Bailee Gunnerson participated in extracurricular activities to support her dreams, and she served four years of 4-H Council at UNL, including three as vice president. (The second one from the left is Bailee Gunnerson). Photo courtesy of University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 2018.
Bailee Gunnerson participated in extracurricular activities to support her dreams, and she served four years of 4-H Council at UNL, including three as vice president. (Bailee Gunnerson is second from the left). Photo courtesy of University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 2018.

When the classroom door was opened, Bailee Gunnerson finished her broadcasting classes for the week. Audio classes and projects were what she feared most in the past because of her hearing impairment, but they are no longer. 

Gunnerson of Lincoln, a junior broadcasting major with a minor in film studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, has had a hearing impairment since she was a baby. She said she wishes to share stories to encourage disabled people to regain their hope and love for life.

“My hearing impairment results in 20 to 30 percent of hearing loss in both ears,” she said. “In other words, I can only hear 70 to 80 percent of sound from outside.”

As a baby, she had frequent ear infections caused by her small ear canals and excess fluid buildup. This also caused her to have a hearing loss since the damage was being done to her ears. 

“An otolaryngologist suggested I have myringotomy tubes be put into my ears to provide ventilation and prevent buildup,” Gunnerson said. “I had the surgery at 14 months old, and naturally, the tubes came out within 12 to 36 months.”

She said it did not work because there was still fluid buildup, so she had another round of tubes put in. Eventually, a third and final round was put in. 

“I struggled with on and off ear infections growing up,” Gunnerson said. “The damage caused by them was done, and I was left with hearing and speech issues because it’s hard to learn to speak if you can’t hear.”

Gunnerson said hearing impairments could result in speech impediments, and that is the most significant difficulty for her.

“I can overcome not being able to hear everything because I can ask people to repeat themselves or speak up or turn up the volume on things,” she said. “But I can’t change how I speak.”

She said this issue has led to some insecurities and self-confidence issues where she felt uncomfortable speaking to new people or in front of a large group out of fear of sounding bad or uneducated because she sounded different.

Gunnerson went to speech therapy for 11 years to work on improving her speech impediment, and it did help. 

She said she got to a point where her listening and speech could not progress any further, but she was not afraid, frustrated or disappointed.

“Seventy to eighty percent is still a lot, and I get most of what is being said or done around me,” she said. “Sometimes I have to ask to have a video be played a little louder or for someone to repeat what they said, which isn’t that big of a deal since it was normal for me.” 

Baile Gunnerson Work 684x1024 - UNL student shares disability story, continues with career dream
Bailee Gunnerson is working as a lab assistant at the College of Journalism and Mass Communication at UNL. Photo courtesy of Bailee Gunnerson.

Gunnerson said over time, she has grown more comfortable recognizing it is not her fault that she cannot change who she is.

“There are times those fears come back, causing me to be anxious,” she said. “But I have to remind myself that I’m the one putting those fears and pressure on myself, that truly other people don’t care or notice.”

Kirk Gunnerson, 56, Bailee Gunnerson’s father, is a teacher at Milford Public Schools in Milford, Nebraska.

Kirk Gunnerson said they were active in Bailee’s growing up because they knew Bailee needed them.

“We were taking Bailee to doctors, therapists and specialists,” Kirk Gunnerson said. “And we were starting to give Bailee enough support as a child.”

He said they also practiced hearing and speech with Bailee through games, flashcards or having simple conversations.

Bailee Gunnerson knew her impairment would affect her broadcasting major courses, but she said she is not afraid to pressure her passion.

“I want to do producing for TV or short-form video content in the future, so my hearing impairment shouldn’t stop me from doing what I want to do and pursuing my dream,” she said.

Bailee Gunnerson said her family is in a much better state of mind now, and they are much closer because they know they can rely on one another when times get rough. 

“These experiences have taught me it takes determination and time in order to get to where you want to go,” she said.

Senior Journalism and Advertising & Public Relations Student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.