Mandy Harvey – Jazz Vocalist with Hearing Loss


Check out this talented singer! You can preview selections from her CD at her site below.


Sometimes you know…you just know! The instrumentation is tight and crisp. The songs are classic and timeless. The vocals are rich and captivating. And you know why a simple CD can comfort, entertain and inspire. It just makes you smile.

“Smile” is a collection of Jazz standards featuring vocalist Mandy Harvey. Give a listen and you’ll find yourself settling into an experience resembling a conversation for a close friend: familiar, yet enriching.

This CD is also an expression of hope. Nearly three years ago, Mandy experienced an unexpected and profound hearing loss. Though legally deaf, she continues to sing. You will hear the music of her heart…and it will make you smile.

Mandy lives in Northern Colorado and is a regular performer at Jay’s Bistro in Fort Collins. Her love for music and singing has been years in the making. She was selected as the top female vocalist of her high school and entered the Music Education program at Colorado State University. During her freshman year she lost her hearing and left the university.

While her dream of becoming a music teacher has died, the music is still alive and well within her. Though her hearing loss is profound (110 decibels in each ear) her timing, pitch and passion are perfect. With support from friends, family and her faith, Mandy continues to find joy in the music. Smile!

It Takes Just One Voice


My “morning chore” this morning included cleaning up the porch and putting patio furniture up for the season. Each Autumn I accomplish this task, I’m reminded how desperately our deck needs replaced. I haven’t been out on the deck in about a week and was startled to find more Zinnias in full bloom. Don’t they know it’s late October? Most had died and I thought part of my morning chore for this designated “deck clean-up” morning was going to be to shut the flower pots down for the year. I just couldn’t do it… not with brand new Zinnias raising their beautiful colorful heads to celebrate this Fall Fashion Show going on in mid-Maryland right now!

I explained to Chloe how surprised I was to see brand new blooms on the Zinnias. Patient dog that she is she listened attentively, but I could tell she didn’t really understand what all the excitement was about! But you see? The Zinnias were not finished…

Disabled and finished?

This week I received a tearful email from a fellow HLAA (Hearing Loss Association of America) member. She was upset about the state of her local chapter. It seems they are having trouble attracting new members and the old members are rarely participating. They are SPECTATORS, but not PARTICIPATORS. A peer mentor at one of the local hospitals that performs cochlear implants for people in our area, she explained to me that she cannot even generate any interest in those relatively new to hearing loss.

“You can see that the word ‘disability’ has sunk into their very soul, impacting the way they choose to live their lives,” she explained. “I try to explain to them that hearing again through a cochlear implant is something to be celebrated! It is not normal, perfect hearing, but it is hearing and choosing to stay involved in the hearing world in which they were a part! If you talk to them you can tell they are depressed, defeated, and ACTING disabled. It’s as if all the color has gone out of their lives.”

I thought about my own support group and local chapter of HLAA. There are a handful of people who volunteer for everything, work hard at making sure the chapter is well run, make it a priority to attend each month, and reach out to other members who are on the ‘roll’.


These folks stand out. They smile, are involved in numerous OTHER community endeavors, love people, make a difference… they are colorful. In spite of their hearing loss, deafness, communication needs and problems, they are noticeable because of their focus on ABILITY instead of DISABILITY.


Fidos For Freedom participates in dAp programs throughout Maryland. Chloe and I have been to two of these early on in our training together. The disABILITY Awareness Program was started in the late 1970’s. The intent of dAp is to educate children and their teachers about disabilities, what it’s like to be a person with a disability, and to increase acceptance of people who may be ‘different’. I’m given the opportunity to talk about what I CAN do. Fidos For Freedom has been instrumental in helping me to be independent again. I have learned so much about what it means to live “in spite of” a disability. There are so many different disabilities represented in our client family. For many, being partnered with a canine partner helps them focus on the “can do” instead of what they cannot. Many enter the training program at Fidos pretty much beaten down by the fact that their life is now completely different because of a disability. They finish their training in full bloom. They stand out and make a difference. Their independence grants them the courage to re-take their life.

One Voice

I love people with disabilities. Near and dear to my heart are populations with hearing loss, deafness, Meniere’s disease and brain injury. I belong to these populations. I wrote back to my friend this week and tried to encourage her. Many small chapters of organizations like HLAA have to make the decision to perhaps only meet quarterly instead of monthly. What you can’t do is “close shop”. If you make a difference in ONE person each year, is that not important?

Do you feel alone? Ever feel as if you are carrying the load alone and GEE HAS IT BECOME HEAVY? You may be one voice. Are you caring for an elderly parent who has Alzheimer’s? Are you a stay-at-home mom with three little ones under 5-years-old and no one at home SPEAKS ADULT? Do you work with people with addictions, and feel your heart breaking every time someone returns to their drugs or alcohol? Do you love someone with TBI who will never be the same person they were prior to their accident? Do you or a loved one live with a terminal illness?

You can remain in FULL BLOOM … in spite of it being late October. You can be ONE VOICE that makes a difference. An amazing thing can happen to ONE VOICE that remains in full bloom in spite of the season. It may take time and a lot of effort. It may not even happen in your lifetime. But one voice is usually joined by another… and then Another… and ANOTHER. You may never discover your own influence this side of Heaven. Be influential anyway. Stay in full bloom. Be one voice… one that makes a difference. If your life is all that is changed, is that a bad thing?

Some of you may cringe. I love Barry Manilow. (Sue me!) My older brother got me hooked on him in the late 70’s. This is a short song, but I ask you to listen to it and think about it from the point of view of making a difference.

Denise Portis

© 2009 Hearing Loss Journal

Sit in the Sun

Even hound dogs can miss the sun after days of rain!
Even hound dogs can miss the sun after days of rain!

After FOUR DAYS of drizzle and rain, we have enjoyed SUN. I forget that not being able to go outside can affect our furry family members as well. I was very lucky to not have any errands to run during the days of rain with the exception of running my husband to the airport (whom I let out at the curb) and going to church.

Folks don’t realize how difficult it can be to go out in “inclement weather” when you have a disability that involves your balance. Luckily, I was able to put off running to the store, etc. and work from home during most of those rainy days. I did have one day I had to go in and teach, and Chloe was much more of a “balance assist” dog that day instead of a hearing assistance dog. Poor thing had to retrieve 19 dropped items (yup! I counted!) and had to help me down the very LONG staircase. I guess I shouldn’t say “poor thing”, for truthfully this dog thinks work is PLAY. Her tail is in a constant state of WAG.

Important to Rest and Re-charge

Even Pegasus loves the sun... but he IS naked! Chloe has enjoyed her naps in the sun!
Even Pegasus loves the sun... but he IS naked! Chloe has enjoyed her naps in the sun!

People ask me sometimes if Chloe ever gets to “just be a dog”. She absolutely does! At home she does not wear her vest. Having said that, however, she doesn’t stop working! She has been trained to alert me to the sounds in my home. If someone is at the door… she comes to get me. If my phone rings, she comes to get me or will bring the phone and drop it in my lap. If one of the kids or my husband call my name, she’ll come and get me and take me to them. If the kitchen timer goes off, she comes to let me know. All these things she does without her “working clothes”.

Chloe gets plenty of opportunities to rest and play, however! She barks at bunnies, chases squirrels in the backyard, and tumbles and wrestles with her Elkhound puppy, Tyco. In the evenings she parks her hound-dog self next to me while hubby and I visit and/or watch some taped shows of NCIS. She gets a loving belly-rub the entire time. So don’t feel sorry for working dogs… they are loved, well cared for, and spoiled in many ways!

When to Rest and Re-charge

People need to learn to take a break and go sit in the sun. Especially after numerous “rainy days” that pours itself out on us in the form of stress, difficulties and life problems. We all know when stress is starting to “get to us”. Perhaps you can feel your blood pressure go up, or maybe you develop tummy troubles. You might have difficulty sleeping, or go around BITING THE HEAD OFF of everyone you know.

I just love lists. If you saw my office, you’d laugh out loud! I make lists for everything! My favorite Bible verses are lists that God made for us! He may not “number them” for us, but series of phrases and words are still lists written by God. I have a couple of books my husband got me as really a joke one year. They are called, “Lists to Live By” and I love them! One list I came across this morning reminded me that when we have the opportunity to “sit in the sun”, we should make that time count. Sure… you need to learn to rest. Maybe nap! Relax and unwind! But when you “get back to work” and to facing your problems, it is great to have a plan!

Pat Williams wrote a book called, Unsinkable. Check out this list… and maybe begin brainstorming and thinking about how you can do some of these things during an opportunity you find to “sit in the sun”. In parenthesis, I’ve added my own thoughts.

1. Use what you have. (Don’t tell me you do not have any talents. Even people with disabilities have skills and talents they can use.)

2. Don’t worry about what you don’t have. (Do you have a disability that keeps you from doing something? So what! There are people without disabilities that don’t swim, bungee jump, water ski or travel all over the country! Learn to enjoy what you CAN do, and if you can… ADAPT and change the parameters of an activity so that you can participate. If it cannot be done, don’t worry about it! Find something else you CAN do!)

3. Stay cool when the heat is on. (Under pressure? Biting your nails? Are you WAY TO BUSY? Learn to take time to re-charge… go “sit in the sun”!)

4. When you fall down, get up, dust yourself off, and keep going.  (You are gonna fall. It can even hurt. Don’t just lay there… get up and keep going!)

5. Follow through on your dreams. (Don’t let a disability keep you from a dream! Find a way… talk with others and get advice… dreams aren’t only for those who are 100% healthy and problem free)

6. Discipline your thoughts. (Take time to reflect. Exercise your brain. It makes planning and working much more effective. Being organized can save you time… you may even be able to use that extra time to go “sit in the sun”!)

7. Find comfort in helping others. (No matter who you are or what your abilities… you CAN help others. It doesn’t have to be big things. Little things matter to people. Don’t believe me? Think of 5 or 6 little things that do not require money, tons of time, and incredible skill. Do those things on behalf of other people and see if they do not notice!)

8. Give God control.  (Ya know He is anyway, right? Relinquishing control allows us to trust in the One who can make these things happen for us anyway!)

Hope you find some time to “sit in the sun” at least figuratively this week!

Denise Portis

© 2009 Hearing Loss Journal

Not an Exact Science…

Just because I can zero in and concentrate, doesn't mean I'll always get it right!
Just because I can zero in and concentrate, doesn't mean I'll always get it right!

Having a hearing assistance dog has its advantages when I do not hear “surround sound”. I have trouble with directionality as I only have one cochlear implant (and due to my balance problems very likely will not ever have a second). I have learned to pay attention to where Chloe is looking in order to figure out from what direction a sound is coming. The only problem is… sometimes I don’t pay attention.

Today our sweet cat, Kiki, found herself stuck due to my inability to hear and failure to take note of WHY Chloe was parked on the stairs instead of next to me. Kiki decided to squeeze between the door and the glass storm door in order to better partake of the sunlight and “view”. I did not know she was there, and closed the door because of the draft as I walked by. Thankfully, my husband came home about 10 minutes later and saw “cat on glass” as Kiki was smushed like a sardine between the storm door and metal door. We retrieved her amongst a chorus of “poor kitty”, and “I can’t believe I did that” while Kiki just purred and basked in all the attention. yellowchairkiki Having a hearing assistance dog is not an exact science when it comes to utilizing her amazing ears if I don’t pay attention to where she is fixated! I really have to pay attention to why she is parked and pointedly looking in one direction!

Reading Lips/Speech Reading

Some people believe that everyone with hearing loss read lips well. Actually, they call it speech reading now, as really you are trying to discern what someone says solely by what you see on their mouth as they speak. Speech reading is not an exact science. As a matter of fact, mistakes are often made by even the best of speech readers. Now that I hear as well as I do with my cochlear implant, I have lost the ability to speech read to some degree as I may once again rely on what I am hearing to understand in many situations. I do still rely on speech reading in noisy environments, and I will always be a big fan of closed captions. Several friends (God bless ’em) have started posting video links in Facebook that have the lyrics attached as well. This only enables me to hear BEST, so I am always thankful for what I see in addition to what I hear.

A couple of nights ago, my daughter was talking to her boyfriend on Skype. They go to separate colleges and during the school year have a “long-distance” relationship. My husband and I graduated from different colleges as well, but our only hope of contact was through a weekly letter (through good ol’ fashioned snail mail) and the occasional phone call. I was still able to use the phone well at the time, and waited by the pay phone at the end of the hall every Friday night. Technology has changed “long distance relationships”. My daughter actually has “candlelight dinner dates” with her boyfriend via Skype. They talk almost daily either “face-to-face” with Skype and webcam, or a minimum of numerous texts sent immediately through the easy access of cell phones. I popped my head in the other night and found them “talking”. My daughter “muted” the long-distance boyfriend so that she could ask me what I wanted. (Another interpretation, “Can’t you see I’m busy? Hurry up!”) Her boyfriend was still talking, so I told her what he was saying. She quickly typed (as you can both speak and type thru Skype) and asked him if what I said he asked was what was actually said. I was right on the button! She unmuted BK (the boyfriend) and both were amazed at my ability. I immediately chalked it up to “luck” and reminded them both that it isn’t a cheap parlor trick! It takes work and concentration to really be good at speech reading. I simply got lucky!

Think About What Looks Alike

I picked up a good HoH (hard of hearing) habit from a friend in California in 2006. She coached me to learn to repeat to people what I thought I heard even if I knew it could not be right. By doing so it did several positive things:

1. It allowed the person with normal hearing to only have to repeat what I got wrong, saving them the time and possible exasperration of repeating everything verbatim.

2. It allows the person with normal hearing to begin to understand what things sound like to ME… a person who hears with a cochlear implant. They learn to be experts at rephrasing things and finding synonyms to explain the same comment.

3. It allows both parties to see the “funny” in trying to make sense of what I hear. I both SEE in speech reading and hear with a cochlear implant.

4. It allows the HoH person to learn to extend grace and to accept that mistakes are made and most people are eager to help clear up the confusion. It creates a positive communication environment.

Stop for a moment and think about what looks the same on the mouth when words are enunciated. Some mistakes I’ve made:

1. I thought someone walked towards me with an admiring glance and said… “Sweeeeet…. heart”!

Really they were looking beyond me and saw a red corvette… they were saying “Sweeeeet Car!

2. The words six and set look the same as SEX. (yikes!)

3. Mom I’m knitting hard!

Which was really, “Mom, I need the car!”

4. Mrs. Portis, I forgot my paper. Canons get formica? (I was really scratching my head in confusion on this one)

Mrs. Portis I forgot my paper, can I run get it from my car?

Learning to speech read more accurately, can however, help a HoH person communicate better. My local chapter of HLAA has plans to do a 2 hour “speech reading tips” class in the next couple of months. Some great resources that we will be utilizing, come from CHHA (Canadian Hard of Hearing Association), and include:

“Sound Ideas: Managing your Hearing Loss” manual and video

“Lip Reading Naturally” by Frances Mezei and Shirlee Smith

Think It Looks Easy?

I have a challenge for you. Mute your television and see if you can figure out what is being said. You might be surprised at how well… or how poorly you do!

Some additional resources:





Denise Portis

© 2009 Hearing Loss Journal

Yup! Wind in the Trees!

Who would have thought even five years later I am still picking up sounds that I hadn’t heard the year before? I have had my cochlear implant for close to five years. I am only mapped once a year now at Johns Hopkins. Whatever my audiologist did this past May enabled me to hear the wind in the trees like never before.

I grew up in Baca County Colorado and we had PLENTY of wind… but not so many trees really. Where there were trees, it meant there was a house there. A bunch of trees in one place, meant there was a town. Many folks think Colorado is all mountains, but a good part of it is grasslands and plains. Yup. I grew up on “Little House on the Prairie”.

When we first moved to Maryland in 2002, I could not hear without the help of two powerful BTE hearing aids. Over the next two years I would lose what remained of my hearing. People with normal hearing do not stop to think about what it means to lose your hearing gradually over time. You don’t even realize sounds “go missing”. I can’t put my finger on when I stopped hearing the phone ring… I only know it was when my kids were little and I lived in NC. I can’t remember when I stopped hearing cats purr, the wind in the trees, or the sounds of a vehicle.

One of my friends who is bilaterally implanted with cochlear implants heard a strange noise in the motor of her car this week. She went by the mechanics and explained that she uses cochlear implants to hear and “I’m not sure if it’s a new sound or just new to ME”. She was so tickled to have been RIGHT about the sound, and very glad to catch something early that ended up being a simple “fix”. Had she not been able to hear it, eventually it may have been a more expensive and difficult “fix” for the mechanic. I was practically jumping up and down for her… understanding what it is like to realize you can hear something! I think especially to adults who are able to recognize something new and understand it’s the result of being able to hear again… these new sounds are special!

With wind it is a little tricky. You don’t actually see the wind, you see what the wind can do to objects both in nature and man-made. I have memories of the sound of a windmill on the ranch I grew up on in Colorado. I’d love to “hear it again” some time! I realized I was really hearing the wind when I parked myself in the yard in a place where the fence acted as a windbreak. If I closed my eyes (so that my brain wouldn’t SEE the wind and influence what my cochlear implant was hearing), I could hear the wind. In the trees. WOWSIE.

So yup! It’s only the wind in the trees. But to me? I’m hearing something I haven’t heard in over a decade I know! I just love my Nucleus Freedom!

Denise Portis

© 2009 Hearing Loss Journal

Happy Birthday Chloe!

birthday Chloe turned five-years-old on Thursday, October 1st. According to one source, that makes Chloe about 36-years-old in human years. No wonder she is perfectly fine with a Sunday afternoon nap now!

History in a Nutshell

Chloe came to Fidos For Freedom in January of 2005 as a three month old puppy. PC310044 Chloe was puppy raised by Linda O., who is a long-time Puppy Raiser for Fidos For Freedom. Chloe has an anonymous sponsor, however we have been blessed to get to know her as well over the years. Chloe’s sponsor has acted as such on behalf of numerous Fidos For Freedom dogs.

Chloe had two fantastic trainers. First she trained with Jolanthe W., and later with Pat J. Both were instrumental in helping Chloe to learn basic obedience, public deportment, and hearing alerts.

In January of 2007, I was matched with Chloe at a Wednesday night training. I’m not sure who had the happiest tail wag!

Chloe and I graduated from Fidos For Freedom at the Tux & Tails Gala in May of 2009.

I cannot imagine life without Chloe! Whether it is doing her job alerting me to sounds I do not hear, or retrieving dropped items so that I do not topple from the Meniere’s, Chloe is simply glad to be with me. She doesn’t even consider her job, “work”.

In honor of all those canine partners who assist their human with various tasks, I want to wish Chloe a very Happy Birthday!

Denise Portis

© 2009 Hearing Loss Journal