Benjamin Reiser: Hearing Impairment Does Not Define Him
Benjamin Reiser, 23, is a first-year student at Fordham Law School. As an undergrad, he made the Dean’s List with Honors at Georgetown University and was a member of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars. He is an avid fan of musical theater and wants to specialize in entertainment law. To see him in action—or to listen to him speak—one would never suspect that he was born with severe-to-profound bilateral sensorineural hearing loss.
Ben has been wearing hearing aids since he was diagnosed with hearing loss at three months old. He was the first baby in the world to wear digitally programmable hearing aids. In the beginning, the specialists he saw predicted that he would never develop meaningful, intelligible speech and, lucky for him, they were wrong. Ben credits his parents for their relentless pursuit of the best doctors, therapists and new technologies for helping him overcome his challenges.
“Due to amazing technology and my supportive family, I never let my disability define me,” Ben says. “I think I was inspired to become a lawyer to prove I could overcome the ‘limits’ of my hearing impairment. Despite my disability, I have always been resolute in my aspiration to learn how to use language meaningfully and to sound like my family and friends. Ironically, the communication skills that were expected to be my greatest weaknesses became my very strengths.”
In his young life, Ben has seen hearing technology advance by leaps and bounds in terms of size, sophistication, and sound quality. The hearing aid he wears in his right ear has made all the difference (assistive technology doesn’t help in his left ear). And although Ben has been a candidate for cochlear implants since he was a young child, his parents opted to stay with hearing aids, a decision he says he agrees with.
Ben began coming to the Ear Institute in 2009 because his parents saw it as the best opportunity for their son to overcome his disability. The team of specialists at the Institute’s Children’s Hearing Program offered not only access to technology, but also support services like audiologists, speech language pathologists, social workers, and an education consultant. Even now, Ben returns to the Institute two-three times annually to visit his audiologist to check his hearing and insure that he’s using the latest technology available.
Keeping abreast of the latest advances in assistive technology has been key to Ben’s ability to mainstream in school and plays a key role in Law School. At the start of each class, his professors clip on a small microphone that wirelessly transmits their voice to Ben’s hearing aid. The only other accommodation he has is permission to take notes on a laptop so he can type while looking at the professor in order to lip-read during lectures. And when necessary, Ben has relied on the Ear Institute’s team of specialists to help improve access in the classroom. When an FM microphone the teacher was wearing to amplify speech started to emit loud noise, the EI team visited his Fordham classroom to troubleshoot the problem, allowing Ben to resume his studies.
His advice to others with hearing disabilities? “The obstacles you face are no match to resilience and hard work,” Ben says. “Be relentless; seek out the best, latest, most accommodating technology; and be an assertive advocate for the access you require. The sooner you commit to not letting your disability get in the way of your education, the more doors will open.”