by Mike Cohen
reprinted from the EMSB newsletter Inspirations (Vol. 1 No. 1 Fall 2008)
William (Bill) Steinberg recently returned to Hampstead Elementary School for one of his regular visits. More than 50 years ago he was a student there as a special needs student, having been born with a sensorineural hearing loss, with damaged hair cells in the cochlea. Today, he is the mayor of Hampstead and a successful businessman.
“At birth it was a severe to moderate loss at that time,” Mayor Steinberg says. “It was diagnosed when I was in Grade 2 and I got a hearing aid built into my glasses at that time. However, in those days they did not have the sophisticated hearing aids that we have today so it was basically an amplifier. For a little kid that meant that background noise was very loud and uncomfortable so I simply didn’t start using it until the second term of Grade 5. At that point my marks shot up dramatically.” And how did he cope?
“Honestly, not well,” he admits. “My mother worked with me a lot at home on subjects that required hearing, especially spelling and French. Over the course of my academic career, I did better and better because I could rely on reading rather than listening. In Hampstead School the only accommodation that I got was that they did not fail me and that was solely because they knew my IQ and that the poor performance was due to the hearing handicap. In High School at West Hill I did much better but Oral French was almost impossible. I was given a 56 percent, with 50 being a passing grade at the time, so I could go to university but I probably deserved a 30 percent. At McGill I did well and in graduate school at Northwestern where I got my Ph.D. I was top of my class with straight A’s. I thoroughly enjoyed graduate school because the classes were small and research involved one on one contact with my professors so the hearing handicap was not a serious problem.”
In November 2004 Mayor Steinberg got cochlear implants. “The change has been miraculous,” he says. “By the time I got the implant, my hearing loss on the worse side was classified as profound, meaning I could hear but make out very little even with a powerful hearing aid. On the better side the loss was severe. I could no longer carry out a reasonable conversation on the phone. Today I can talk for hours and miss not much more than someone with normal hearing. I needed infrared devices hooked to my hearing aids to watch movies and I still missed a lot. I no longer use any assistive devices at movies and miss not much more than someone with normal hearing. My wife is thrilled since it was very frustrating repeating everything. That is no longer necessary. However, a cochlear implant does not provide perfect hearing in all situations. Two or more people talking at the same time is very difficult. Any language other than English is close to impossible. However, overall my gains have been at the top of the scale and miraculous is the best one word description.”
William Steinberg is indeed an inspiration to anyone with a hearing impairment.