Three Young Deaf Adults Changing the World

 Speaking from the Volta Bureau Autumn banner

Emilio Alonso-Mendoza summerDear Alexander Graham Bell Community,

The wonder of youth is most evident when their enthusiasm and can-do attitude changes the world. It is in youth that we see our hope for the future. And what a hopeful future lies ahead for the three young people I want to recognize today. They are an example of what being brought up in an LSL culture can produce.

Julia Miller is a sophomore at Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri who devotes her extracurricular time to giving back to her campus and local community. Dr. Joseph Heng of Johns Hopkins Medicine works with his fellow residents to improve awareness and medical support for patients with hearing loss. Riley Patterson is an All-American dancer who was selected to represent the best of the best in high school dancing as part of the Varsity Spirit All-Americans, representing the top 10 percent of high school dancers nationwide.

Riley isn't just an All-American dancer. She was also born deaf. She received her first cochlear implant at age 2 and her second three years later. Now 14 years old, Riley's unbridled enthusiasm for dance is obvious in her short video. She submitted this video to AG Bell for our Giving Tuesday appeal and to give thanks to our donors for all they have done to support Listening and Spoken Language. Riley has been dancing since she was in first grade and also plays soccer and softball. In school, she reports for the news show, and she plans to volunteer at her audiology clinic when she turns 15 next year. 

Riley Patterson.2
Riley Patterson

Riley's dancing demands many performances - her school dancing team performs in the halftime shows at football and basketball games and performs competitively. Riley will be trying out for the varsity dance squad in March. She says, "Thank you for your support and your help to keep me dancing on my toes. Wish me luck!" 

Julia Miller wrote to AG Bell to thank us for the support the AG Bell College Scholarship has given her to find her "perfect fit" at school and in her studies. Julia is currently working towards a Bachelor's Degree in Communications with a concentration in Public Communications and a minor in Sociology. She says, "I love it! I look forward to each new day in the classroom, enriching my mind with ideas that interest and challenge me." She hopes to pursue a career in public relations or event planning.

Beyond the classroom, Julia finds herself very much invested in her own community and campus. She is a member of the Student Activities Board, which plans and arranges all on-campus programming for Truman State University, from open mic nights to big-name concerts. Last year, she planned a slam poet event which brought outside professional talent to campus. She says, "Through my involvement in this organization, I have come to excel in professionalism, confidentiality, giving and receiving constructive criticism." 

Julia Miller
Julia Miller

Julia often works with the local community of Kirksville, Missouri through her charitable commitments at Tau Lambda Sigma, the local service sorority. She has volunteered for the Salvation Army, the local Humane Society, and Relay for Life. Most recently, Julia participated in the Kirksville Manor Care's adopt-a-grandparent program. "I will be visiting [my adopted grandmother] every week to spend time sharing stories and laughing and I could not be more excited!" Julia has also taken over the public relations responsibilities for her sorority, managing its social media accounts and website, as well as the publicity efforts for their spring recruitment. 

"This scholarship has allowed me to open up my entire world. I have learned, grown, laughed, cried, rejoiced and felt every emotion I possibly could on this journey. I have never felt more alive. Most importantly, I have never wanted to express more gratitude to all those around me."

Julia's commitment to service is an outstanding example for our community, and I hope that we can all gain a little inspiration from her enthusiasm for giving back.

Dr. Joseph Heng is a first-year resident at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, specializing in internal medicine. He received an AG Bell College Scholarship for his studies in the Whiting School of Engineering. Joseph says he is the first congenitally deaf person to enter residency in the Johns Hopkins program. He was born in Singapore, where he lived until college. He grew up using listening and spoken language and was one of the very first in Singapore to receive a cochlear implant at 12 years of age.

Dr. Joseph Heng
Dr. Joseph Heng
video courtesy of Johns Hopkins Medicine

Long-time AG Bell member and contributor Dr. Tilak Ratnanather, mentored Joseph while at the Whiting School, encouraging him in his studies and overseeing his research projects. Hopkins recently released a video featuring Joseph working on his residency and discussing his hearing loss. [video].

Joseph credits Tilak for helping him along, saying "His mentoring doesn't end in the classroom or laboratory. He still doesn't hesitate to put me in touch with anybody he knows who he thinks can help me achieve what I would like to do."

Joseph is just one of the expanding number of doctors across the country who are breaking the barrier of what is possible with hearing loss. He has gone out of his way to educate his fellow doctors at Johns Hopkins Medicine on how to better communicate with patients with hearing loss. "Just last week, I gave a presentation to my resident peers about communicating with patients who have hearing loss, making them more aware of the challenges they face, so they can become a better provider to them." 

Riley, Julia and Joseph are examples that add to the ever-growing list of what is possible with Listening and Spoken Language. LSL continues to open doors for children and adults with hearing loss, allowing them not only to achieve their dreams, but to pave new pathways to success for those who will follow. At AG Bell, we will keep working to advance Listening and Spoken Language for every child and adult with hearing loss, and celebrate great achievers like Riley, Julia and Joseph.

To support college scholarships for students like Julia and Joseph, please visit our Give Now page.

Until next week,


Emilio Alonso-Mendoza
[email protected]


To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson