Deaf first-year student finds place at CMU, both on the court and in class
Adaptability might be Annika Goodbrandson's greatest strength. As a multi-sport athlete, Goodbrandson understands the importance of versatility and flexibility. Goodbrandson is lacing up for Canadian Mennonite University's (CMU) Blazers women's basketball team this year, and her greatest strength will be to the test.
As a deaf individual, the prevalence of adaptability has been lifelong for the first-year CMU student. Goodbrandson's family became aware that she was deaf at the age of two, and shortly after, the decision was made to get cochlear implant surgery and start speech therapy. Because of this, Goodbrandson can hear relatively clearly and fills in what she can't by reading lips.
Goodbrandson says growing up in the small city of Selkirk didn't provide a lot of exposure to other people who are deaf. To this, sports has always been the lens through which she views life, "When I played on the Team Canada deaf women's volleyball team, it really exposed me to the hard of hearing community and the different outcomes of the same situation of having troubles with your hearing," says Goodbrandson.
As she transitioned from high school to university, Goodbrandson took inspiration from her deaf peers and decided to double down on her life as an athlete. Goodbrandson understands the life of a basketball player is demanding and accepts no less than 100% commitment.
With two hours of practice each day, plus an intensive game schedule, Goodbrandson spends a great deal of time on the court. An environment that has proven extremely difficult for her hearing aid processor. "In the gymnasium, if I'm being honest, I hear nothing at all," says Goodbrandson. It took some time, but Goodbrandson and her team were able to devise alternative forms of communication.
"We use a lot of hand signals with Annika to help in our communication." Says head coach Joe Di Curzio. "The coaching staff tries to remove their masks when communicating with Annika so that she can read our lips. The camaraderie on the team is excellent, and her teammates on the court are constantly helping to transfer information from the coaching staff to her."
Goodbrandson's academic life at CMU reflects the support seen in her athletic endeavors. She says, "All of my profs have been very accommodating, and I really appreciate that. One of my big concerns about going to a bigger [university] is that they wouldn't be as accommodating."
Sandra Loeppky, Coordinator for International Students & Accessibility programs at CMU, says the institution works directly with individuals on a case-by-case basis to ensure barrier reduction is tailored to individual needs. Speaking broadly, Loeppky says, "Some of the usual methods of providing accessibility in the classroom for those within the deaf/hearing impaired community may include access to notes in class, closed caption for videos, mics for faculty and interpreters if required."
For Goodbrandson, CMUs commitment to barrier reduction was the rationale for attending CMU. "One of the reasons I chose CMU was because of the smaller school size, smaller class size, and there is more accessibility to meet with professors and explain that [I'm a deaf individual]," says Goodbrandson.
There are still many challenges for Goodbrandson. Technical difficulties with live subtitles in class have proven to be frequent, and feelings of inadequacy obstruct her focus on the court. Despite the struggles, Goodbrandson remains optimistic, "With every challenge, there is an opportunity on the other side," she says. The professors' collaborative, personal approach and her teammates' consistent support help Goodbrandson stay motivated and grow through some of life's challenges.
Her determination in the face of adversity is part of why Basketball Manitoba chose Goodbrandson as the recipient of the Lena Wenke Courage Award in the spring of 2021. This award recognizes individuals who have overcome obstacles or challenges in their lives while staying involved in basketball. "[The award] really inspired me to keep going," says Goodbrandson. "It's about sharing your experiences, too, because not everybody knows [about difficulties with hearing impairment]—the only way they will know is to educate them about your situation."
While attending CMU, Goodbrandson hopes to bring more awareness to accessibility issues while, in the meantime, playing as much basketball as she can. "I don't have a clear plan yet [for what I want to do with my academics], but it's my first year."
Whatever direction Goodbrandson goes, you can be sure she will stay resilient and adaptable.