April 2017  nzherald.co.nz

Being born totally deaf hasn't stopped a young Auckland man from graduating with a Master's degree in clinical exercise physiology. Josh Foreman, 25, was the youngest person in New Zealand to receive a cochlear implant when he was two and a half years old. His adoptive parents, millionaires Bill and Diane Foreman, realised that he wasn't responding to sounds such as doorbells and barking dogs. "So my dad took it upon himself to test me. He got two pots and stood over my cot while I was asleep and started banging them together, and I didn't wake up," he said. More scientific tests followed, and confirmed that Foreman was profoundly deaf in both ears. "Even if I stand beside a 747 jumbo jet I can't hear a thing," he said. Doctors offered his parents a choice of sign language or what was then the new idea of a cochlear implant. "The very first model I had was so big that I had to wear it on my back like a back-pack and a wire would come off it and attach to my ear.”   

But he is grateful that his parents chose to get him an implant, even though some deaf activists believe implants undermine the value of deaf culture. "People are entitled to their own choice, but me, personally, I would say you should definitely get a cochlear implant because it will open new opportunities," he said.

 Josh Foreman, Helen Clark, Liz FairgrayJosh ForemanDiane ForemanTop left: Josh Foreman's adoptive mother, Diane Foreman, was NZ Entrepreneur of the year in 2009; Top right: Josh aged 10, using his cochlear implant to talk by phone to another boy born deaf in Australia;  Bottom: Josh aged 9, with his speech therapist Liz Fairgray (centre) and then Prime Minister Helen Clark at the opening of the Hearing House preschool in December 2000.

It wasn't easy. It took him eight years to learn to speak properly, and he still needs to lip-read as well to make sure he understands people. He needed full-time teacher aides throughout his schooling at King's School and then King's College. But in his first year at university he realised that he no longer needed the reader/writer assistant that he was given, and started taking his own notes. "I always placed myself at the front of the class so I could hear the lecturer, and if I didn't catch something I'd ask them to repeat it or I'd check with my classmates," he said.

He completed a Bachelor of Physical Education in 2014. He loved sports and never let the cochlear implant become a barrier. "I played rugby. I had custom-made headgear with more padding on one side [to protect the implant], and I played on the wing," he said. He must take the device off his ear when he swims, but didn't let that stop him working as a swimming teacher.

"In the preschool pool I would sometimes leave it in because it was not too deep. For the older kids I'd take it out. I did all the talking and the kids did all the listening, hopefully they didn't need to ask questions.”

Josh Foreman  Josh Foreman with his latest cochlear implant

He also mentors teenagers with cochlear implants through the Hearing House charity, which his parents helped to fund. "Sometimes they ask questions like, 'Will I ever get a job?' or 'Will I ever get a girlfriend?' " he said. "I answer: 'Yes of course you will, you just have to work hard to get what you want. Just because you have got that cochlear implant doesn't mean you can't do anything.' "