Hearing loss: Disability Turned To Advantage

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Dalibor Dumic is a young man with a hearing disability. When he was taking his first steps in the field of engineering, he never imagined it would bring him to where he now is. This is the story about this courageous young man, his unbreakable spirit and positive attitude that changed his life, and the lives of other people around him.

Hearing loss
Hearing loss

Born in 1994 in the war zone of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as a baby Dalibor got sick and had a high temperature. It affected his hearing ability. Since that moment, his hearing loss has measured over 80%. However, his disability gave him the inspiration to change the world for the better.

 

First, I have to ask you: how did (or does) it feel to live with hearing loss? What were some of your experiences like, throughout life? Tell us your story from the beginning.

In an early stage of my childhood, because of my hearing problems and undeveloped speech skills, people saw me as a mentally retarded child. Given that I lost my hearing when I was just a baby, I never had problems with coping with that because I never knew (except the first eight months, which I don’t remember) how it feels to have 100% healthy hearing.

What I did lose is a child-like hope that everything must end well and that I can change the world. I couldn’t really understand people around me when they were talking, so the first words that I learned were, for a long time, the only words I knew. My mother was really trying to teach me how to speak, so she made picture books and was teaching me even before the diagnosis was official.

My view of the world, as a child, was also formed by this handicap, and I did have a couple of difficulties. Mostly, I wasn’t aware of the things my peers already knew about. When a child is growing up, it can hear what parents are talking about and according to that, the child learns to speak and how to behave.

My handicap was the reason why I had to learn all those things in a later period of my life. A couple of years after my diagnosis, my parents bought me my first hearing aid, this memory brings a smile to my face even today and from that moment – improvement started.

One year after getting my hearing aid, with guidance from my speech therapist, pedagogue, but mostly from my mother, I started speaking better and was able to express myself normally, though with a bit of an accent which makes people ask me where I come from.

My family was always here for me and still is my biggest support. In preschool, I mostly hung out with my brother, and we were inseparable. After getting the hearing aid, as I said, I started working on my speech at the Association of People with Hearing and Speech Disability in Bihać. Rehabilitation was a must to get me better. When I was six, I spoke slowly but knew how to form a proper sentence.

Besides being slow, I had to think fast according to my surroundings, so I can listen, understand them, think about the answer, and, in the end, actually say something. When I was seven, I had to start going to elementary school, just like all the other kids and educate myself just as I’m doing now. At that time, children with problems like mine were put in a different type of school, because the law for these cases didn’t exist then.

I got a call for an examination. I went there with my mother, and the psychologist told us that I couldn’t go to school because of my hearing and speech disability. My mother prolonged my enrollment in school. The psychologist didn’t even test my knowledge but showed me the door just because of my hearing loss.

That hurt my mother badly, so that year, she worked with me more than ever. My brother was in the third grade at that time, and he needed his mother’s attention also. But now when I talk to him, he says he never really felt neglected. After that year, I took the examination again. That time, I wanted to give my psychologist a present (not knowing about bribery, of course) so I made a drawing of a jar with flowers on it, and on the top, I wrote: “This is for school.”

The psychologist was amazed. Of course, my speaking skills were a lot better, and I had already learned how to do the basics of math and how to write. When I went through the whole examination all over again, the psychologist asked me about the flowers. I told her I made it, so she wanted me to sign my name. Which I did.

Then, she told me I’m not for the first grade… My knowledge is at the level of the third grade. My mother was more than happy to hear this news. Tears of joy streamed down her face. On my first day, my mother brought me to my classroom, where I met all my future friends and my teacher.

The teacher was very supportive and slowly pronounced every sentence, so I could understand her. With good and supportive people like this, I finished my first year of school with straight As. At the end of my second year, I was learning everything by myself. Rehabilitation was still happening, but only at home.

Hearing loos
Dalibor

 

While you were growing older, people reacted differently, I suppose? Did you get any more or less support than before?

For me to understand, a person has to speak clearly, slowly, and without any yelling. Most often, my problem with people who found out about my problem was that they would start yelling, thinking I would hear them better, instead of talking more clearly. Some of my peers would even mock me by doing just that – speaking loudly. That was one thing that drove my brother crazy, so he would defend me all the time.

Generally, it’s very important not to talk loudly with children with hearing issues, because that can affect them deeply.

Today, in college, it’s also very hard to follow what professors are saying. For people who learn their mother tongue later in life, it’s hard to learn other languages. But I was determined to learn English, so I could study in college and become an active participant of this historical period when everything is written down in English.

If I had problems with the Bosnian language, you can imagine my problems with English. The writing wasn’t ever a big problem. Speaking was. But with great determination, extensive learning, and never giving up, I have accomplished quite a good level of understanding English as a foreign language.

College is, because of that, harder for me than for most of the students. But I manage (as you can see) and people around me are very supportive, helping me when I need it. The fact that my brother hasn’t needed to defend me for a long time says enough all by itself.

 

So, regarding education, when did you take your first steps with engineering?

When I was a kid, I used to play a computer game called Solitaire in my mother’s office. That was my first experience with a computer. When I’d get bored, I’d explore the computer. That was my first step towards being interested in technology, although I still wasn’t sure it was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

In elementary school, I had some instructions about computers. That’s how I first learned the basics. When my brother and I bought our first computer, we would play games on it all day long, and I was always interested in how those games were made.

Those moments made me sure that engineering was something that I wanted to do. The high school I went to was focused on electrical engineering. When I started going to school, I quickly realized that all of my friends knew many things about computers, so I spent all of my days just exploring the world of engineering and PCs. I wanted to know everything. My first real step was to disassemble my computer.

Luckily, I managed it without breaking anything. In high school, I got hooked on a browser game called Ikariam, and I spent a lot of time playing it. In relation to that game, there was a forum about graphic design and web design. At my first competition, I was a complete amateur, but after hundreds of tutorials, I got a handle on how things work and even won some of the competitions.

The administrators at one forum even took the time to interview me. For many things I know today, I can thank the internet and online tutorials. When I realized how happy it all made me, I fell in love with it. That’s how it all started, really. Today, when I get a task that I have to do, or a project, I can easily implement all of my ideas. I always say that everything is possible, you just need to use imagination, knowledge, and sometimes Google.

 

Engineering was always part of your life. Your positive spirit got you going. But, tell us the secret of that infinite source of imagination and positivity in your life.

Given that I have hearing loss, I have often gone to gatherings with people with disabilities. I’ve met many types of people there, from blind ones to those with mental retardation. My mother is an active member of many groups that support, help, and fight for the rights of people with disabilities, so she knows about the main problems those people have.

But, people turn a blind eye to these kinds of issues, so I decided to do something about it. It’s great when you use technology to make fancy things, but I think it’s more important to use technology to help others.

I really like it when I’m able to help people. That’s my motivation. And the strength and energy I have is something I get from my mother and my brother. We’ve always been together, through thick and thin. With my family, I was – and still am – able to keep fighting for better things.

youth time personalitites 2, hearing loss, Dalibor Dumic
Dalibor Dumic

On your web site, I can see you have been involved in a biomedical-controlled wheelchair, piano gloves, robots… You have diverse ideas and seem very capable of implementing them in real life. Tell us something more about some of your projects.

In my spare time, I do a lot of experimenting, because that’s a hobby of mine and my real passion, and not just something I do for college. I always thought that was going to be my biggest problem when I started working because I wouldn’t have enough time for my hobbies.

So now I use all of my free moments to do projects which are interesting and profitable (given my overall knowledge). Each one of my projects has had both of those characteristics. One of the – “Web Home Alarm Security” – was a project I did as a high school senior and is based on the idea of the modern smart home system.

With that project, I won 1st place in a contest open to everyone in my country, and it brought me one step closer to becoming the leading student of my generation in the high school I attended. After that, the “Piano Gloves” project was done at the end of my first year in college, with my colleagues Ermin Podrug and Nedim Gegić. It’s about gloves which let you play piano anywhere you want, even though you don’t have an actual piano near you. The project won 1st place at a college competition.

Next, a project called “Eye-Man” was something I did with two of my friends (Faruk CidiC and Sead Banda) and won first place for technical implementation at the world hackathon competition EMECS-thon 2016. We made a robot that can lead the blind so they can walk easily without fearing obstacles in their way.

The robot is connected with a cellphone application. Recently, I’ve finished a project called the “Brain-controlled wheelchair” and applied for the Microsoft Imagine Cup. I hope for good results and I certainly have more plans for that project.

The “Brain-controlled wheelchair” was recognized by the world’s best company in Europe – Verlab d.o., which works with verification of medical equipment. They decided to be my support for any of my future projects, and my future in general. The fact that I enjoy my work is the secret behind my success.

 

Do you have a favorite project?

Every project is special, but I’d like to point out my two favorite ones. The first one is “Web Home Alarm Security”, which gave me the opportunity to win a state competition and to learn many new things in a short period of time and which enabled to be the best high school student in my generation and made it easier to get a scholarship to the

International Burch University. I started working on it with a low level of knowledge about embedded systems. Of course, it was quite a challenge for me, and I took a risk of investing a lot of money into it. In four months I completed a project which made it possible to know the home temperature, air humidity, movement of doors (opened or closed), the possibility of fire, and even when anything in your home gets turned on and off.

And all of that monitored over a web page and an ordinary web camera. In that project, I worked with five different programming languages and advanced electronic equipment.

The second project – “Eye Man” – was the one from which I got plenty of the public’s attention. That project made me able to connect with Admir Tuzovic, the evangelist of Microsoft B&H, who enrolled me in a Microsoft Students Partner program.

In this project, we made a robot that moves and avoids obstacles. The moment the robot encounters some kind of barrier, it sends a notification to the cellphone application and then the app notifies the blind person with proper sounds.

 

What are your plans for the future?

What I plan on doing is promoting my projects and launching new ones. But, for starters, my most important goal is to finish college and even get an M.A. degree if my financial situation lets me do so. Nonetheless, I would like to work at biotechnical engineering companies or something of that sort, which would enable me to keep on with my education and ensure a crucial position from which I can become an innovative and helpful part of our community.

Read more here.

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