March is Indiana’s Disability Awareness Month. According to the Indiana governor’s council for people with disabilities’ website, the purpose is to increase awareness while promoting the inclusion and independence of people with disabilities. Below is the first of three profiles taking a closer look in to the lives of Purdue students who have disabilities.
When the parents of a Purdue hurdler found out their son was deaf at a young age, they didn’t know the devastating diagnosis would morph into a blessing.
Josh Hembrough, a senior in the College of Health and Human Sciences, was walking at 10 months old but still couldn’t form words. When his parents took him to an audiologist, they were told their son was profoundly deaf in both ears.
Josh wore hearing aids until he was 10 years old, when he received a cochlear implant, a surgically implanted electronic device that provides a sense of sound for deaf people.
Josh recalled the exciting moment where he heard for the first time.
“I was simply speechless,” Josh said.
His mother, Karen Hembrough, agreed.
“When the processor was first turned on, I said his name and Josh grinned from ear to ear and said, ‘I hear you!’” Karen said. “Our hearts soared and from that moment, life for Josh did get much better.”
Josh joined multiple sports teams, including baseball, basketball and track. Focusing on hurdles, Josh got onto Purdue’s track team and won a gold medal in Taipei City, Taiwan in 2009. There he set the Deaflympic World Record in the 110-meter hurdles with his time at 14.16 seconds.
Purdue assistant coach for jumps and short hurdles Myron McClure said Josh works hard both in the classroom and on the track.
“He never has let his disability affect his ability to be successful,” McClure said. “Josh is one of the most unselfish athletes I have ever met, given his success.”
When Josh attends class, he uses Communication Access Realtime Translation. This is a system on his computer that hears what the teacher says in class and types it so he can read it if he doesn’t hear it.
“It’s funny because sometimes a professor will say a joke in class and everyone will laugh but I won’t know what they said until I read it, so I laugh after everyone else,” Josh said.
He also admitted to occasionally taking off his implant when someone was talking and he didn’t want to hear them anymore.
“I just smile and nod so they think I know what they’re saying but really I can’t hear them,” Josh said.
Now Josh is student teaching at West Lafayette Junior/Senior High School and said his lip-reading ability is helpful when students are talking while he’s teaching.
Josh said his advice to people dealing with disabilities is to never give up.
“Sometimes bad things happen so they can put you on the right path that leads to opportunities you never thought possible,” he said.