Inside the Research | June 2018 Hearing Review
Okay. I’m fully aware that readers enjoy this column because it goes “Inside the Research,” interviewing scientists, clinicians, and researchers to understand more about important findings in hearing healthcare. But once in a while something comes along so interesting that it qualifies as a “Eureka moment” without even being directly related to hard science or clinical topics.
One such instance is the TED Talk by Justin Osmond titled “Embracing Our Limitations” published on YouTube in February.1 If you have not seen it yet, you can view it below. You will not be disappointed. It is a 15-minute talk by Osmond that deals with his personal struggles with severe-to-profound hearing loss in an unusually musical family. However, as you will see in this interview, Osmond’s perspective on hearing loss—and limitations in general—is quite unique and inspiring.
I have known Justin for many years, and caught up with him to learn more about his TED Talk and his continuing work in hearing healthcare advocacy.
Beck: Hi Justin! As always, it’s an absolute joy to speak with you.
Osmond: Thanks Doug. Although we text and share a few notes and photos every year through social media, I’m thinking we haven’t spoken in a year!
Beck: I agree, it’s been at least a year. Honestly, I’ve been smiling ear to ear since we booked this interview. I’ve been looking forward to it all week, as you’re one of the most uplifting and positive people I’ve ever known—and I’m still saying that after knowing you for some 20+ years!
Osmond: Thanks Doug. Coming from you, I can only take that as a huge compliment.
Beck: It’s an honest and well-deserved compliment. And for the few reading this who are unsure of who your are—I’ll just put it out there and get it out of the way…Your dad, Merrill, is one of the famous singing Osmond Brothers and, yes, Donnie and Marie are your uncle and aunt.
Clearly you come from exceptional stock! But equally impressive are the amazing and charitable works your wife, Christy, and you are involved with, along with your beautiful daughters. In fact, I know we spoke in 2015 as you ran 250 miles to raise money for charity, and it’s pretty amazing that your grandmother, Olive Osmond, started the Osmond Foundation to raise money for hearing aids.2 That same charity eventually became the Children’s Miracle Network, which has raised more than $5 billion to help children domestically and internationally.
And one of us has to say it…you were clearly Olive’s favorite grandson! So how old are the girls now?
Osmond: Thanks Doug. Emma and Eve are about 19 months old, and they’ve brought nothing but joy and meaning to life for Kristi and me. And, in fact, every day and every week it gets better and better! Watching them play, learn, and grow is nothing less than amazing! How old are your daughters now?
Beck: Olivia and Hannah are in their mid-to-late twenties, and you’re right, it just gets better every year!
Osmond: Tell them I said hi and send them my best wishes!
Beck: Absolutely, I will. But the reason we’ve scheduled this interview is the totally incredible TED Talk you recently published, titled “Embracing Our Limitations.” It was so well executed, and so meaningful—and I am absolutely certain your message of joy, influence, and inspiration came across loud and clear to the millions of viewers.
Osmond: Thanks Doug. The people at TED were fantastic, and I was so happy with the end result. As I said in my talk and in my book, Hearing with my Heart, I may have a hearing loss, but the hearing loss doesn’t have me.
Beck: Tell me more about that. What do you mean when you say the hearing loss doesn’t have you?
Osmond: Doug, you’re an audiologist, so when you look at my test results, you know I am just about deaf; I cannot hear conversational speech at all without my hearing aids. For most of the people I meet, they think I’m from a foreign country because of my unusual deaf accent, and when I explain I’m deaf but I can hear them with hearing aids, they have a hard time understanding what that means or what it must be like.
I understand, it’s not an everyday thing for most people. But, as you mentioned before, I was born deaf into this amazing musical family. I couldn’t hear them sing, and certainly I couldn’t sing. It was very difficult. I had a really hard time growing up. I guess you could say I had an identity crisis, trying to figure out how I fit into this incredible musical family. I remember thinking “How come I don’t have the golden throat like my aunts, uncles, and dad?” And, for a longtime, I felt inferior and I struggled because I was trying to become someone I was not.
I said in the TED Talk I wished I could’ve sounded like Donnie and Marie, or my dad…and seriously, there’s nothing wrong with role models, good examples, and mentors—as long as you fulfill who you are with their insight and guidance, and not what you are. You simply will never be fulfilled or satisfied while trying to be someone you’re not.
Beck: And if I can jump in, based on our previous discussions, your “Ah-Hah! moment” came when you finally accepted who you are as a person, a son, a brother, a dad, and a husband—not what you are—which you had previously defined as a deaf person.
Osmond: Exactly. And that’s where the quote comes from. I absolutely have a very serious hearing loss. But to me, it’s not a handicap or a disability. In my case, due to amazing teachers, friends, family, and others, it has actually been a benefit in many respects, and it has taught me things I would otherwise have no idea or knowledge about.
Hearing loss or deafness is not the main theme of how I identify as a person. I accept it and I move on. And, so yes, I have a hearing loss, but it doesn’t have me.
Beck: Which I think you adapted from you uncle Alan, right?
Osmond: Exactly. Yes, he was one of my heros, and as you recall, he had multiple sclerosis (MS). But he is very positive and very enthusiastic, and that’s where I first saw the difference your attitude makes. He used to always say “I may have MS, but MS doesn’t have me.” And the more I thought about him and those words, the more of an impact it had on me, and I wanted to face the world like he does.
Beck: That’s great Justin. Thanks for sharing that. So let me ask you, on behalf of the moms and dads who found out their child is deaf, much like the situation your parents found themselves in, what advice would you give the parents of a newly diagnosed deaf or hard-of-hearing child?
Osmond: The first thing is to realize you can find an excuse, or you can find a way. We all understand the parents are going to feel scared and frustrated, maybe hopeless, maybe lost. The mountain in front of them is huge. But they have to take one step at a time. Get the very best expert opinions you can, and listen to them. Ask them every question that comes to mind. Write down the questions and the answers so you won’t forget!
The audiologists and speech language pathologists who worked with me for more than a dozen years when I was a child were amazing. They gave us hope, direction, knowledge, and years and years of excellent advice, and therapy, and hearing aid adjustments, and more adjustments.
Denial is not an option; it wastes time and timing matters. The quicker one is diagnosed and treated, the better the outcome. Learn all you can, then learn some more, and always put your child’s education and well-being first.
We can choose to embrace limitations, or we embrace potential. And, Doug, you know very well that, to me, my deafness is not a curse, it’s a blessing. It’s not a disadvantage, it’s an opportunity. I call it the “disability advantage,” and we get to choose to turn negatives into positives. It’s a choice. You know, when I’m in too much noise, I get to turn off my hearing aids! We conquer adversity by not letting it own us or control us.
Beck: Justin, I know you don’t like to talk about politics or personal issues in public, and I respect and admire that, but can you tell me your thoughts about over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids?
Osmond: Sure. The thing about OTC is that people with hearing loss have no way to know what they don’t know. This is a very sensitive issue and even though it is kind of personal, I am happy to share my opinion on this.
As you know, I am all about quality. Doing my very best, being my very best, working with the best, seeking the best. I am concerned that when adults have hearing loss, and they try to self-diagnose and self-treat—although they may make some progress, and maybe some will do fine—for those who don’t achieve excellence, they may not know what’s possible, and they almost certainly won’t have the quality of care which they need and want. Perhaps some will give up, without ever experiencing the hearing care results which they need, which I have received, and which have significantly added to who I am.
I know OTC allows a cheaper acquisition cost, but there are trade-offs when we acquire a cheaper car, a cheaper shoe, a cheaper phone, a cheaper hearing aid. Hearing is the most important of the five senses, and I recommend the highest quality service, products, and maintenance, because the hearing aid and the way it’s fitted quite literally feeds your brain.
Doug, I think it was you who told me that 80% of everything one learns is based on incidental, or non-intentional hearing and over-hearing?
Beck: Yes, that was a quote I relayed from my friend, Dr Jane Madell, one of the world’s most fabulous pediatric audiologist, and I think she was exactly right!
Okay, Justin, I know you have to run. Send my best to the family and thanks so much for your time, and thanks for the amazing TED Talk. I think your positive attitude and enthusiasm is contagious, and I am very proud to call you my friend!
Osmond: Thanks Doug. I appreciate your kind words, and I value our friendship, too. Let’s be sure to get together in 2018 and I’ll see you soon!
Citation for this article: Beck DL. Embracing limitations: A sensational TED talk and an unterview with Justin Osmond. Hearing Review. 2018;25(6):34-36.
Correspondence to Dr Beck at: [email protected]
Justin Osmond. Embracing our Limitations. February 23, 2018. TEDxRexburg Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zimNHUE4P6I
Beck DL. Bringing Music to Your Ears: Interview with Justin Osmond. April 8, 2015. Available at: https://www.audiology.org/news/bringing-music-your-ears-interview-justin-osmond
About the Author. Douglas L. Beck, AuD, is Executive Director of Academic Sciences at Oticon Inc, Somerset, NJ. He has served as Editor In Chief at AudiologyOnline, and Web Content Editor for the American Academy of Audiology (AAA). Dr Beck is an Adjunct Clinical Professor of Communication Disorders and Sciences at State University of New York, Buffalo, and also serves as Senior Editor of Clinical Research for the Hearing Review’s Inside the Research column.