By Darren DeLaune/ Muscogee Nation News Reporter
HENRYETTA, Okla. — What are the things that you hear in the morning? Alarm going off, birds singing and cars driving by?
Fifteen-year-old Muscogee (Creek) citizen Joseph Yahola has a different experience. Yahola’s family learned after he was born that he would deal with hearing loss over time. He is not classified as deaf but hard-of-hearing.
“Even at a young age Joseph could not hear,” Yahola’s uncle Russell Jacobs said. “He learned how to listen with a doctor’s stethoscope.”
Think about that. What would it be like?
Yahola, refuses to let it be a crutch. He said he has to learn how to adapt because he knows the world will not slow down or stop because he is hard-of-hearing.
“I learned how to read lips,” Yahola said. “That has helped me a lot.”
Yahola said he learned how to read lips when he was taught sign language. He started when he was in third grade.
“When my teachers said a word in sign language, they would move their lips and that is how I taught myself to read people’s lips,” Yahola said. “Since everyone does not know sign language, this does help me and the person that I am speaking too.”
While Yahola has a better understanding of reading lips, he is constantly learning sign language.
“I am learning just as much as the person next to me,” Yahola said. “I was real good but I lost some of the skills and I am getting better at it.”
Yahola is a freshman in high school and attends the Oklahoma School for the Deaf located in Sulphur, Okla. Like other teenagers, Yahola has an interest in extra-curricular sports such as football and basketball.
In football, Yahola plays kicker, defensive end and guard. With basketball, he plays shooting guard but he wants to be point guard.
“Football is great,” Yahola said. “We run a lot and I get to tackle people. Basketball is the same thing. I am trying real hard to be point guard for our team.”
This is Yahola’s first time playing football for a school. He has learned a lot from his coaches and from watching other players.
“My coaches have helped a lot,” Yahola said. “I had to learn a lot because this is my first year playing. I watched the other players from other teams at my position to see how they played too and that helped me out.”
High school football coach Tommy Varner spoke about Yahola. According to Varner, Yahola has grown to be a mentor to younger students.
“At times, Joseph was looking up to our past players,” Varner said in a written statement. “Now the shoe is on the other foot. I have younger kids looking up to Joseph and they want to be just like him when they get a little bit older.”
Both Yahola and Varner feel that being deaf or hard-of-hearing is not a handicap. There are other ways that they have to communicate but that is it. It does not hold them back from how they want to live their lives.
“Being deaf is not a handicap in our eyes,” Varner said. “I am deaf myself. I never viewed it as a handicap growing up. There are barriers with communication, that’s it.”
Varner reminds all of his students that they are no different than anyone else.
“We teach our deaf athletes that they are not any different than the hearing kids at the public schools,” Varner said. “They have a heart beating the same as ours. We can do anything we put our minds to but can’t hear.”
Yahola is not slowing down. He wants to keep trying out new things, getting good grades and playing the sports that he loves. He is not worried about being hard-of-hearing.
“I have my dreams,” Yahola said. “I am not letting what I have stop me from getting my dreams. I am getting better at sign language and I can read lips and everyone can hear what I am saying. I feel that there is nothing wrong at all and no communication is broken.”
(NDNSPORTS NOTE: This story was reposted with the permission of the Muscogee Nation News. All rights reserved)
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