Christopher Caulfield picture

Christopher Caulfield

Masters student at Cornell Tech

Well, the odds are one in three-thousand five-hundred that I would be born the way I was: profoundly Deaf. Actually, that sounds like a very rare event. Let me restate it this way, I was born without hearing.

At the age of thirteen months when I was diagnosed, I was about to start a transformational experience growing up as a kid with achievement ahead of me academically that I never would have dreamed I could attain. Also, I for sure wouldn’t have thought my life story would be featured by ESPN internationally when I was just fifteen years old. Further, meeting and getting to share a research project with “the father of the Internet” changed my life forever.

For me the journey began with my Mom and Dad banging pots and pans to no avail in our home and I wasn’t even startled. From there, the hearing aids went on me and the result was .... nothing.

At eighteen months old, I was accepted under an experimental trial to have cochlear implant surgery. And then about eight months later I was starting to pick up my first sounds.

I remember in the past; I was not the best talker. However, now at twenty-two years of age and fifteen-hundred hours of speech therapy later, I am “chirping like a J bird.”

All the hard work and constant repetitions in speech therapy helped empower me in life. I learned to buckle down at such a young age that it has become a natural habit for me to give one-hundred percent in everything I do.

Along the way educationally, in high school, I was a National Honor Society caliber student and finished all my credits to graduate in just three years. My high school principal thought so much of my academic accomplishments he wrote to my college, RIT, in New York to directly indicate without question that I was in the top three percent of the students he has worked with over the years.

Once again, my Deafness was a source of empowerment and allowed me to achieve phenomenal goals even with my disability.

I decided to attend RIT because I desperately wanted to experience the opportunity of being with Deaf students like myself. In high school, I did not have any Deaf friends, role models, or sources of inspiration nearby to motivate me to work hard to be successful. It was something I had to do on my own.

As I have grown up and reflected on my journey before college, I wanted to make sure along the way that I gave back to my community. As a volunteer for a residential treatment center for children with multiple disabilities, as incredible as it may seem, it is true; I logged ten straight years of continuous volunteer service on Saturdays by the time I graduated from high school.

While attending RIT and studying Web and Mobile Computing, I was very involved in many organizations on campus. A few of them were: Newman and Cru Ministries, intramural basketball, Yoga Club, Sigma Chi fraternity, and being a student ambassador for Career Services. I was able to build a strong bond with a group of friends that are both Deaf and hearing. Matter of fact, a couple of my best Deaf friends and I share similar childhood experiences of being Deaf. It was always helpful when we talked about our personal stories of what it was like growing up as a Deaf person. But, we all wished though that we could have met each other earlier and had each other's back dealing with the barriers we had to overcome before college.

While being highly involved on campus and working hard in school, I gave back to RIT by serving as a resident advisor for the Center for Residence Life. I worked with mainly freshman students and helped make their transition to college as engaging as possible. This was something that I experienced my freshman year, and I wanted to be able to make their college experience just as fun or even better than mine was.

In addition to the resident advisor position, I conducted research for the Linguistic and Assistive Technologies Laboratory with the goal that innovation on linguistic technologies and human computer interaction can help empower and create more possibilities for people. Our hope was that we could make the lives of people with disabilities easier through accessibility applications.

If I had never been Deaf, my life would not be this way. I would not be working as hard in school as I do because I would not have had as much motivation to do so. If I were to be born all over again, I would stay the way I am. I have no regrets about being Deaf. Yes, it is very hard for me at times, but it makes me stronger in my heart. And that is what empowers me to live my life to its fullest.

You will always see me with a smile because I am very thankful for who I am!

I know my life event was rare but things are good and I know it will continue to get even better because I learned to play the cards I was given. The odds are now with me!

Always be your best and stay motivated!

-Christopher Caulfield

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