Ashlee Rose: Tell us about yourself, hobbies, marriage life, anything you want to share about yourself.
Alexandra: I am currently a software designer for IBM and I am on the board of the AIGA Raleigh as the Director of Inclusive Design. I recently received my Master’s from NCSU College of Design where my thesis project focused on designs for a smart user interface for Cochlear Implants. I live in Raleigh, North Carolina with my husband and two rescue dogs. My professional website is: http://alexandradeangrossi.com/
Ashlee Rose:How old were you when you were diagnosed with a hearing loss? What causes it if known?
Alexandra:I was diagnosed as profoundly deaf at almost two years old. The doctors do not know what caused it. I had a complicated birth with a twin sister who died at 3 days old. We suffered from Twin-twin transfusion disorder and I suspect this played a part in my hearing loss.
Ashlee Rose:What approach did your parents take?
Alexandra: My parents didn’t know a single deaf person when they found out that I was profoundly deaf so they went into deep researching mode. They visited schools for the deaf, talked to teachers, speech pathologists, and many doctors. It wasn’t until they met a young orally deaf man who was enrolled at Harvard that they were inspired to put me on the same path he went. He was smart, charming and spoke with such confidence, that they realized that I could achieve anything I wanted to. From then on it was a matter of finding the right teachers and speech therapists who would help me thrive.
Ashlee Rose: When did you understand that you have a hearing loss?
Alexandra: For as long as I can remember, I understood that I had a hearing loss. I remember working on speech drills with my dad when I was about 3 years old. Being mainstreamed, I compared myself to mostly hearing kids and I realized then that I will always have to work harder than my hearing peers to communicate.
Ashlee Rose:Have you met any other deaf individuals while growing up?
Alexandra:While I started speech therapy when I was around 2 and a half years old, it wasn’t until I was in elementary school that I met deaf kids like me. There was an orally deaf program embedded in a public school, and my parents moved to this district so that I could enroll there. This is where I met my best friend Ashlee who was also in the same program. Our friendship was an important one during my childhood. I loved my hearing friends, but I found it invaluable to have a friend who was going through the same things as I was.
Ashlee Rose:What devices do you have?( What inspired you to get a second cochlear implant?)
Alexandra:I grew up wearing bilateral high powered hearing aids and using an FM system while in classes. Then when I was 16, having a cochlear implant became a possibility and I decided to switch from two hearing aids to one cochlear implant because that’s what my insurance company would cover at the time. Finally, when I was in my 30s I decided I really wanted to be able to have bilateral hearing again. I had to jump through hoops to get an insurance company to cover my second surgery, but I finally did it and I’m really glad to be a bionic woman in “stereo!”
Ashlee Rose:What do you do when you meet a hearing individual- when you go shopping, at a gathering or job interviews?
Alexandra: With hearing friends and family members I know well, I usually don’t think twice about tough hearing situations because they understand I need to read lips, and I feel comfortable asking them to repeat themselves. Large groups can be challenging, I prefer being in smaller groups or meeting people individually. With new friends, I will try to orchestrate our early get-togethers in a quiet setting until I am more comfortable with them.
Job interviews can be tricky since I am trying to show my most capable side. Usually, interviews are one-on-one in a quiet office, which is actually the perfect setting for me. However, my last job interview included a video conference call to go over my portfolio. In that case, I tried to talk through everything as clearly and thoroughly as possible to reduce the number of questions asked at the end. It was nerve-wracking, but I got the job after all!
Ashlee Rose: Do you get accommodations for your job? Any struggles?
Alexandra:As a software designer I work with designers and developers who are located all over the world, this means I have a lot of video conference calls with people who possess many different accents over often spotty internet with not great video quality. Early in my job, I was afraid of coming across as less-than-capable so I struggled for the first few months. When I couldn’t take it anymore, I asked for accommodations and I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I was not the only deaf IBMer. I was given a choice of a live captioner or an ASL translator. Since I never learned ASL, I went with the captioner and it has made my daily work life so much better.
Ashlee Rose: Tell us about what you do for work, project anything you want to share?
Alexandra: I consider myself an Inclusive Design activist, and I am passionate about giving a voice to users who are usually treated as “outliers.” I strongly believe that designing a more inclusive world benefits everybody. A project close to my heart is work that I have done on IDATA, an NSF grant-funded project that uses User-Centered Design to make astronomy and astronomy software accessible to Blind and Visually Impaired students.
At IBM I work on a product within the Hybrid Cloud called the Transformation Advisor. It adds code to old apps that allows the apps to be “modernized” and transported from physical servers to the cloud. IBM understands the importance of good design and I really appreciate their commitment to accessibility.
Ashlee Rose: Any advice you want to share with parents who have deaf/ hard of hearing children or deaf individuals?
Alexandra: To those raising or working with deaf kids: Don’t underestimate us, we are capable of achieving amazing things. However, we need your patience and your compassion — please recognize that we will always have to work harder than our hearing peers to do the same things.
Alexandra:To my D/deaf HOH brothers and sisters: Never be afraid to ask for help when you need it. You always deserve to understand what’s being said and your voice should always be heard.
Hearing Impaired single mother and teacher aide at a hearing impaired oral preschool program. An author of "Turn The Lights On, I Cant Hear You".