Sometimes a jukebox does more than play music. A jukebox helped Steven Schulte’s parents find out their 3-year-old might have a hearing problem.
“They said I was the quietest baby ever,” said Schulte, 28. “I never really cried like other babies do. I was intrigued by a really cool jukebox that we had. I was intrigued by anything that lit up with LEDs. Our jukebox lit up like crazy. I moved closer to the big speaker in front of this jukebox that was blasting sound. I was probably interested in the vibrations. My parents found that interesting and noticed I was attracted to really loud things.”
Doctors discovered Schulte, who is now Southeast Christian Church’s IT mid-level web developer, had severe to profound hearing loss.
“I’m not completely deaf,” Schulte said. “I have a little hearing. But, for example, if I didn’t have my hearing aids in and the lawn mower was running right in front of me, I wouldn’t be able to hear that. So it’s pretty significant.”
The hearing loss was so significant that doctors said it would affect Schulte’s ability to speak.
“The doctors said I would never be able to speak like I can right now,” he said. “That I would have to learn sign language, so I wouldn’t get frustrated with the verbal world we live in today.”
Schulte grew up in Colorado, and his parents worked diligently to help him learn to speak.
“I took piano lessons to be able to understand the high and low notes for enunciation,” Schulte said. “I don’t have the monotone voice like most in the deaf community. Speech therapy helped me understand the silent letters even though I can’t hear them. When someone says, ‘Steven,’ I can’t hear the letter ‘S’ in my name, so it sounds like, ‘Teven.’ Speech therapy allowed me to lip read when people are talking so I know what letters they’re saying in a word. I can phonetically say the sounds I can’t hear.”
Schulte said his parents helped him connect with the community, and he was involved in his youth group at Calvary Bible Church. Schulte was homeschooled through high school, and he studied computer science at a community college near his hometown.
From 2010 to 2015, Schulte helped his dad with startup companies that furthered his skills in programming and software analysis. After that, he lived in Hawaii for about a year and completed a boot camp on web development.
Schulte was hired at Southeast in June 2016.
“Steven is a rare find in both the IT field and among most of the people I know,” said Southeast Programmer Analyst Chuck Bump. “Steven might be the most conscientious person I’ve ever known. Every day he strives to do his work thoughtfully and carefully and, above all else, in a way that everyone he serves knows that Steven loves them.”
At a College-Age Ministry event the day before his first workday, Schulte met his future wife, Kayla.
Whether social interaction, academic achievement or career choices, it can seem from the surface that having a hearing impairment is anything but an advantage.
However, Schulte sees it differently.
“I feel like there were times I questioned, ‘Why am I not like everyone else?’” Schulte said. “But at the same time, I feel like it was a gift from God to be deaf. It’s a gift. It’s not a negative thing to me. There’s something different about me and that’s being deaf. That’s a way for me to shine a light for God. I can use my gift for Him in other ways. I feel like God has a purpose for me in it, and I’m still figuring it out.”
In his book “David vs. Goliath,” Malcolm Gladwell describes this same concept as “the theory of desirable difficulty.”
Gladwell writes that many people with learning differences don’t think they succeeded in spite of their differences; they succeeded because of them.
“Capitalization learning: we get good at something by building on the strengths that we are naturally given,” Gladwell writes. “Compensation learning is really hard … but those who can are better off than they would have been otherwise, because what is learned out of necessity is inevitably more powerful than the learning that comes easily.”
Schulte worked long hours to learn to talk.
“If a deaf person came up to me knowing just sign language, I wouldn’t be able to communicate with them as much as I can someone who can hear,” Schulte added. “I am so used to the verbal world we live in today. I got disconnected from the deaf community. I miss that in a way, but at the same time I’m very thankful for where I’m at today.”
Schulte jokes that he sleeps really well at night because he removes his hearing aids.
“With my hearing loss, I have to look at somebody face-to-face,” Schulte added. “I’m really good with one-on-one interactions. Web development is really natural to me because I have to be one-on-one with a lot of people to achieve whatever somebody envisions.”