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Sign of the Day - DRESSY

Living Loud: K.T. Maviglia, Miss Michigan and Miss America 2015 Contestant

General Interest   |  Friday, September 19, 2014

By Jillian Winn

This article is part of our "Living Loud" series, which highlights famous deaf people and their impact in the world.

As a follow-up to Marta Belsky's recent blog article on Heather Whitestone, I wanted to tell the story of another Miss America contestant with hearing loss. K.T. Maviglia was crowned Miss Michigan and competed in the 2015 Miss America pageant. She struggled with insecurity when her hearing loss made her different, but credits the Miss America organization for helping her regain self acceptance and self esteem. She says that along with her mom, her role model is Heather Whitestone, Miss America 1995 who was deaf. She is now using her Miss Michigan platform to help others with hearing loss.


In fourth grade, at the age of 9, K.T. Maviglia was getting confused in the classroom and her teacher noticed she was learning differently than the other students. Her hearing was tested and it was discovered that she had sensorineural hearing loss and auditory discrimination disorder.

Sensorineural hearing loss occurs due to an issue in the inner ear and is most often caused by hair cell abnormalities. Sensorineural hearing loss can range from mild to severe hearing loss, including total deafness.  K.T. had moderate hearing loss and opted to wear hearing aids, which amplify sounds at preset frequencies to target the ranges effected by the hearing loss. In addition to wearing hearing aids and a battery pack, her teacher wore a microphone and four speakers were added to her fourth grade classroom.

K.T. struggled with the change.  She told, “I went from being the popular kid to the kid who needed special attention. It was hard for me to accept as part of who I was.”

She boycotted her hearing aids altogether in high school and tried to compensate by sitting in the front of the classrooms and asking extra questions.

Becoming an Advocate for Hearing Loss

Now, at 22, she proudly wears her hearing aids and is using her Miss Michigan and Miss America contestant platforms to advocate for those with hearing loss. She told, "The Miss America organization is what made me get back into it because I realized that this is a part of the unique me, it's part of who I am and I need to embrace it."

K.T. founded the KT Maviglia Foundation for Hearing Disabilities in 2012 and chose LISTEN UP: Advocating for those with Hearing Disabilities as her Miss America cause. She also co-authored a legislative bill in Michigan which aims to improve services and insurance coverage for children with hearing loss. She hopes to use the Miss Michigan platform to gain support for her bill and wants to work with children with hearing loss similar to her own to help them embrace their differences and encourage them and others, showing that health problems don’t need to hold you back. “No matter what adversity you go through, no matter what challenges you have in your life, you can overcome them, you can deal with them and you can be success.”



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Living Loud: Heather Whitestone, First Deaf Miss America

General Interest   |  Tuesday, September 16, 2014

By Marta Belsky

This article is by Marta Belsky. Marta is a third generation ASL user. She has been teaching ASL for 20 years and enjoys sharing her native language with new users.

This article is part of our "Living Loud" series, which highlights famous deaf people and their impact in the world.

Heather Whitestone was the first deaf Miss America and the first Miss America with a disability. She competed for the Miss Alabama title three times before winning it, which finally sent her to the Miss America competition. She won Miss America in 1995 in Atlantic City.


Heather was born hearing in 1973. When she was 10 months old, she got sick with a high fever, which left her deaf.

Did you know?

Fevers burn off the hair receptors in the inner ear (cochlear); without those receptors, sound isn’t recognized or processed by the ear.

Communication and Education

Heather started out at her local school, using speech and hearing aids, but by 4th grade, she wanted to meet other deaf kids. She attended the Central Institute for the Deaf in St. Louis, which focuses on developing speech and speechreading skills as the primary form of communication. She went back to her local school for high school.

Did you know?

Deaf students can go to schools that teach different methods for communication, including sign language, lip reading, speech, and fingerspelling. Some schools use a mix of methods, some primarily focus on just one. Deaf students can attend the local public school, some go to day schools that have programs specifically designed for deaf students, and there are residential (boarding) schools where deaf students live during the school year and go home during breaks and vacations.  Read more about Educational Options for Children that are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

Learning the Ropes

Heather started competing in pageants, including Miss St. Clair, Miss Jacksonville State University, and Miss Alabama. Each pageant helped her to figure out how to communicate with judges and make an impression.

There she is, Miss America!

The Miss America pageant rules do not allow contestants to have any help (like coaches or interpreters) while competing. For her talent, she did a classical ballet en point to Sandi Patti’s “Via Delarosa.” She had spent two years preparing it, counting the beats with her hands on the stereo speakers. Once the music started, she did every move according to the memorized count in her head.

Watch Heather’s dance:

During her year as Miss America, Heather introduced her five-point STARS program: “Success Through Action and Realization of your Dreams.” She traveled to every corner of the country speaking to corporations, non-profit organizations, churches and government, including the FBI and CIA.

After the Crown

Heather is an author of four books (Listening with My Heart, Believing the Promise, Let God Surprise You, and Heavenly Crowns) a public speaker, and a wife and mom. She has volunteered her time for Republicans causes and spoke at the Republican National Convention for both Senator Bob Dole and George W. Bush. She has supported programs to train support dogs for deaf people, and organizations that distribute hearing aids to the poor around the world.

In the Spotlight Once More

In 2002, Heather elected to get a cochlear implant for her right ear. She had depended on some residual hearing in her left ear in conjunction with the implant, but lost that. In 2006, she got a second implant for her left ear. Her decision to have the implants was big news, and she was featured on several news programs.

Related Books (by Heather Whitestone)

Listening with My Heart

Believing the Promise

Let God Surprise You

Heavenly Crowns



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About the Author

Marta Belsky Marta Belsky is a third generation ASL user. She has been teaching ASL for 20 years and enjoys sharing her native language with new users. Marta is on the Lansing Community College Interpreter Training Program Advisory Board and has also been a board member for the Michigan Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf and the Michigan Chapter of American Sign Language Teachers Association.

More about Marta  |  Articles by Marta

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