By Lori Berkey, Contributing Writer
Marlborough –Kelly Kim spends most waking moments educating, advocating or advising. Kim, of Marlborough, was diagnosed before age 2 with profound sensorineural hearing loss in both ears. He currently serves as the governor-appointed chair as well as the legislative taskforce (LTF) chair for the Statewide Advisory Council (SAC) for the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf/Hard of Hearing (MCDHH).
Besides his SAC duties, Kim is a teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing at The Learning Center for the Deaf in Framingham. As an educator, his greatest joy is helping students develop permanent skills.
Kim gathered numerous life-skill strategies during his youth and young adulthood. He began learning sign language at age 10 upon transferring to an elementary school with a deaf/hard of hearing program that used Signing Exact English (SEE). At his previous school, Kim was enrolled in an oral speech program.
“After transferring to elementary school, I picked up sign language pretty quickly as I socialized with other peers,” he said.
Kim's pre-high school years only hint to how he developed his broad perspective for helping others.
During high school, Kim sought and received a Cochlear implant (which at the time, in 1991, was a newly developed surgically implanted electronic device that offered a sense of sound to some medically cleared candidates). He likened his experience with the implant – which he only used for three years – to the experience of the blind character, “Virgil,” in the movie, “At First Sight.”
Kim documented his challenges in a chapter he wrote, “The Cochlear Implant Reality” for the published book, “New Beginnings: Acquiring and Living with a Cochlear Implant” that was edited by Michael Stinson and Gerard Buckley.
Kim learned American Sign Language (ASL) at Gallaudet University. While in graduate school at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), a job opened at RITSign, a program for hearing students who wanted to learn ASL to communicate with the institute's large population of deaf students.
“I applied for the instructor position, got the job, and I just fell in love with it,” Kim said. “I enjoyed seeing students starting out with no knowledge of ASL and ending having a conversation in ASL, and it was pretty awesome for me to see it happen.”
Kim also teaches ASL at Emerson College, tutors for a family sign language program, and serves on the board of DEAF, Inc., a multi-service community-based agency.
As SAC's chair, Kim advises the MCDHH Commissioner regarding the commission's undertakings. Additionally, Kim represents “the various concerns of deaf, late-deafened, hard of hearing citizens, parents, and interpreters” in the state, and facilitates communication of statewide matters to MCDHH constituents. He runs SAC meetings, ensuring all have their say.
“Issues range from bills that are being brought to the Senate or the House such as qualifications for teachers and sign language interpreters, hearing aid coverage within health insurance plans, or accessible telecommunications as part of emergency management procedures,” Kim said.
Kim said he aspires to recruit new council members, particularly those who are deaf and hard of hearing and deaf people of color, who can help bolster MCDHH services.
Kim plans to enlist input from members of organizations such as the Massachusetts State Association of the Deaf. He looks forward to SAC's annual hosting of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Constituents” Day at the State House.
As busy as Kim stays as a teacher, he feels it's worth making time for the SAC.
“Serving on the SAC and LTF has given me many wonderful opportunities to meet and network with people from all walks of life,” Kim said. “I enjoy both positions, and I always learn something new from my experiences.”