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Nov 14, 2002

Hearing Calvin's Call

Making the transition from high school to college is often tough. Making it with essentially no hearing is even tougher. But, for first-year Calvin student Nathaniel Veltman, a solid support system is making his first semester in Grand Rapids a good one.

Veltman, a native of Cochrane, Ontario, began losing his hearing when he was about five years old. He now is completely deaf in his left ear and has about 25 to 30 percent of normal hearing capacity in his right ear.

So how is he adjusting to life at Calvin? He has some significant strategies, tricks he's honed over the years plus assistance in several key areas from Calvin.

For one, Veltman relies on reading lips to understand people. But he is an auditory learner, meaning he learns best by hearing things spoken. So, he sits in the front row in every class at Calvin to be sure he can read the professor's lips. But, he also gives each of his professors a portable microphone that they wear around their necks. It has a wireless connection to his hearing aid and he can adjust the volume with a remote he always keeps in his pocket. The volume control comes in handy; occasionally Veltman has picked up the hungry growl of a professor's stomach.

Veltman also works closely with Calvin's Karen Broekstra, who works with students with disabilities. They touch base regularly through both e-mail and face-to-face meetings to discuss how classes are going, what solutions are working and where different strategies could be implemented.

Residence hall life poses other challenges. To supplement the fire alarm, which he might not hear, Calvin has installed a blinking strobe light in Veltman's room. And to make sure he gets to class on time he has a special vibrating alarm clock under his pillow to shake him out of bed.

While it helps to have his twin brother Ben (who is not hearing-impaired) as his roommate, Veltman says social situations can still be hard to deal with. "It's harder to talk with people in groups, because they go back and forth really fast," he says. Sometimes people don't want to take the time to understand him, or even if they do, they're not sure how to act.

Veltman says it's actually pretty simple: have only one person talk at once, pronounce words clearly so he can read lips and be patient.

Veltman is being helped by Calvin financially, including being a recipient of Calvin's Mephibosheth Scholarship. This award is made possible by a donation to Calvin in 1987 by Peter DeKorte (1907-1993), a friend of Calvin who was disabled at the age of two by spinal meningitis and spent the rest of his life as an advocate for the disabled. The name of the scholarship refers to a grandson of King Saul who was crippled in both feet, but who, says the Old Testament's II Samuel, ate at the King's table.

Right now Veltman is planning to major in history and geography. When he's not doing homework or working in the library, he enjoys reading and playing basketball with his brothers (his brother Greg is a junior at Calvin) or with his residence hall (his floor, Second Boer, recently won the dorm basketball tournament). He also likes listening to music on his CD player, which he can attach directly to his hearing aid. "Everyone else has to wear those big headphones," he says with a smile.

~with reporting by media relations student writer Abe Huyser-Honig

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Contact Phil de Haan
616-957-6475 (v)
616-957-7069 (f)