Senior wins national award for helping support others with hearing loss


Rich Meyer

Ellie Kobak runs cross-country at the Meriwether Classic on Sept. 22. Kobak has overcome her own hearing loss to help others, recently winning a national award for her efforts.

Senior Ellie Kobak won the Oticon Focus on People Award for her outstanding work helping other students. Oticon creates hearing instrument technology, and the award is given to people whose courage, vision and commitment are helping to change perceptions and open doors of opportunity for all, but especially for people with hearing loss.

Kobak has bilateral hearing loss, severe to profound in her left ear and moderate-severe in her right ear. With hearing aids, she hears in the normal range.

“I was diagnosed with hearing loss when I was two because my mom noticed I had delayed speech compared to my older sister,” Kobak said. She couldn’t hear the sounds of her voice, resulting in her delayed speech, she says.

“In some of my classes I use a personal FM system where the teacher has a small microphone that transmits the sound directly to my hearing aid,” she says. “This helps significantly as I don’t have to focus on the teacher talking and can just take notes.”

“I don’t think my hearing impairment has been a big obstacle in my education because all of the teachers I have had at Lincoln have been super supportive,” she adds.

Kobak also works to support others with hearing impairments. She volunteers at the Columbia Regional Department of Education Program. As a member of the Columbia Regional Teen Council, she helps give parents confidence about their children’s hearing impairments. “Parents who have young kids who are hearing impaired can ask me questions about my experiences,” she describes.

“I feel that it is helpful for parents to get advice from a teenager who has gone through what their kids are going through,” Kobak says, “I feel like I can be more insightful than a professional who has who has never actually experienced hearing loss.”

One of the ways Kobak gives advice on the council is by using her own life as an example. She tells parents about how her own hearing impairment never affected her in her daily activities such as school assignments and extracurriculars.

Kobak has been involved at Lincoln as a peer tutor for the AVID program, the board of the Key Club, Cardinal Mentors and is senior class treasurer this year. In addition, she runs for the varsity track and cross country teams.

“It just makes me feel good to know that I am able to reassure and comfort these parents that their kids are just as capable as any other kid,” says Kobak.

Jamie Bikales contributed reporting.

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