By Austin Koeller
Eileen Dakan, an adjunct instructor of sociology, has always loved to learn new things. “I wanted to learn. I love to learn even today.” To aid in her learning, Dakan wears a Bi-Cross hearing aid for hearing loss experienced in childhood.
Dakan is one of nearly one in five Americans age 12 and older who have experienced hearing loss severe enough to interfere with day-to-day communication.
Her hearing aid consists of a microphone that picks up sound from Dakan’s deaf ear and transmits it to the other hearing aid. Her brain then processes that the sound is coming from her deaf ear side. “It helped me so I can listen, and I didn’t have to focus so hard on lip reading,” Dakan said. She said she also uses an iPad app where students can submit questions anonymously to both encourage discussion and to help her communicate better with students.
After dealing with a hearing loss for 35 years, Dakan knows all about the daily struggles of students who have to be strong and seek help through channels available when a disability makes learning or teaching more of a challenge. She met some resistance along the way.
At age two, Dakan developed a severe case of spinal meningitis. The doctors at the time had no idea how to treat her, causing her to be misdiagnosed twice. It took two years to find help.
“My mother was persistent and kept taking me back to the hospital saying, ‘This child does not have the flu, there’s something else going on,’” Dakan said. The third time, her mother took her back to the hospital and they finally gave Dakan a proper diagnosis.
“I remember my mom telling me that it temporarily regressed me to an infant-like state,” Dakan said. This meant that Dakan had to learn to walk, feed herself and be potty trained all again. “She (mom) had a baby at home and it was like I was another baby but I was two years old,” Dakan said.
As Dakan was relearning how to do these tasks again, her hearing loss went unrecognized. “My parents found me sitting in front of the television, pretty close, with the volume turned up watching ‘Sesame Street,’” Dakan said. Dakan was later fitted with a hearing aid in her left ear when she was four years old. “Considering all things that could have happened, it’s very fortunate that I just had hearing loss,” Dakan said.
Dakan continued to struggle with her hearing as she attended school. One of her biggest challenges, she said, was music class. “The teacher said, ‘She’s lip syncing! She’s not singing,’” Dakan said.
“My parents said, ‘Well, she probably can’t tell if she’s singing correctly or not.’” Her parents then encouraged the teacher to work with her but he refused. “I can’t sing,” Dakan said. “I have no clue if I’m on tune, off tune or if I even got the right words.”
Dakan also faced hardships in math when her teacher would write on the chalkboard. “I could not see her face at all,” Dakan said. As a result, Dakan said that she did not do well at math.
Dakan’s hearing continued to decline when she was 13 or 14 years old. This resulted in Dakan getting a second hearing aid in her right ear. “It sounded really bad,” Dakan said. “It was never very clear sounding to me. I refused to wear it.”
While attending college, Dakan had to make the proper accommodations for herself to succeed. “I came to class a little early and introduced myself to the professors and explained the accommodations that I needed,” Dakan said.
In order to hear her professors, Dakan used an FM sound system. “Professors wore a microphone and I wore a receiver to hear lectures,” Dakan said. “That was a really neat thing for me in order to graduate from college.”
When Dakan was in her early 20s, her hearing in her right ear continued to decline to the level of deafness. At the advice of her husband, she began to wear the Bi-Cross hearing aid, which continues to help her hear today. Dakan has taught at UNL, UNK, and Central Community College. She said she gives credit to her husband and family. “I married my childhood sweetheart, Mike, 18 years ago and we have two kids: James, age 9; and Grace, age 8. We also have a 100-pound yellow lab named Marley.”
Besides teaching one 8 a.m. sociology class, Dakan works as a hearing instrument specialist at Clarity. Dakan is also involved with the Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, a statewide, nine-member board that seeks to provide assistance to anyone with any level of hearing loss.