just when we figure out how to deal with one challenge another one pops up.  

What I’ve learned, and hopefully helped my children to learn, is that the challenges life presents us with don’t need to be seen as negatives.  They can be opportunities to learn about ourselves, to learn from others, to try new things and to make mistakes.  While there are days that I would love for things to just go exactly as I have planned for once, I wouldn’t trade our marvelous, sometimes crazy, life for anything.  


Posted in Articles, Families to Families | Comments Off on Learning to be Flexible

O.U.R. Children Project ‘What do parents need to know about keeping their DHH children safe?’ Webinar

Join us for our upcoming Webinar!

This webinar is a part of the O.U.R. Children Project (O=Observe, U=Understand, R=Respond)

Presenters Harold A. Johnson and Sara Kennedy will outline strategies to ensure personal safety for young children who are deaf and hard of hearing. You will gain awareness of why children with language and support needs are at a higher risk and learn preventive measures and tools for their safety. When we know more, we can do more!

This webinar is open to parents of deaf/hard of hearing children birth to 5 and the early intervention professionals who support them. ASL Interpreters and captioning provided.


Harold Johnson is an educator with 40 plus years of experience in the field of Deaf Education.  He has worked as a teacher, then as a program administrator, and then finally as a university professor (Kent State University & Michigan State University) preparing individuals to become teachers of students who are deaf/hard of hearing (d/hh).  Much of his career focused upon the use of Web based technologies and resources to enhance education, reduce isolation, facilitate collaboration and recognize excellence (e.g.,  In 2006 his work expanded to include an emphasis upon understanding and preventing the maltreatment of children with disabilities. This work resulted in the establishment of the “O.U.R. Children Project” (O = Observe; U = Understand: & R = Respond).  The project, carried out in collaboration with “Hands & Voices,” represents a major effort to reduce the incidence and impact of child maltreatment via awareness, understanding, and proactive engagement. This work is generating knowledge, skills, and resources that serve to not only keep children safe, but also help insure their academic success as they progress from early intervention, to school, and to adulthood.

Sara Kennedy is a mom of four children, including a middle school-aged daughter who is profoundly deaf. An occupational therapist by training, Sara has worked with Hands & Voices since 2000 and currently serves as the Director for the Colorado chapter. At the national level, she serves as an editor of the quarterly newspaper, The Hands & Voices Communicator. Sara has a special interest in hearing screening in the homebirth community. She was a coauthor for the manual Bridge to Preschool: Navigating a Successful Transition as well as many articles on educational and self-advocacy, safety and prevention of abuse, why families move, and the decision process regarding cochlear implants and other topics. Presentations include the GBYS training, understanding the laws and advocacy in the birth to three and Part B system, and a memorable presentation on teaching our deaf/hh children about sex that Sara and Susan Elliott created. She finds parenting teens to be an even bigger challenge. She lives and hikes (and skis when she can) with her family in Colorado Springs.

Download our flyer here: OUR Project Flyer 4.19.2021

Posted in Advocacy, Babies, Events | Comments Off on O.U.R. Children Project ‘What do parents need to know about keeping their DHH children safe?’ Webinar

Why I Sign

Author: Kurt Kuzminski

Why do I sign? Because it’s beautiful. Because it translates movement into poetry, connecting concepts to ideas, and people to people. It tells us stories in a vivid, visual medium that is intuitively enchanting, and — simultaneously — as accessible to the novice as it is nuanced to the master. So yes, for me, it’s all about connecting people through the poetry of motion.

Confession: I’m already a science nerd, so learning basic atomic theory in American Sign Language (ASL) blew my mind. Imagine your hand falling through space to <smack!> crash into your palm, fingers snapping into a fist at the last second. A confluence of force and attraction. Gravity. An aura of dancing fingers circling a closed fist? Atom. Think about it — if your fist is the nucleus, then I can’t help but imagine each fingertip as its own electron, spritely chasing its own orbit. Put them together, and <wham!> you have the sign for an atom. Now slip a lone finger out of the cloud and send it whipping about on its own trajectory. Electron. Isn’t it fascinating how intuitive that is? Need to see it? Head to and get ready for some fantastic ASL (be sure to click on the “English” button on the top right to make it easier to navigate). So that’s one part, the visual poetry of the language. The other half is, of course, the people those hands are attached to.

I am lucky, thankful, and grateful to have met such people. Generous, inspiring, and welcoming people who patiently taught me ASL, even though I must have been, and probably still am, a babbling and hilariously-accented foreigner. To everyone I’ve met, thank you for creating a safe space and encouraging my thick-fingered fumblings. I’ll always be grateful for those generous mentors who opened their homes to us and shared the complexity and nuance of sign, and their contagious passion for it.

Carrying that passion with me, I feel compelled to share. The audience of my thick-fingered fumblings? My kids. My daughter is Deaf, and she loves experiencing new signs, especially when they describe science. When I share new signs with her, her eyes brim with delight. Flailing fingers smack into palm. Gravity. And that impact kindles something in her, that innate curiosity to explore the world through science.  She in turn, snapping fingers into fist, passes that curiosity to her little sister. And now, I’m treated to the fruits of my fumblings. Tiny fists snapping into tiny palms. Tiny fingers snapping “No,” or stretching out to say, “I Love You!”

Posted in Articles, Deaf Culture, Families to Families | Comments Off on Why I Sign

Deaf Parents, Hearing Child

By: Levi Traxler


My wife and I are Deaf, and we use American Sign Language to communicate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We rely on a lot of visual information, such as when I flicker the lights on and off to get my wife’s attention. We try to make our home as deaf-friendly as possible; for example, we prefer an “open concept”, for ease of communication, and we have a big window by our front door. Our lives essentially rely on making everything accessible for us. 

When we found out we were expecting a baby, due in May 2020, we were so happy! What an exciting time for us! But suddenly, Covid-19 became a worldwide issue and everything changed. For example, limits were placed on the number of people allowed in medical settings (in order to reduce potential exposure to the virus), and we had difficulty getting an interpreter for our hospital visits. We finally did get an interpreter for the delivery, but we then found out that we’d need to stay at the hospital for a few days and the interpreter wasn’t permitted to stay there the whole time. We understand the logistical challenges of hiring interpreters but it was tough trying to communicate with nurses when they were wearing masks. Fortunately, we still had a relatively smooth experience bringing our child into this world. 

After nine months of waiting, we were thrilled to finally meet our healthy new baby. When we were finally able to bring our child home, we realized there are a lot of different challenges for us as Deaf parents with a hearing child. Here are just a few of the things we’ve experienced so far:

  1. We need an alarm system to notify us when the baby is crying. This is especially important when we are sleeping or in another room away from the baby. 
  2. We use a video monitor to check on the baby once in a while when the baby is napping. It helps give us a peace of mind being able to check on the baby without having to go inside the room.
  3. Using a big mirror on one side of the room allows us to check on our baby’s face and see if the baby is crying or having a good time. Sometimes if we look at the baby from behind, we would otherwise assume the baby is happy when in reality the baby is crying! The mirror helps give us more visual information.
  4. Loud noises that we as parents are clueless to, like the vacuum machine whirring and sirens, are NOT pleasant to the baby! One time I took our baby out for a walk and there was a fire truck with the siren on racing down the street. I thought this would be a great opportunity for the baby to look at the fire truck as it went flying by us. Unfortunately when the fire truck got near us, the baby started crying and climbed into my arms. It took me a second to realize that the sirens are really, really loud! 
  5. Burping our baby after feeding can be tricky. We can feel the burps, but not always, so sometimes we aren’t sure if the baby has even burped yet! Same goes for a lot of bodily functions such as farting, vomiting, and sneezing. 
  6. We don’t exactly know how loud we are so we have to be extra careful with doing anything while in the same room while our baby is napping. I remember taking a minute for each step to make sure I wasn’t making enough noise for the baby to wake up! 

Despite these interesting challenges we face as Deaf parents, we’ve also had some really cool moments with the baby, such as:

  1. The baby responds to sound so if I’m trying to get my wife’s attention when she’s playing with the child, I can just make some random loud noises. The baby will look for me right away and my wife notices this and then looks at me too. It works every time! This is going to be a great addition to our household. 
  2. We were able to give our child a sign name. We love it when our family or friends ask what the child’s sign name is because we feel like it gave our child their own identity. 
  3. Our child really enjoys watching our ASL stories and also enjoys listening to sounds from other sources (family members, toys, books, etc.). This is a great way to raise a bilingual child!
  4. Just like every other parent out there, we absolutely love watching our child grow up! Our child is now six months old and it feels so different compared to the newborn stage, so we’re realizing that we need to savor every moment we have with our child.

We know that there will be additional challenges down the road but we are ready and excited. Raising a hearing child as Deaf parents presents a wonderful opportunity to grow together as a family, learning from each other along the way!

Posted in Articles, Babies, Deaf Culture, Families to Families | Comments Off on Deaf Parents, Hearing Child

2021 AGM & Parent Connect Evening “Ask Me Anything”

We’ll begin with a brief 30 minute AGM, where we will share what BC Hands & Voices has accomplished over the past year.
Then we’ll dive into our “Ask Me Anything” Session – Hosted by your BC H&V Board of Parents and Deaf/Hard of Hearing Adults. Join us from your favourite spot at home, bring your questions or just observe. All are welcome!
ASL Interpreters will be provided.
Please RSVP to by Saturday February 27th, 2021 to receive the link.

Download our flyer HERE

Posted in Administration, Coffee Night, Events, Families to Families | Comments Off on 2021 AGM & Parent Connect Evening “Ask Me Anything”

Parent Connect Coffee Night- ‘Bedtime Poetry-Creating a Harmonious Bedtime’

Join BC Hands & Voices, Guide By Your Side parents and Deaf/Hard of Hearing Guides for a panel discussion about all things bedtime! They will share  tips for creating a pleasant bedtime experience for both YOU and your deaf/hard of hearing child. What do Deaf/Hard of Hearing adults say their parents did to help them feel secure and sleep well when they were children? What can we take away from the things they wished had gone differently? Always lots to discuss on this topic! Bring your questions and ideas! Special guests include Monique Les, Tara Dyck and Teresa Kazemir. ASL Interpreters and CART captioning are provided.
WHEN: Thursday January 21st 2021 7:00pm-8:30pm
CONTACT/INFO: please RSVP to to receive the zoom link.

Posted in DHH Guides, Events | Comments Off on Parent Connect Coffee Night- ‘Bedtime Poetry-Creating a Harmonious Bedtime’