SAN ANTONIO – To be deaf can be scary, but one San Antonio woman uses the very thing that scares most people as a way to empower the deaf community.
Emma Faye Rudkin, who won Ms. San Antonio and is the CEO and founder of Aid The Silent, has been deaf since she was 3.
“I learned life was not fair as I got older,” Emma said. “I struggled with depression. I felt like I was never a part of anything. I was always behind the curve. I was just this angry person and very frustrated.”
Emma said she went through countless hours of speech therapy and sign language. Her mother, Kathy Rudkin, said this was a major obstacle for the entire family.
“We have never met a deaf person in our lives until Emma started losing her hearing,” Kathy said. “It was hard because I felt like it was a lonely journey. I didn’t have internet the way it is now, so we had to work through it. We had to think about things to do for fun and make adaptions and made it a rule that if Emma couldn’t enjoy it, then none of us were going to do it.”
Kathy said the toughest times were when Emma was going to middle school.
“She was good about putting on a front and acting like everything was OK,” Kathy said. “But when she would get out of school, that mask would just come down and she would just sob the entire time. I remember calling her dad up and going, ‘I don’t know if I can do this. I don’t know if I can even handle her being upset again.’ So it was rough. There were rough times.”
Emma, who is now 80 percent to 90 percent deaf in both ears, said it was Jesus Christ who changed her view on having profound hearing loss.
“I actually met Jesus and became a believer when I was 14, and that was when I really started to notice that this is the thing that kept me back my whole life was being deaf,” Emma said. “I thought that was my identity, and all of a sudden, I thought this could be the very thing that helps people.”
Emma said she has gained confidence since then.
“I just started to see that I was wonderfully made with purpose, and I don’t think that I ever really knew that. And to see that I actually had purpose in my life was kind of waking me up, and I thought, ‘Nothing is going to stop me now, because I am going to try everything that people said I couldn’t do and show them that I can,’” Emma said.
She said her true desire to break down barriers between the hearing and deaf community sparked tremendously.
“How many poets are inside deaf people?” Emma said. “How many doctors or lawyers or singers or all these things? But they are trapped because no one took the time to know them or give them the things they needed to become what they’re supposed to be.”
Emma went on to learn how to play music. She later won Ms. San Antonio at the age of 18.
She said her main accomplishment was starting Aid the Silent, which is an organization dedicated to providing resources to children and teens with hearing loss. In addition to running the organization, which is now nationally known, she speaks and educates the public about the deaf community.
“It felt like I had a brick on my tongue growing up because I was so embarrassed about the sound of my voice, and now my job is literally traveling and speaking,” Emma said. “I thought no one could ever use this, and that is the very thing that is being used. It is so crazy. This thing that everyone thinks is broken, or not normal, God has looked at that and said that that is beautiful.”
Emma said she wants people to understand how to properly communicate with a deaf individual.
“The most painful thing about being deaf is that people neither talk directly to you and they don’t realize, even if there is an interpreter or a captionist, you never speak about the deaf person in third person or like they are not there,” Emma said.
She said she feels educating others is key.
“Especially in school, kids are mean,” Emma said. “They think deaf people are stupid or they talk funny. It is all of these things, but mostly, it is just frustrating that people don’t try to get to know them or communicate or take that extra step, because I think a lot of people are just scared and don’t know what to do.”
Since her organization has been around for three years now, Emma said she has seen the confidence of children who are like her flourish.
“I have seen teenagers who have gone from being completely empty and nonresponsive and hard to, all of a sudden, becoming the most loving joyful, adventurous teenagers who are not afraid,” Emma said. “When we work with these kids and give them the resources they need and send them off to camp, it’s what really adds to this rewarding experience. I know that that didn’t just change their lives but their families’ lives and the community, and it is going to change other deaf people’s lives.”
The organization is hosting its Good Vibrations concert, which is for both the hearing and deaf community to enjoy. It will feature live music performances and will have amenities, such as a backpack or a piece of equipment that could strap onto the chest of an individual with hearing loss. This would allow them to feel and be a part of the musical experience.
“It is just a really great time to see people who are usually off to the side and shy be a part of a fun experience, where they are laughing and having a great time,” Emma said. “That is what it is all about.”
The concert will be held from 1 p.m.- 11 p.m. Sept. 29 at the Sunken Garden Theater.
All proceeds raised will go back into to the organization to fund more resources for deaf children and teens, such as hearing aids, speech therapy sessions, summer camp scholarships and more.
If you know someone like Emma who is making a difference in the South Texas community, send us your tips. Contact Japhanie Gray on Facebook or @JGrayKSAT on Twitter. You can also send your tips to KSAT 12 & KSAT.com on Facebook.