Hearing impairment forces CSU student out of Air Force ROTC

Two U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds execute a mane...
Two U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds execute a maneuver of the U.S. Air Force Academy’s Falcon Stadium May 27, 2009 following Class of 2009 graduation. (Photo credit: Beverly & Pack)

For Bianca Torrez, a journalism junior at CSU, a hearing impairment caused problems with equilibrium when she was marching and following commands in Air Force ROTC. She would become off balanced, and had to copy what everyone else was doing to fit in.

She had always wanted to join the Air Force, following in her father and grandfather’s footsteps. But she struggled to keep up.

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“They asked me why I couldn’t march with everyone else and why I was always a little spacy,” Torrez said. “I told them that I was deaf in one ear.”

After half a semester, they finally told her she would have to either get surgery or leave.

“I don’t think that’s fair,” Torrez said. “My dad was always in the Air Force, next to the planes. He went deaf just from the sounds. So if he was still able to do it, then why can’t I? That upset me a lot.”

Torrez came to the conclusion that she didn’t want to get the surgery due to risks of paralysis in her face.

“I’m freaking out because nobody wants to have surgery … I’m in tears because this is my family,” Torrez said. “On top of that, my parents were going to be disappointed. I’m supposed to be the one shining star.”

U.S. Air Force rules require all ROTC recruits to first take a physical before enlisting, according to Col. Gregg Marzloft.

“If they don’t pass the requirements on the physical, then they’re ineligible to join the Air Force,” Marzolft said.

Torrez never confessed to her impairment initially, but she was officially disqualified when they found out. Some military members, however, get away with omissions of truth.

Torrez was born 95 percent hearing impaired in her left ear. She went to clinics when she was younger to figure out what the problem was.

“Their assumptions was that it was a deformity in the bones in my ears … We still don’t know to this day,” Torrez said.

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Torrez can hear muffled, faint sounds and variable tones when a hearing aid is attached, but doesn’t like to wear one because they’re expensive and insurance won’t pay for it.

“When I had a hearing aid in third grade, everything on that side would kind of sound strange,” Torrez said. “I didn’t have my balance (and) the hearing aids back then were huge. You could always see it; it was massive … everybody could see this giant thing on my ear. I got called names. I remember coming home crying, like, ‘I don’t want this anymore, Mom. I don’t have any friends anymore. I just don’t want to deal with it,’ so I got rid of it.”

Throughout school, Torrez would sometimes have incidents in class. She sometimes couldn’t hear her fellow students when they asked for her help. She would have to turn around and ask them to repeat what they said. It would cause distractions in class and consequently the teacher would yell at her for being disruptive.

“My parents always made sure that I sat up front, especially since I didn’t have a hearing aid,” Torrez said. “I had to tell every teacher I ever had –– they had to know. I’ve missed questions when I’m taking notes. I’m kind of shy sometimes, so I didn’t want to (speak up) because I didn’t want to be the only kid that‘s not getting it. But (now) I pay close attention when they are talking, so I’m staring at them intently. I can read lips better than most people. My hearing in (my right) ear is pretty good, so that kind of compensates for it.”

Torrez said she sometimes also has issues working for Geek Squad at Best Buy. Sometimes customers don’t understand why she can’t hear them, and they can be blatantly rude about it, saying, “What are you, deaf?”

Torrez doesn’t get yelled at in class anymore, but still has difficulties, even as a junior in college.

“My psych class that I took last semester — I was struggling in the class,” Torrez said. “He was talking too fast and I had to think really hard about what he said. I thought maybe I should get help, but I never did just because I wanted to do it on my own and say I had this impairment and I still succeeded.”

Since her hearing impairment frequently disorients her equilibrium, she sometimes has problems doing everyday activities.

“I actually fractured my ankle walking because sometimes I get off balance,” Torrez said. “If there are sounds all over, I don’t know where they’re coming from and it throws me off. It’s hard to run on the treadmill — I trip. It’s kind of embarrassing when I’m at the gym just trying to get a workout in. I stumble over my own feet or something throws me off and people are staring at me like ‘Really, did she just trip on a treadmill?’ I try to go when nobody is there, late at night.”

Other students at CSU who are completely hearing impaired require the use of an interpreter in the classroom, someone who can translate the teachers’ spoken word for them into American Sign Language.

“We have several interpreters that go to classes with students,” said DeDe Kliewer, an interpreter coordinator at Resources for Disabled Students. “It depends on what the interpreters’ background is, who’s been experienced in what classes because we do a lot of … little niches where interpreters are more experienced in different areas and that’s the classes they do. Students have several different interpreters during the day.”

Collegian Reporter Scott Fromberg can be reached at news@collegian.com.