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Hearing loss doesn’t slow down EHS senior

Hayden Baker lets nothing stop him. 

The Elizabeth High School senior has worn hearing aids since he was seven months old and has spent his whole life adjusting, experimenting with technology, and advocating for himself to ensure he receives education and opportunities like anyone else. 

He already has plans to enroll at Pikes Peak State College in Colorado Springs next fall to study computer science. His ultimate goal is video game design, but he’s done enough research to learn the wisest path is to get a job as a coder and work toward becoming a game designer.

Hayden learned he had an aptitude for coding in middle school and went on to take every computer science class he could at EHS, including Advanced Placement Principles of Computer Science. He’s also deeply involved with high-tech extracurricular activities as part of the Technology Students Association to learn coding and programming as well as EHS’ brand-new e-sports team, on which he competes by playing Super Smash Bros. 

 Elizabeth Winslow and Hayden Baker talk about assistive-hearing technologyHis favorite games are Minecraft “because of the freedom you have in it” and a phone-based game called Unsolved Mysteries, which is a bit like being in an escape room, he said. 

Both his aptitude for technology and his methodical approach are products of the trial-and-error triumphs that have always been part of his life. 

Hayden has worn hearing aids since he was seven months old. To help other people understand his level of hearing loss, he says to imagine trying to listen to someone through a wall. When he started kindergarten, he spoke fast and loudly. “Because of my hearing loss, I hear myself louder,” he said. “It’s like if you plug your ears. When I was younger, I had speech problems, and some of it’s because of hearing loss. When I started kindergarten, it started getting better, and then it just got better from there.”

At Singing Hills Elementary School, he was introduced to what became a small army of special services staff members over the years who helped find assistive hearing devices that could be used when he was in the classroom. Hearing aids help a great deal, but in open classrooms with a couple dozen students, microphones that can either be worn by teachers or placed near them make a significant difference. 

The technology was far from perfect, however. Hayden had to deal with occasional disruptions when something came unplugged or batteries ran out. When that occurred, Hayden said, “I was like, ‘What happened? Why did it stop?’” He learned patience and troubleshooting skills as the years went on and more advanced, dependable devices became available. 

Hayden said his family had considered moving to a different district at one point, but they stayed because of the support Hayden received. “The reason why we like the school district we're in is because they actually give us the support we need,” he said. Throughout his time at Singing Hills, Elizabeth Middle School, and EHS, he has had the help of audiologists, teachers and other staff members who went out of their way to ensure updated, better technology was always available. They made sure to stock their toolkits with everything that might be needed to fix or replace component parts. 

The kinds of hurdles Hayden has figured out how to overcome have often been the difference between “OK” and “good,” or between “good” and “great.”

When he was moving up from elementary to middle school, Hayden got new hearing aids and used them in conjunction with a necklace-like school device which allowed him to bridge his hearing aids to the school’s microphone system via Bluetooth. However, the device proved to be less than dependable. 

When it broke, it had to be sent away for repairs, leaving Hayden with no assistive technology at school until it was repaired and returned. “That’s when we learned that I benefit from this,” he said. “Because [without the mic] my grades were not as great as they are now. They weren’t bad, but they just weren’t as great as they are now.”

His audiologist in middle school told him about a new kind of hearing aid, the type which Hayden still uses. She wanted him to be prepared for moving up to high school, which can be a lot louder environment. He needed to think about what he would do --

  • if a classroom was loud and one of his hearing aids stopped working: “I would ask the teacher to speak louder.” 
  • if both hearing aids failed: “I know how to read lips and I would tell the teachers – which has helped me because that’s where I have really stepped up in my self-advocacy.”

That self-advocacy takes other forms, too, including what his devices look like. Hayden chose black and bright red for his. “I get flashy colors for a reason,” he said. “I’m not one of those people who says, ‘Hide it. Hide it.’ I don’t want to hide it because I’m like, ‘This is mine only.’ It’s not theirs. It’s what I have to go with every day. … I like to be open about this.”

 Elizabeth Winslow and Hayden Baker talk about assistive-hearing technologyHe said having his hearing aids visible actually leads to conversations with other people who have challenges as well as those who don’t but are interested in understanding. One thing about people his age, Hayden said, is that they are accepting of people who have something different about them, and they seldom treat people poorly because of differences.

“Some of them wish that their own tech could do what my tech can … like their Airpods – [they say] ‘I wish mine could do that!’”

As he prepares to leave Elizabeth School District for college, Hayden looks back with gratitude to all the people who looked out for him: 

  • His parents, who never failed to take him to doctors and specialists, made sure he was equipped with the best possible hearing devices. 
  • The staff at Children’s Hospital, some of whom have known Hayden his whole life and thus can provide immediate assistance. 
  • The educators, special services staff and others at Elizabeth School District, including Elizabeth Winslow, his current teacher of the deaf/hard of hearing. They have patiently and persistently found ways to lower barriers to his everyday ability to thrive in classes. 

All the troubleshooting and times when assistive tech didn’t work perfectly put Hayden through a lot more than his peers. But somewhere along the way, he developed a growth mindset: All of those setbacks were learning opportunities and not just sources of frustration. He learned from every bump in the road and can speak at length about the function, specifications and components of each piece of hearing-assistance tech. 

Winslow said Hayden could easily be a product representative for the companies that make them. With his college education, it won’t be surprising to see Hayden developing new technologies in that market or any other. 

Whatever he chooses to do, he has proven that nothing can stop him.