Cote fights through hearing impairment

Julie Cote, a Washburn student with a hearing impairment, works to balance life and school.

38-year-old student, Julie Cote of Washburn University, has been hearing impaired since she was born, because of a birth defect that left her brain protruding outside her skull. It wasn’t until age five that Cote discovered she had a hearing disability.

With zero percent hearing ability in her left ear and seven percent hearing ability in her right ear, Cote said she has approximately two years left until she is completely deaf.

“My husband is very open to the fact that I’m going to be completely deaf,” said Cote. “I pray that I won’t because I enjoy hearing, ‘I love you mom,’ or my era of music, but it’s a reality I have to face.”

Cote also says her husband, Iraq veteran, Russell Cote, has been very patient and understanding.  Recently wed on Sept. 11, her husband feels she has been just as understanding and helpful with him.

“[She] helps me with my medications and makes sure to remind me,” said Russell Cote.

Although sign language is no longer taught at Washburn, Cote said her husband has decided to learn sign language.

Yet, being part of the theatre program at Washburn, Cote decided she would be a part of Eve Ensler’s, “The Vagina Monologues” by directing and performing sign language for the deaf. Cote says there were no deaf people in the crowd.

Before coming to Washburn, Cote had no idea the university had student services. Cote said when she was growing up; there were no special services available at the school she attended in Topeka.  Although thankful for the services at Washburn, Cote wishes the university could improve their program.

“I’m grateful that Washburn has student services, but I feel they need to do more to expand,” said Cote.

According to the Washburn admissions office, if a student wanted to visit Washburn, an interpreter could be arranged for the tour if the school knew ahead of time, but there is sometimes no directly employed interpreter available on a moment’s notice.

Cote also believes that students who are hearing impaired should be able to live on campus with ease, and that resident assistants should be required to know sign language and communicate with them.

Being on a busy college campus can still have its trials. Cote said that sometimes it is difficult to hear one person in a crowded room.

“The problem is in a situation, like if I’m in the cafeteria, I can see you your lips moving, but I can hear the people behind me,” said Cote.

In the classroom, Cote has asked if she can move around, because it is difficult for her to concentrate for a long period of time with no interruptions. Most professors at Washburn allow Cote to get up and move around if need be. Yet, when it comes to test taking, Cote needs full concentration.

“I have to sit in an isolated office with student services to take my tests,” said Cote. “Someone sneezes, and my concentration is fully off.”

Cote plans to major in Human Services and minor in Theatre. Her plan is to give back to by helping students in area high schools with physical disabilities. Although Cote has thought about starting an organization for students at Washburn with disabilities, she believes it’d be a little too much to handle, right now.

Cote said she has friends here who will tell her if the sirens are going off, or if an announcement has been made, but there are also people who aren’t very respectful of the matter.

“Think of it as you having a terrible cold and your ears are clogged up,” said Cote. 
”Wouldn’t you want me to tell you if something was said?”

Cote said she doesn’t feel sorry for herself, nor should anyone with any disability. Overcoming people telling her what she could and couldn’t do, Cote plans to graduate in the next few years.

“I graduated from high school in 1990, but I was told you’ll never be able to go to college. You’ll never be able to drive,” said Cote. “The more people said you can’t, the madder that made me.”

Cote has two children and a dog, who she says makes her very happy. Recently married, Cote has an optimistic outlook on life.

“I’m a person with a disability, but I’m not disabled,” said Cote. “If we were all perfect, it’d be boring. Don’t feel sorry for me. I’m living life. I love it.”