She’s a self-described tomboy and says her number one goal in life is to “go through life just like everybody else, and be the world’s most boring person.” But, Ridgefield’s Jane Croft, while mostly mastering the first part, has happily failed at the second part of her wish.
She’s anything but boring.
Croft has indeed lived her life like everybody else. But, she has done that in spite of the fact that she was born profoundly deaf, which has presented her with a clear life-long challenge. Croft has faced and mostly conquered that challenge because of her can-do, optimistic attitude and advocacy for the deaf.
Croft moved from Oregon to Toronto, Canada when she was 2 years old, then moved to Texas with her parents when she was 9.
“Although I was in auditory training the whole time in Canada, my parents put me into a regular school knowing that I’d adapt better than if they put me in a school for the deaf,’’ Croft said. “I see now that that was the best thing they could have done for me.”
Croft went through high school in Texas, and then attended Baylor University, where she received a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration before beginning a 20-year career in the healthcare industry. Currently, she is an IT Quality Control Analyst for WellPoint, Inc., a major national health insurance company.
Croft is legally deaf, and without her HATIS (hearing aid telephone interconnect system) hearing aid, she would never be able to hear a word. But today, with the help of her earpieces, she has no trouble making or receiving phone calls, something she wasn’t able to do just two years ago. She also can enjoy television, taking advantage of programs that are closed-captioned.
“Before that, I just watched images, and many times didn’t know what was happening,” she says.
When asked about her hearing disability, Croft confesses that it wasn’t always easy and that the social stigma of being deaf has been a definite burden at times.
“When you’re deaf, your brain is totally kidnapped,’’ she said. “I have to strategize everything I do, and while my therapy helped me discriminate sounds, I still have some problems with words, as I tend to say them the way they are spelled.
“And moving from Canada to Texas was a definite culture shock, but, living there for 30 years, I learned and adapted,’’ she said. “I even know how to say fajitas and quesadillas now. Tex-Mex food names were very difficult at first. And, I do have difficulty multi-tasking. It’s best if I take things on one at a time; even in college I spaced out my classes so I wasn’t trying to cram too much in. That’s why it took me five years.”
After working for WellPoint in California, she transferred to Washington State and now her job involves talking with co-workers all over the United States and in India. Those tasks would have been impossible before she had the HATIS hearing aids, her CapTel telephone system, and access to the internet and instant messaging.
“Now, I can talk with my crew in India, have conference calls, freely communicate, and feel really comfortable communicating sometimes complex ideas,” she says.
Croft’s job involves quality testing of software used in the insurance industry, and she manages around 50 projects a year from her home in Ridgefield, but smiles when she says she doesn’t deal with company policies.
“Don’t ask me about ObamaCare,” she chuckles.
Two weeks ago, she was flown to Boston to receive an award as National Employee of the Year from Careers and disABLED Magazine, leaving Boston one week ahead of the marathon bombing, which occurred two blocks from the hotel she stayed at.
Croft was one of 10 winners out of more than a thousand nominees from business nationwide, and the magazine ran a profile of her in it’s April edition. At the ceremony, she gave a 10-minute speech about being profoundly deaf and working in the healthcare industry.
“I got the chance to thank my parents, who are educators and musicians, for instilling a life strategy in me becoming a ‘normal 5 sense’ child without any special accommodations; fully trained in auditory-verbal therapy (the same therapy provided to cochlear implant patients) and being able to utilize powerful top of the line assistive listening devices (ADLs) including hearing aids,” Croft said.
“I emphasized the importance of corporate inclusion since the deaf community is hungry to become a successful contribution member to today’s labor force and society. I told the audience that I knew from age 9 (my mid-life crisis year) that I was different and my purpose in life is simply to be ‘plain Jane,’ exuding inspirations and encouragement to others by being myself, which is why I love my name – Jane. ‘Plain Jane’ can do anything I can set my strategic mindset to, and that deafness is simply an afterthought or a footnote.
“And, I was able to give examples of how my nomination made a direct impact on other peoples’ lives including two of my co-workers, one of which has a deaf daughter (who is) feeling the anxiety of her future after high school graduation.”
Although the deaf have what many call “invisible disabilities,” still many people vastly underestimate their abilities and Jane attempts to correct that misunderstanding by being a keynote speaker at conferences targeting deaf communities, usually organized by local emergency management agencies.
“I love to share my perspectives on information technology, advocacy, inclusion and education, social media, the history of the deaf and the invisible inclusion,” she said.
Recently, Croft spoke in Portland at the Resilience NW 2012 Disaster Conference, a partnership between the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA), Oregon Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (ORVOAD), the Red Cross and other agencies. And, prior to moving to Washington, she served as the President of the California chapter of the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (AGBell) for four years.
From a little girl who couldn’t hear a word and had to go through years of special auditory therapy to a successful and confidant professional woman who heads an international team for an important software quality control analysis division of a major healthcare insurance company, to giving inspirational speeches to audiences around the country, it seems Ridgefield’s “plain Jane” isn’t plain in any way.