OKLAHOMA CITY -- Baylor College of Medicine Clinical Audiologist Dr. James Connor Sullivan is an official spokesperson for Deaf Awareness Week, celebrated worldwide from September 23 through 29.
Services to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing staff selected Sullivan, age 27, to represent central Oklahoma.
SDHH is an employment and independent living program in Vocational Rehabilitation, a division of the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services.
Sullivan was born in Oklahoma City, but moved to Edmond in elementary school. A public school counselor told his mom Michelle Webb about VR services when he was in the seventh grade.
After graduation from Edmond Memorial High School, Sullivan started college at the University of Oklahoma.
“My mother instilled a great work ethic in me, but there’s no way I could afford to go college without the services that Vocational Rehabilitation provides -- career guidance, financial aid with tuition, fees, books and reimbursement,” Sullivan said.
He originally planned to major in theatre, but a significant fluctuating hearing loss led to a career change in his freshman year at OU.
Sullivan credits his own audiologist, Dr. Jace Wolfe from Edmond, with influencing his decision to switch his major to audiology. Wolfe programmed a cochlear implant for one of Sullivan’s ears and recommended a hearing aid for the other ear.
A cochlear implant is a small, surgically implanted electronic device that provides a sense of sound to a person who is profoundly deaf or severely hard-of-hearing.
“I was very fortunate because Dr. Wolfe literally wrote the book on cochlear implants and how to program them,” Sullivan said. “When my hearing fluctuated, he was the person I needed to go for additional testing to find out that I needed a cochlear implant.
“We are fortunate to have Jace in OKC,” Sullivan said. “People all the world know who he is.”
Wolfe is director of audiology and research at the Hearts for Hearing Foundation in Oklahoma City. He is a textbook author, adjunct OU professor and chair of the Commission for Rehabilitation Services, which governs the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services.
Sullivan completed his bachelor’s of science degree with emphasis in communication disorders at OU in 2015. He graduated from The OU Health Sciences Center with a doctorate in audiology in 2019.
Sullivan’s next stop was Baylor College of Medicine in Houston where he was hired as a clinical audiologist in June 2019. His responsibilities include audiology diagnostics, outpatient treatment, and patient and family counseling. He serves on the cochlear implant team.
“I love working at Baylor,” Sullivan said. “… I get to do what I’ve always wanted to do. For me, it’s always been about making better information accessible and helping one person have a better day because I get to be their doctor.”
In 2019, the number of DRS clients who are deaf or hard of hearing who went to work increased 10 percent compared to 2018. The number of employment plans developed by staff is 1,776 percent more this year due to transfer of many clients from waiting lists to active caseloads.
Services to Deaf will sponsor a social media campaign for Deaf Awareness Week. The focus will be promoting Deaf culture and heritage, cards that help Deaf drivers communicate with law enforcement and programs that certify interpreters for the deaf in Oklahoma.
“Staff will share information at an exhibit booth on Thursday, September 19, for Deaf Awareness Day at the Oklahoma State Fair,” Terry Williams Murphy, DRS Vocational Rehabilitation field service coordinator, said. Murphy also has a hearing loss.
According to U.S. Census-based estimates developed by Cornell University, 8,560 Oklahomans or 5.2 percent have hearing difficulties. The data indicates that 51.2 percent of working-age Oklahomans with hearing difficulties, ages 21-64, are employed compared to 36.5 percent of Oklahomans with other disabilities.
To find out more about Services to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, email SDHH@okdrs.gov or call 800-833-8973 in Oklahoma City or 918-836-5556 in Tulsa. The phone numbers are accessible by phone, video phone and telecommunications equipment for the deaf.