Black woman with a congenital deformity, divorced, and single mother of a daughter; sounds like a potential struggle story. However, I defeated all odds with perseverance, ambition, and community support.
Bilateral Microtia and Atresia is when both external ears were not developed, and external auditory ear canals were closed. Microtia and Atresia occurs in 1 out of every 5,000 births. Microtia and Atresia is more common in the Asian, Native American, Ecuadorian, and Latino/Hispanic ethnicities, but is least commonly found in African Americans (The Microtia and Atresia Clinic at Vanderbilt - Vanderbilt University Medical Center). In addition, I was born deaf and wore an uncomfortable metal hearing aid device. Black, living in the hood of Cincinnati, Ohio, and labeled as a special needs student led me to be bullied because I had a disability and looked different. I rode on the short yellow bus, segregated in a special education classroom, and was very shy due to feeling isolated. Little did I know; this foundation would be my blueprint of who I am today. I developed a strong passion towards individuals with disabilities as a young child. Living with this rare condition was a challenge for me during my childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood but later sparked a passion to encourage and inspire others who share similar experiences with the stigma of being different from the “normal” society.
Divorce was my next “shame” during my course of my life. Educated, black, young mother was now another statistic and not sure what to do. I was alone, confused, and embarrassed but motherhood kept me going. My daughter Jada who is 11 years old is the reason for my driven spirit to be the best woman I am destined to be. I recall when I gave birth to her I had anxiety that she would have my condition and deal with the obstacles that I had to face. Even without having any birth defect, Jada had to witness my downfalls and my successes with a hearing loss and rare congenital deformity. I was introduced to different organizations such as the Hearing Loss of America Association and the Ear Community, which created many opportunities for me. The organizations not only introduced me to education and advocacy but to Jada as well. We both desire to work with individuals with special needs and Jada hopes to one day be a Special Education teacher.
This new role as an advocate allowed me to demonstrate that a disability or circumstances do not define who I am. As a Service and Support Administrator and advocate for the Hamilton County Developmental Disabilities Services, I educate and influence others to live meaningful lives through resources, empathy, and ongoing support. My advocacy also leads to free choice for all with people with disabilities and hearing loss. I am a patient, advocate, ambassador, and spokesperson for the Bone Anchored Hearing System with Oticon Medical.
The Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership at Northern Kentucky University is my new journey this Fall. My purpose and passion is to be an effective educator through advocacy, empathy, and motivation for those who are in need of support and inspiration. I am a vocal advocate for people with different levels of disabilities, Microtia and Atresia, hearing loss, and deaf communities. My hope for my upcoming professional experience is to challenge my audience to reevaluate, restart, regroup, and reinvent their mindset when interacting with individuals with disabilities. Reinvent the mindset of people who pity those who were born different. I was born into this world being stared and pitied upon and most people have judged me even when it was not their intention. My hope is to educate others through my experiences as a black woman who happened to be born with the stigma label of disabled and hearing impaired.
About the Writer
Ms. Camilla Gilbert from Cincinnati, Ohio was born with bilateral Microtia and Atresia, which is a congenital abnormality in which her ears do not fully develop and has an absence of the external auditory ear canal. Ms. Gilbert was first fitted with a bone anchored hearing solution at the age of 6 months and has used different hearing aids over the last 30 years. Living with Microtia and Atresia during her childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood years was a challenge for Ms. Gilbert. She developed low self-esteem, isolation, and confusion that led her to cover her bone anchored hearing device and ears with a headband for over 13 years.
Today, Ms. Gilbert is a vocal advocate for people with different levels of disabilities and more specially the hearing loss/deaf community. The young girl who hid her hearing loss from the world is a confident woman who educates and advocates for others with hearing loss. Ms. Gilbert is attending Northern Kentucky University this Fall to begin her journey in Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership program. Ms. Gilbert has a Masters in Social Work from the University of Cincinnati, Bachelor of Science in Computer Science and Mathematics from Central State University, and a Certificate in Deaf Studies from Cincinnati State Technical and Community College.
Ms. Gilbert is the recipient of the 2015 Oticon Focus on People Award for Advocacy. She served as a board member for the non-profit organization Ear Community and a past president of SW Ohio chapter of the Hearing Loss Association of America. Ms. Gilbert is a member of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc. and Phi Alpha Honor Society for Social Work. Most importantly, she is the mother to Jada who is one of the reasons why she is motivated to inspire others with disabilities and hearing loss.