Name: Carrie Spangler, AuD, CCC-A
Position: Educational audiologist, Stark County (Ohio) Educational Services
Hometown: Stowe, Ohio
Carrie Spangler with her children, Ethan and Hannah.
In 1982, when Carrie Spangler (then Carrie Bilderback) was 9 years old, she was one of the tallest students in her fourth-grade class. So, to make sure that all students would be able to see the front of the classroom, her teacher placed Carrie in the back row. Unfortunately this location proved to be a problem for young Carrie, as she wore hearing aids and found herself unable to hear the teacher. In fact, it even landed her in the principal's office one time.
"I got in trouble for cheating on a spelling test because the teacher saw me looking at my neighbor's paper," she recalls. "But I didn't even realize we were being tested because I hadn't heard her say that."
Today, as an educational audiologist with Stark/Portage Educational Services in Canton, Ohio, Spangler works hard to help more than 100 students with hearing impairments avoid such situations by working with classroom teachers to accommodate them. Spangler feels her position allows her to communicate fully these students' needs to their classroom teachers—something that wasn't as available when she was a student.
Spangler was born with bilateral hearing loss that resulted from a lack of oxygen during birth. Although she has good low-frequency hearing, her high-frequency hearing is very poor. Still, as a toddler, she was able to hear enough that her communication delays were routinely dismissed. Even though her mother had heard from numerous doctors and teachers that her daughter was fine, it occurred to Spangler's mother during a child development lecture given by a speech-language pathologist at a public library to have her daughter's hearing checked. Not surprisingly, Spangler didn't pass the hearing screening, and she was fitted with her first set of hearing aids at age 4.
"I remember walking down the hallway in the clinic and hearing my footsteps on the tile floor for the first time," Spangler says. "It was so exciting!"
But improving her hearing was just one step. In her mainstream classroom, she was the only student she knew of—and definitely the only person her age she knew of—who wore hearing aids. None of her classmates, neither her parents, nor her younger brother had a hearing impairment, and she often felt self-conscious—and even admittedly angry—about her hearing loss and her hearing aids.
"The only other person I knew who wore hearing aids was my grandfather," Spangler said. "And middle school was just awful."
But it helped that she was athletic and played on her school's volleyball and basketball teams. At first it was difficult for other kids and her teammates to understand her differences, but Spangler eventually found her connection on the social scene. The bonds became so tight, in fact, that she remains friends with many of her high school teammates today.
Still, the feelings of frustration and isolation will always live in her memory. As a result, Spangler makes it a point to spend extra time with her students in middle and high school to make sure they navigate social life comfortably. She tries to help them use their strengths and avoid limiting themselves because of their hearing loss. Spangler also has created an advocacy and social support group, Hearing Impaired Teens Interacting Together (HIT IT), which brings district students together for social get-togethers throughout the school year. The idea is to meet and see that they are not alone. And when she begins working with students, she tells them and their families about her own hearing loss.
"With the families, when they first find out their child has a hearing loss, it's very emotional and it's helpful for them to meet someone who has gone through it and has been successful," Spangler says. "And with the middle school and high school students, I think it's good for them to see that it's not the end of the world and that they can grow up and do whatever they want.
"Personally, I feel very blessed, because growing up, I felt like my hearing loss was my biggest obstacle, and now I've found a profession where it's my greatest gift."
Contact Carrie Spangler, AuD, CCC-A, at firstname.lastname@example.org.