UNO student overcomes hearing disability, becomes leader on campus

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Despite the biting hard air and the frosted, icy cement sleeked across the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s campus, Datrell Morgan leisurely walks to class, stopping to talk in the winter wind to the friends he has made while studying here and offering a smile to any others that briskly usher past him. In the January cold, Morgan’s infectious enthusiasm and consummate charisma radiate warmth onto those he passes as he strolls to class.
His ability to become a master communicator speaks volumes about Morgan’s determination and drive. While he seemingly has more connections on campus than any other student, it’s his Cochlear Implant that helps him connect to those around him.
“Despite my hearing disability, I make good connections with people because it is inspiration, a reflection to them that you can overcome anything,” said Morgan, a senior studying criminology and criminal justice. “It is a positive thing to do in your life to connect with other individuals.”
Morgan was born with healthy, normal-functioning hearing but began to lose some of it later in his early childhood due to the fact that his mother worked at a factory while pregnant,  exposing her to chemicals and an environment that impacted her baby after his birth. As a result, Morgan can hardly hear in his right ear because of the loud noise from the factory.
While he can hear better now because he wears a Cochlear Implant, a surgically implanted electronic device that provides a sense of sound to a person who is severely hard of hearing or profoundly deaf, Morgan struggled in his earlier years to overcome his disability
“I was determined to attend hearing tests [as a child] to see where I am at and test my hearing ability by percentile,” Morgan said.
After the testing and repeated speech sessions began to improve his hearing, Morgan said he became motivated to not let his disability hold him back from achieving his goals. He also used hearing aid as a child before wearing his Cochlear Implant.
“I think his hearing disability doesn’t hold him back because he doesn’t allow it too,” said Sarah Murphy, assistant director of Thompson Learning Community, a scholarship and academic community that Morgan belongs to. “He has never allowed it to stop him from making a contribution to the students he works with. The thing that’s key and made him a leader is that he makes important connections despite his hearing, and I think that’s truly remarkable.”
Morgan vowed to not let his disability hold him back at a young age when he began learning sign language at the age of 7. While he still speaks orally, he said signing helps him to communicate. Taking a month or two to practice many signs and memorize them, Morgan soon mastered the skill after initially having trouble practically applying signs through movement of his hands.
“At a young age, I was frustrated because of my hearing loss,” Morgan said. “I always wished to be that person that hears well, but I overcame that.”
Now completely confident in himself and a role-model, Morgan has fully immersed himself in the university’s community and become an advocate for those struggling with obstacles in their lives by getting involved in Talking Hands, Intervarsity, Project Achieve, Campus Recreation Advisory Board, serving as a peer mentor in Thompson Learning Community and previously acting as the director of Network of Disability Awareness within Student Government.
Inspired by his role model Thomas Warren, a former chief of police with the Omaha Police Department who strived to help the city’s African American community, Morgan plans to graduate December of 2014 or May 2015 and become a police detective. While in law enforcement, he said he wants to target crimes against children and help victims by working with youth in schools to teach them how to overcome hardships.
“He has impacted Thompson Learning Community by being one of the best peer cheerleaders I’ve ever met,” Murphy said. “On an individual level, he helps motivate others through his refusal to give up by both overcoming his disability and getting through difficult classes. He demonstrates what someone can accomplish by pushing through barriers.”
At the front of a classroom of 20 students in Arts and Sciences Hall, a wispy blonde haired interpreter translates both what the students and professor say into sign language, Morgan attentively following along. Despite his disability, Morgan participates along with the class, asking questions and talking with his classmates, even without the help of his interpreter. Class ends, and the students bound out of the classroom while Morgan and his interpreter part ways.
He walks back into the chilled air and starts his trek across campus, smiling and greeting students all the way. His struggles with his hearing behind him, Morgan steps across campus, each journey a chance to prove he is much more than his disability.
“I hope that my legacy here is that I become a positive role model for students,” Morgan said. “I want to inspire others, so that they can overcome anything in life.”

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