From Dolly and Girlfriend Magazine, to an internship with Harper's Bazaar and now a role in Sydney at fashion powerhouse The Iconic, she is loud and proud, and you would never know Brisbane girl Katie Douglass was born with profound hearing loss in both ears.
For most, profound hearing loss means a difficult life learning to communicate effectively. Not to mention having to constantly field questions about why their ears look different, something that weighs quiet heavily on a child in the playground, usually leading to insecurities about their body. However, thanks to not-for-profit Hear and Say, Katie was fitted with two cochlear implants and received auditory-verbal therapy enabling her to attend a mainstream school, and pursue her creative passions in life – letting nothing, or no one stop her.
Celebrating twenty years since she was fitted with cochlear implants, Katie Douglass is a Loud Shirt Day Ambassador and believes the fanfare is the perfect way to raise awareness for the cause. Katie was always reluctant to tell people or employers about her hearing impairment as they rarely understood what it meant, but with age has recently discovered it is something to be upfront, loud and proud of!
To celebrate the 12th annual Loud Shirt Day fundraiser, Hear and Say are calling for people and organisations to wear their wackiest shirts or frock up in colourful costumes to get LOUD for children with hearing loss on Friday, October 18. Loud Shirt Day is a fundraising initiative, as Hear and Say need to raise approx. $10,000 per year, per child to provide their world leading therapy and support to kids like Katie.
Question: What and when is Hear and Say's Loud Shirt Day?
Katie Douglass: Loud Shirt Day is about wearing your brightest and loudest clothes to raise money and awareness for children who are hearing impaired. Whether you go for tie dye, florals or stripes, it is the perfect excuse to have fun while at the same time raising much-needed funds for Hear and Say so they can continue to help children learn how to listen and speak, which costs approx. $10,000 per year, per child. The official date for Loud Shirt Day is Friday 18th October but if anyone wants to get involved, you can host your own event on any date " just make sure you leave the plain white tee behind in your wardrobe.
Question: Why is it important for Australians to support Hear and Say's Loud Shirt Day?
Katie Douglass: It is important for Australians to support Hear and Say's Loud Shirt Day as the funds raised will allow them to keep giving the life-changing gift of sound and speech to hearing-impaired children. The support Hear and Say provides will bring a positive outcome for everyone including family, friends and the community. I know it works firsthand and without the early intervention I received from Hear and Say, I would not have the freedom to follow my dreams and be as independent as I am now. All donations will help hearing impaired children have the same opportunity to live in a world of possibilities and not be limited by their hearing loss.
Question: Can you believe it's been twenty years since you received cochlear implants?
Katie Douglass: Honestly, no! I can still vividly remember my speech therapy lessons and playgroup sessions at the Hear and Say when I was little. I couldn't believe it when I realised this year will mark twenty years since my life changed. I'm really proud of how far I've come since getting my first cochlear implant switched on. I was only a few months old when I first attended lessons at Hear and Say. I wore hearing aids at first, but they weren't giving me a lot of sound. I luckily received my first cochlear implant at age four and those early years of auditory-verbal therapy lessons meant that by the time I was 'switched on', I had already been trained to listen to sounds. I went from knowing only 50 words to being ready for school the next year, at the same time as my hearing friends. I love looking back on photos from those first few years of receiving the cochlear implant especially where you can see I'm wearing a harness " at that time, cochlear implants were a lot bigger and I had to wear a little pack on my back to hold it. Fast forward twenty years, cochlear implants are now so much smaller, comfortable and can sit behind your ear. It's amazing how much the technology has improved and what it can do " I can even listen to music and phone calls through Bluetooth.
Question: How does your hearing impairment affect you, now?
Katie Douglass: I'm incredibly lucky that my hearing impairment affects me very little and hasn't held me back from achieving my goals, which is a testament to Hear and Say and the incredible work they do. Being hearing impaired and wearing a cochlear implant does come with its own unique challenges in that it's not a 'visible' impairment (unless you're able to make out my cochlear implants underneath my thick, curly hair), so people don't realise straight away why I didn't hear them the first time or ask to repeat themselves. The biggest challenge would be remembering to pack my batteries in my bag. There's been times where my batteries have run out at places like the movies or at work and I've forgotten to bring spares (but that one's on me).
Question: What message do you have for parents who have children recently diagnosed with profound hearing loss?
Katie Douglass: The first thing I would like parents to know is that with Hear and Say's support and auditory-verbal therapy, their children will have the same wonderful opportunities as their hearing peers. They will be able to live in a world full of sound, speaking and listening. Hear and Say will be such an important part of their lives in their child's early years, not only providing auditory-verbal therapy but providing other types of support. They have supported me all the way from when I first attended the centre to my schooling, university and now in my full-time job (even while living in Sydney). I would tell parents that while it is hard work, you do see amazing results. My family and I have learnt that it's usually the things that are most difficult and challenging that bring you the most joy when you succeed.
Question: What's a typical day like, for you?
Katie Douglass: I currently work for THE ICONIC as a full-time junior copywriter so when I'm not whipping up words you can find me ticking off my reading list, listening to podcasts, going to the markets or cafes with friends on the weekend.
Question: How have your employers reacted to your hearing impairment?
Katie Douglass: When applying for jobs and doing interviews, I did struggle with whether to mention my hearing loss and cochlear implants as I felt it didn't impact my ability to do the role. When I've told employers, whether it was before or after starting a job, it has always been positive. If anything, they are always curious and fascinated by how the cochlear implants work. They have always been eager to understand more and help out with any challenges that might come up.
Question: What's next for you?
Katie Douglass: I am currently saving up money to travel overseas next year (I'm thinking a big trip around Europe!). I've been living in Sydney for almost a couple of years but I'm already starting to look at moving overseas, particularly London.
Interview by Brooke Hunter