Vision, hearing impairments no match for Murray’s drive

Senior+Julia+Murray%2C+who+has+been+nearly+deaf+and+blind+since+birth%2C+will+be+heading+to+Slippery+Rock+to+study+occupational+therapy.

Kevin Hutchinson

Senior Julia Murray, who has been nearly deaf and blind since birth, will be heading to Slippery Rock to study occupational therapy.

By Kevin Hutchinson, Baldwin High School - PA

Senior Julia Murray, who has been nearly deaf and blind since birth, has never backed away from a challenge.

“She was having a hard time with her (adaptive) technology one night,” her mom, Whitehall elementary teacher Elizabeth Murray, said. “And I told her, ‘just put it away.’ But she said, ‘I am not a quitter.’ ”

Throughout her life, Murray has used that resilient attitude to surmount challenges that, for most people, are unrelatable. 

“I feel like I always just try to do my best,” Murray said. And her best is better than most: As her time at Baldwin wraps up, she has earned a 4.3 GPA, a position as National Honor Society executive board vice president, and status as one of TribLIVE’s Outstanding Young Citizens.

“She’s the hardest-working student I’ve ever taught,” said Lindsey Graney, district teacher of the deaf. “The amount of effort and energy and time she puts in. … There is no comparison.”

Throughout her life, Murray has faced numerous challenges. Using technology to access the classroom, for instance, has been crucial.

“Technology is huge in my life,” Murray said. She uses cochlear implants, screen-enlarging software, and an FM system, which connects directly from a teacher’s microphone to her implants. 

Beyond technology, Murray has had to learn self-advocacy. She credits Graney for her growth in that area.

“She’s taught me advocacy skills and how to interact with the world around me,” Murray said of Graney. “She’s taught me that my hearing loss should never be a barrier for anything that I want to do.” 

As the only deaf-blind student at Baldwin, Murray has seen the importance of surmounting challenges. Her struggle with vision and hearing “is a part of my identity, but it’s not the main thing,” Murray said. 

She is deaf and blind and skiing. That is crazy to think about.”

— Lindsey Graney

In addition to earning outstanding grades and leadership positions while in high school, Murray has worked to help others. She has served on the Pennsylvania Partnership for the DeafBlind Board, an organization that helps families with deaf and blind members.

“Making them realize that they’re not alone, I think, is really important,” Murray said. 

Murray and her mother also brought Cheers for Ears, a program that promotes awareness of hearing loss, to the district. She continued developing the program throughout middle school and high school.

Murray also loves participating in sports. She has achieved lofty goals in skiing, a sport that is difficult for people with perfect sight and vision. 

“She is deaf and blind and skiing. That is crazy to think about.” Graney said. “But she gets back up … she conquered it, and now she’s a better skier than I am.”

Murray now can ski black diamond slopes, the most difficult type of ski trail.

“I’ve always wanted to do black diamonds,” Murray said. “It’s the highest level. I love it.”

 In addition, Murray has played blind ice hockey for Envision Blind Sports, learning to skate and maneuver a specialized puck.

“When she started, she had a lot of trouble skating. And she pushed herself and pushed herself, and now she’s a pretty good skater,” her mother said.

Murray agrees. 

“I can definitely see improvement in both (hockey and skiing),” Murray said. “They use a lot of the same skills.”

Murray plans to serve as a counselor at Envision in the future, helping other deaf and blind students to have the same experiences she did. 

“What I love about sports is you can get independence and teamwork all in one place,” Murray said.

On a college visit to Slippery Rock, Murray surprised Graney and her other support teachers by giving an impromptu presentation that explained how she deals with her sight and hearing issues.

“The professor of that class was the director of Envision,” Murray said. “I really enjoyed getting to speak and share that I’m still able to do all the things I love to do.”

There’s so much to life, and I never would’ve let some obstacles stop me from doing whatever it is.”

— Julia Murray

District Director of Secondary Education Jill Fleming-Salopek, who was the middle school principal when Murray started there, quickly learned about Murray’s independence and work ethic. On the first day of middle school, Fleming-Salopek stood outside, anxious to see Murray get off her bus. 

“I’m waiting, I’m waiting, thinking, ‘Where is she?’ ” Fleming-Salopek said. “And she was already in the sixth grade hallway, in her first period class.”

Fleming-Salopek said Murray’ perseverance comes naturally to her.

“(She is) amazingly self-sufficient,” Fleming-Salopek said. “She’s just being her. She’s not doing anything that she finds … extraordinary.”

Graney agrees. 

“She doesn’t realize that not every kid has the work ethic she has or the focus she has,” Graney said.

For Murray, overcoming barriers is crucial. 

“There’s so much to life, and I never would’ve let some obstacles stop me from doing whatever it is,” Murray said.

Throughout her academic journey, Murray has never been alone. 

“I really attribute a lot of (her success) to her family and her supports. Having Lindsey Graney work so closely with her – that’s been a great partnership,” Fleming-Salopek said. “So I feel like all those pieces of the puzzle coming together have helped her to fly.” 

And fly she does. Murray is headed to Slippery Rock to study occupational therapy, a field where she can assist others with physical challenges. 

“I’ve had all these supports,” she said. “And I want to be able to do the same thing that they did for me.”

Murray realizes the power of her story. 

“I want to bring a light to the world and show that, despite the challenges that we have, we can still overcome,” Murray said.

This story was originally published on Purbalite on May 24, 2022.