By Matthew Rodriguez
Pasadena Weekly Deputy Editor
When Kathy Buckley graduated high school, she could only read at a third-grade level.
“I did horrible in school,” Buckley said. “I was too busy trying to figure out what’s going on. … I was very lost at school. (I was) suicidal. I felt like I had no purpose. I was just too much work trying to keep up with everything.”
As a child doctors diagnosed Buckley as mentally challenged because she struggled to respond to their instruction. The only issue was that she simply couldn’t hear them — she was deaf.
When doctors and educators realized Buckley was deaf, they transferred her to public school. She struggled to learn because of the lack of resources provided to deaf children at the time.
“It’s when they put me in public school is when I got lost. I got really lost in public school,” she said. “Teachers would their back to us as she would draw on the blackboard. I couldn’t see her lips.”
With her hearing loss, Buckley felt alone and secluded from everyone around her, including her family.
“I felt very isolated from my own family,” she said. “I hated the weekend because I had no real connection with my family.
“The unfortunate thing about hearing loss is that it’s invisible. It’s an invisible challenge. You can see that somebody’s arms and legs are missing but you can’t see somebody’s hearing is missing.”
As Buckley aged, she realized that she wanted to help others get through any challenge in their life. Following a near-death experience, where a Jeep ran her over on a beach in Ohio, Buckley decided to live her life to the fullest and in a spur of the moment became a comedian and now shines the light on the struggles of deafness.
“I’m taking my challenges and making them more visible by finding humor in it,” Buckley said. “To find humor in your pain is a fabulous way to move forward in life. Once you laugh at something that hurts you, it can no longer hurt you.”
With her newfound talent, Buckley looked for a way to help children struggling with hearing loss. In 1996, she found that opportunity with No Limits for Deaf Children and Families, a nonprofit that educates children with hearing loss.
Established by Dr. Michelle Christie, No Limits celebrates its 25th anniversary on April 17. Unique from other after-school programs, No Limits began as an after-school theater program meant to help deaf children further develop their interpersonal skills. Since 1996, the program has produced 180 shows reaching over half a million people. No Limits has since expanded to provide educational services year-round for people all around the globe.
In addition to providing services for their children, No Limits provides resources for their families to help them accommodate their child and establish a connection with them. The nonprofit provides all of the services to low-income families for free. Outside of No Limits, the services would cost anywhere from $75 to $100 an hour.
“We are so thankful to be able to provide free resources changing deaf children’s lives for the past 25 years,” Christie said. “Our goal with this campaign is to educate and empower about the needs and triumphs of people with hearing loss.”
Christie and Buckley work as a tag-team duo. With a doctorate in education and years of teaching deaf children, Christie provides the instruction while Buckley provides the emotional support.
“I’ve lived the life of having a hearing loss. I know the rejection. I know the isolation. I know the feeling of trying to blend in,” Buckley said. “We try to give them a safe place to express themselves so that they can see what they’re going through is normal.”
With her experience with hearing loss, Buckley hopes to instill confidence in her kids, something she lacked growing up.
“I wish my parents had No Limits when I was growing up,” she said. “I think it wouldn’t have been ignored. I think it would’ve been more acceptable. They would have been better accommodations for in the house.”
As a little girl, ashamed that she had to wear hearing aids, Buckley decided to take them off during a class — unaware that they would produce a high-pitched screech when covered. Annoyed and distracted by the screech, her teacher walked over to Buckley’s desk and slapped her hand. Humiliated and confused, Buckley put her hearing aids back in even more ashamed.
Because of her traumatic experiences, Buckley is determined to instill a sense of confidence and self-esteem within every kid that enters No Limits.
“(Having hearing loss) is just a part of who you are,” Buckley said. “Like your brown hair or your brown eyes, your hearing loss is just a part of who you are. It’s up to you if you’re going to stand out with it or if you’re going to hide from it. I don’t want my kids growing up shy and feeling broken. I want them to feel that they are perfect just the way they are.”
In Buckley’s eyes, it’s almost surreal that she has made an impact on children that were just like her. She cherishes every moment she has with those children. Each child who walks through No Limits’ doors Buckley views as her own child. In her own words, she feels “like the best momma in the world.”
“It’s an absolute blessing,” she said as she held back tears. “I’ve seen my kids grow up. I’ve seen them graduate college. I’ve seen them succeed in life. … When my little ones are reading books when I couldn’t read a book at their age, I’m in awe. It’s like magic seeing them succeed and move way faster than I had.”