More than meets the ear

A photo of Anja showing off her hearing aid.

In observance of International Day of Persons with Disabilities on December 3rd, Anja Salinger-Carsley shares the story of discovering that she has a hearing impairment and her journey from experiencing a quiet world to living life out loud.

One evening, Anja Salinger-Carsley was at a dinner party when there was suddenly a commotion. Anja, who was calmly sitting at the table, didn’t understand why everyone around her was “freaking out.” A fire alarm had gone off, but she couldn’t hear it.

When she was younger, Anja was labeled quiet and dreamy. She frequently found herself startled by teachers trying to get her attention, followed by laughter across the classroom. She had trouble following the plots of TV programs. She often missed important information and assignments. The world, she thought, was very quiet and she just wasn’t paying enough attention.

“Everyone seemed to know something that I just didn’t,” she explained. “I felt that at some point, at any point, I could be in trouble for failing in some major way.”

After the incident at the dinner party, however, Anja decided to start looking for answers. What she learned changed her life forever: She had been born with a significant hearing impairment, with as much as 60% hearing loss.

During Adobe For All Week 2020, Adobe’s annual internal Diversity & Inclusion event, Anja told the story of how she misjudged the world — and how it misjudged her — and the equally exhilarating and overwhelming experience of discovering a whole new world of sound. We talked with her about what it was like to share her story and why she’s not hiding her true self ever again.

Why did you feel it was important to share your story broadly with employees?

Like many of the storytellers, I wanted to share my experiences, so people know they’re not alone if they’re going through the same thing. It could be someone’s child, parent or friend who is struggling, and they don’t know why.

I also feel very strongly about hearing aids. There are a lot of people who still view them as taboo for some reason, so I want to be visible and open about using them and make it normal for everyone.

Why do you feel so strongly about hearing aids?

People generally think hearing aids should be discreet, a secret, and are almost shameful about them. What’s any more shameful or embarrassing about impaired hearing compared to impaired vision? We wear glasses, which is the same concept, and glasses basically still use the same technology invented centuries ago. Hearing aids are so much cooler! They’re incredible microcomputers we put in our ears, and the technology keeps evolving and getting better.

I decided long ago that I’m not going to hide mine, because I think wearing hearing aids can transform your life and should be as uneventful as wearing glasses. I can’t wait to put my hearing aids in every morning to embrace this loud, vibrant world. I even wrote a blog post about my passion for hearing aids.

You only had 7 minutes to share your story. Is there anything you weren’t able to include in your Adobe For All video?

This biggest part I wasn’t able to cover, however, is that the change I experienced in my life wasn’t really that quick, and it was very hard. It was slow, and while I’m passionate about hearing aids, adjusting to using them was not easy. At first, I just wanted to lock myself in a room and cry, to take them out again. I thought, “This is awful.” Once I got used to them, though, there was all this great stuff to experience, and that really has changed everything.

Another interesting bit is that I’ve always been quite musical. I think it’s another piece of why people didn’t realize that I couldn’t hear. People say things like, “How can you be musical and deaf?” I can hear the pitch; I just hear it a lot quieter. There’s more to music than just straight sound. And when you sit next to a cello, you have it vibrate right next to you, so you can feel it.

Did you learn anything about yourself while preparing to share your story?

It helped me a lot to look back at everything, to realize how everything in my life was influenced by my hearing impairment and to see how all those dots connect.

I was quite literally someone else before. I also came out as gay around the same time that I learned about my hearing. Sharing the story allowed me to bring it all together and to think about what it actually meant to have been diagnosed as I revisited all these bits of my life. I changed very slowly, and it wasn’t sudden, but it’s all connected — to go from hiding who I was, to being heard and to realizing that people hear me. I do have a voice.

How has sharing your story affected your professional life?

I’ve met a lot of people who have reached out to me to tell me they relate to my story or they’ve gone through something similar. That’s been incredibly touching. I recently had an experience where someone reached out to me to ask for help and ask questions. No one should have to feel alone. Being able to help people and expand that inclusion is so amazing.

I’m now at a stage in my life that I could do more, and I would really like to do something connected with D&I at Adobe. The experience of sharing my story has given me a great impetus to expand that part of my professional life. I want to help other people find the opportunity to share their own stories.