PBLCTY: There are misconceptions you were born hearing impaired, when and how did you lose your hearing?
ROBBIE: “I lost my hearing when I was 7. I had severe ear infections. One that caused my right ear to be completely damaged, and, in my left ear – I lost 50%. I lost [more] from forcing myself to hear everything still. It was hard for me not being able to hear as I didn’t wanna be different.
PBLCTY: How are you able to understand and communicate with people?
ROBBIE: “It depends, if it’s a quiet room, it’s a little easier for me to [register some sounds], but when there are other distractions it’s [hard]. Mostly I read a lot of lips. I don’t know how I did it but I just learned naturally from trying to teach myself subconsciously… If I don’t realize it, I subconsciously read it. But when people go, ‘oh, you could read lips?’ and then they don’t say anything, but [*he mouths words*]. They’re putting me on the spot and then I’m like ‘woah, I’m thinking about it now.. wha.. wait.. what did you say?’ But naturally, I can ‘hear’ what the guy is saying in the lobby right now.
PBLCTY: Your hearing loss was and remains a challenge that you overcome daily, but initially did you go to a hearing impaired school or have an extra?
ROBBIE: “Coming from a European background, nothing else mattered as a kid but schooling. [Once I was diagnosed as deaf], my parents offered to send me to deaf school and get extra help but I wanted to not be discriminated [against]. I chose to stay in public school. I had speech therapy and extra classes. But at first Teachers didn’t know… They put me in ESL [English Secondary Language] because I came from another country. So they thought I couldn’t speak or learn properly because of my Spanish language…So, I went through that till I was 11 when my Parents’ took me to the Doctor. Then the Doctor said ‘your son’s hearing impaired – to deaf.’ But I wanted to stay [in the same school], I wanted to keep accomplishing. It took a while for me, I had to fail a lot of times, but I made it to Kean University with Dean’s list and almost a biology degree.
PBLCTY: So you stayed in the public school system where you were expected to deliver at the same level as anyone else. Why?
ROBBIE: My Father was all about being successful. It was challenge for me to be up to par with the hearing community. I did have support from a lot of teachers. My Mother made sure I sat up front, to the right, so I could be closer to [teachers’] desk so I could actually hear and try to communicate. I was stubborn [about this]; I tried to be cool at school and popular. I would sit in the back with everyone else. But ultimately, I wanted to challenge myself to make sure, [so I sat upfront].
PBLCTY: Did it affect you in any way with your relationship with friends?
ROBBIE: It did, I was very quiet. It’s funny because a lot of my acquaintances in High School they are like ‘oh, I never knew… you know, you do it so well.’ The reason I didn’t expose it to the whole school because when I found out when I was 11, I actually sat in the back seat of my science class. And my teacher – I’ll never forget her - she goes ‘Robbie! Why are you sitting in the back seat? You can’t hear, you’re deaf! Come up to the front.. You’re with the hearing impairment.’ So I was like, ‘Ok, whatever,’ so I went up front and then… I won’t mention his name but then some kid goes – you know, the stereotypical thing – he’s like ‘Can You Hear Me????’ Doing the whole slow and special need impression, that’s kind of when I was like, ‘you know what? – Excuse my French – F**k you! F**k all you guys.’ I actually just left it alone. I actually ended up going to another school afterwards because my parents had a restaurant and we moved out, and I just never told anyone after that. I just couldn’t really trust kids – even though I understand it’s kids [being kids] - now people are more understandable, about things and they respect. It started as fuel to my success subconsciously.