When Yat Li was born, both his ears were very small and not properly formed due to a birth defect known as microtia, which causes severe hearing loss.
Growing up in China, he was refused entry into school in Hong Kong due to his condition, so Li’s parents decided to move to Canada when he was seven, hoping their son would have better opportunities.
Li had surgery when he was 12 for a specialized hearing aid that transfers sound by bone vibration directly to the cochlea, bypassing the outer and the middle ear.
It “changed my childhood,” said Li.
Being able to hear changed the way he approached school and, most importantly, his classmates.
Listen up, kids: Don’t take your hearing for granted
“That gave me a little more confidence,” said Li. “Growing up with two tiny ears, it’s really tough to get that confidence in school.”
When he was 21, Li had surgery for prosthetic ears that attach magnetically to small posts in his skull. He removes them at night to sleep and puts them back on in the morning.
Transform the stigma
He says he has come to terms with his condition and wants to remove the stigma around hearing impairment.
“Hearing loss affects a lot of things like isolation, depression and can lead to social anxiety as well,” said Li, who is now the marketing manager with the Western Institute for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.
According to the institute, one in 10 Canadians is impacted by some degree of hearing loss. The institute provides services to reduce barriers to employment and education, including employment counselling, prosthetic devices and hearing aids.
“I realize that there is nothing to hide, whether it’s my hearing loss, whether it’s my prosthetics — it’s okay to share that because people often are very curious.”
Li is speaking about his condition because May is Speech and Hearing Month in Canada and he wants people to make an appointment with their doctors to have their hearing checked.
“People get their eyes checked every year or two but, to be honest, when was the last time you [had] your hearing checked?” he said. “Early intervention is very important.”