In the Spotlight – Vanessa Wozney

Vanessa Kuhi

Photo: Vanessa Wozney (second from left) with her four children, (from left to right) Gabriel, Shane, Jasmyn, and Seth.

Vanessa Wozney considers Kauai her home all her life, even though she was born on the mainland. Her father has lived on Kauai since she was born. Now a resident of Kauai for over 5 years, Wozney has made a quite a life for herself and her family.

This wasn’t always the case. An ongoing challenge for Wozney was finding a career to match her passion. For as long as Wozney could remember, she had been intrigued by professions where you get a chance to help others in need.

As she was giving birth to her fourth child, she saw that there were college-aged nurses-in-training in the delivery room. She remembers wondering, “If they can, why can’t I?”

Growing up, Wozney recalls having a natural ability demonstrating compassion for people.

“I’ve always been able to empathize with people going through difficult times, and matters of life and death are no different,” she said. “As a Deaf person who relies on eye contact and body language, in many ways it seems instinctive; I consider it our gift, something of a sixth sense.”

Despite her enthusiasm, Wozney still had reservations. Born Deaf, she understood that being a resident of Kauai would bring a number of challenges in addition to the ones already present in the field of medical education. For instance, there are only three certified American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters on Kauai.

But thanks to a Facebook page by medical professionals who are Deaf and hard-of-hearing, Wozney’s self-doubt quickly turned into self-belief. With this change of attitude, she applied for admission to her local nursing school.

Today, Wozney is a proud student in the Kauai Community College Nursing Program. She realizes getting into nursing school was quite a feat in and of itself.

“There’s certainly a sense of triumph because it shows what Deaf people are capable of,” Wozney said. “Our ears may be broken, but don’t overlook the fact that, with our hands and eyes, we have remarkable abilities.”

Vanessa is also the mother of four young children, all of whom are hearing – meaning they are bilingual and bimodal – and colloquially known as Children of Deaf Adults, or CODAs. Having to juggle nursing school and being a full-time mother makes Wozney’s days long and tiring. Even so, she puts a positive spin on things.

“My kids, we do homework together and we hate on homework together,” Wozney said with a laugh.

Life for a Deaf person on the Neighbor Islands is not easy. According to Wozney, it is even harder for a Deaf mother of hearing children. For starters, she says there aren’t any activities organized for CODAs. She says specialized programs and services don’t exist either.

“It is hard because there aren’t very many CODAs where we live and the Deaf community is smaller,” Wozney explained. “CODA camps on the mainland would cost thousands of dollars – money we don’t have – and the camp on Oahu is a day camp.”

Wozney, however, stresses that opportunities available elsewhere but are inaccessible does not make it okay. Her children are still excluded.

“Where are early interventionists [on Kauai] who can work with bilingual, ASL-English children?” Wozney asked rhetorically. “There are many bilingual families in Hawaii. It seems whatever services exist are limited to Oahu.”

One contributing factor has been the challenge of getting interpreters for school events or other organized activities. She recalls one particular instance that happened recently.

Wozney’s oldest child, 8 ½-year-old Shane, has always dreamed of becoming a boy scout. In August, the local Boy Scouts of America club hosted a family orientation night. The problem was, Vanessa received same-day notice for the event. There was no time to request an interpreter. Vanessa could not attend the orientation. Shane was crushed.

“As a loving parent, how does that make you feel?” Vanessa wondered aloud. “It feels like my being Deaf is unfairly impacting my son’s ability to attain his dreams.”

According to Wozney, the last-minute notices happen often, whether it’s school movie nights or parent meetings.

“The school administration are nice, supportive people, but they don’t seem to value the importance of my children using both of their languages, ASL and English,” she said.

There have also been challenges getting interpreters outside of school. Wozney has tried youth sports leagues, ballet, and gymnastics, to no avail. The end result is a feeling of exclusion.

“It makes me feel like my kids are also disabled,” Wozney concluded.

Despite these challenges, Wozney has never failed to muster the strength and courage to tackle each day with vigor. She is committed to being the best she can be for her family, all while pursuing her dreams of becoming a registered nurse.

For all this she credits the strength given to her by her family – her father, her husband, and her children – and above all, her faith.

“My faith keeps me going day in and day out,” Wozney said. “The strength I get allows me to have faith that there will eventually be a day where our world is accessible to all.”