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Coleman's Message is Heard Loud and Clear

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Seattle Seahawks fullback Derrick Coleman has never listened to the critics. He has never backed down from the challenges that come with being deaf.

And in doing so, he has embodied what many with hearing loss have always strived for – to fit in and be given a chance like everyone else to pursue their dreams and reach their potential.

For Coleman, all he has ever wanted to do was to play football.

Coleman was recently featured in a compelling Duracell commercial – which has now gone viral - chronicling his path to the National Football League.

The commercial begins with Coleman in the Seahawks locker room, sitting at his locker, putting on digital hearing aids before a game. As he narrates, the viewer is shown various flashbacks from his life. He describes in his own voice, the challenges he overcomes since being diagnosed with hearing loss at age three.

It concludes with Coleman coming out of the tunnel, onto the field, to the roar of the crowd, and his heartfelt words:

"There are a lot of fans cheering me on. And I can hear every one of them." 

Coleman has embraced his role in becoming a prominent figure to others with hearing loss.

"I think it's awesome for him to standout in the deaf community that he can inspire others to play sports no matter what," said Lily Giancola, who was born profoundly deaf and was one of the earliest pediatric recipients of a Cochlear Implant in the late 1980s.

Giancola knows a little something about being deaf and playing a team sport alongside hearing teammates. She played soccer, and was a goalkeeper, earning three varsity letters at Norwin High School. 

Today, Giancola works as an Educational Technology Specialist at DePaul School for Hearing and Speech in Shadyside, a school she attended as a child, which is devoted to developing listening, hearing and spoken language skills for children with hearing loss. She feels that Coleman is a wonderful role model, especially for children.

"It's great for kids with disabilities to look up to him because they can see that they can overcome obstacles and develop greater self-esteem," added Giancola.

Thanks to new technology and early diagnosis from mandatory newborn screenings, those born with significant hearing loss are provided more opportunities to be on teams and compete with their hearing peers. During the past 20 years, participation in mainstream sports by those with significant hearing loss has increased dramatically.

In 1996, Dr. Catherine Palmer, Director, Audiology, Department of Otolaryngology, UPMC’s Eye and Ear Institute, was involved in the publishing a book, "Time Out! I Didn’t Hear You," as a resource and comprehensive guide, describing the types of assistive technology and simple strategies that can make all sports accessible to young people with hearing loss.

“Involvement in sports teaches teamwork, problem solving, time management, and promotes healthy life styles. This is just as important for children with hearing loss as any other child,” said Palmer. “Often, youth with hearing loss are steered away from team sports because of the perceived communication barriers, but children should be able to choose the sport they love just like Derrick Coleman did.”  

Seven year-old Bennett Haas attends a public elementary school in Quaker Valley School District. Haas is pretty much your typical, active boy. He enjoys playing baseball and soccer, and the only thing that makes him stand apart from his peers, with whom he interacts with regularly at school and on the ball fields, is that both he and his nine-year-old brother Declan have cochlear implants. 

Coleman's success has made it realistic for a profoundly deaf child like Bennett Haas to dream big. 

"The commercial made me feel more hopeful about accomplishing my goal of making it into the Major Leagues -- and inspired me to accomplish all my goals," said Haas. 

Tyler Stack has made the transition recently into a new school as a sixth grader at St. Margaret of Scotland in Greentree, but he has always participated in sports alongside his hearing peers. Stack has played soccer, basketball and deck hockey.  

"Tyler recognizes that are difficulties he faces each time he takes the field," said Sue Stack, Tyler's mother. "The noise on the soccer field and on the basketball courts are a lot less than in a professional stadium but he doesn't quit or get discouraged. He has been fortunate in that his teammates accept him and actually work hard to make sure he knows the plays. It is really awesome that he has that kind of support."

Derrick Coleman faced many barriers that young aspiring athletes face today. NFL

But he didn't listen to the detractors. He relied on support from those closest to him, and he worked twice as hard to earn the respect of his teammates, and his coaches. 

Thanks to his perseverance, Coleman has shown many young people with hearing loss that they can pursue their dreams in sports or any walk of life. 

John Krysinsky, contributing writer to Pittsburgh Sports Report, was diagnosed with severe-to-moderate hearing loss at age three, and has relied on use of hearing aids his entire life. He is a former player and head coach for Point Park University's men's soccer team, and currently an assistant coach of varsity boys soccerat Shady Side Academy Senior School.

Thanks to funding from PA Initiative on Assistive Technology, "Time Out! I Didn’t Hear You" is a book that covers every high school sport in PA and describes the types of assistive technology and simple strategies that can make all sports accessible to young people with hearing loss.  It is available for free, to read or download on the web: http://www.pitt.edu/~cvp/timeout.pdf.

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