MONTICELLO — If there was any doubt Emilia Jones would be crowned 2019 Miss White County, it came from only one person.
“I didn’t think this would happen at all,” Jones said following the conclusion of Saturday night’s annual pageant. “I feel amazing. I feel proud of all I have accomplished. I grew up all my life … because I had a disability.
“I never really expected to get Miss White County.”
The “disability” to which Jones refers is to her being born deaf. Her mother, Tammy Jones, said Emily was born without cilia — rows of hair cells in the snail-shaped cochlea of the inner ear, which is filled with fluid. Sound vibrations cause cilia to bend, opening pores that activate electrical signals bound for the brain, which allows a person to hear sound.
“When I was 18 months old, I received a Cochlear implant because I was born deaf,” Emily said on stage during the contest. “Ever since then, I’ve had to endure a lot of struggles, like today’s contest. I need to be very careful about making sure I don’t ‘mis-hear’ the judges because I don’t want to give them a completely different answer than they are expecting.”
A Cochlear implant is a surgically implanted device that provides a sense of sound to a person with moderate to profound hearing loss. Cochlear implants bypass the normal acoustic hearing process, replacing it with electric signals that directly stimulate the auditory nerve.
Basically, it does the job the cilia normally do.
Because she couldn’t naturally hear sound, it was difficult for Jones to speak. When she first began trying, her mother, Tammy, said she noticed Emily moved her lips while trying to imitate what was being said to her. But no sound for those words was generated.
Emily worked with audiologists at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis for the next 13 years, learning to speak and using her Cochlear implants to her benefit.
Jones, who graduated from North White High School in 2018, attends Purdue University-Fort Wayne. She is studying to become an audiologist.
When asked about it during the competition, she responded, “By becoming an audiologist, I will be able to help other children gain confidence and help them overcome their struggles.”
Now that’s she’s 2019 Miss White County, Jones will have a larger platform to advocate for other deaf people.
“Now I am able to spread my message and awareness for other people with disabilities,” she said.
After her reign and college courses are complete, Jones wants to work for Riley Hospital for Children and help other deaf children — like those who helped her.
“I want to work with other hearing-impaired children. I mostly want to work with Cochlear users at Riley Hospital,” she said. “I grew up there most of my life. I want to be able to inspire and help those people like they inspired me. They made me believe that I could do anything.”
Doctors initially told her she “wouldn’t be able to do very much,” but the audiologists had a different, more inspiring take.
“The audiologists there really helped me. They programmed my implant and they always told me that I can do anything,” she said.
Anything. Including the choice to tune things — and people — out.
Pageant emcee Shannon Mattix asked Jones, “Your parents teach you many things. What is one thing you have taught your parents?” Jones didn’t hear a portion of the question, so Mattix repeated it, then showed her the question written on a piece of paper.
“The one thing I have taught my parents is how to deal with stubbornness,” she said. “When I was young, whenever my parents would be screaming at me, I would just unplug myself, close my eyes and be like, ‘I can’t hear you.’”
The answer drew laughs and applause.
Despite the joke, of all the people who have helped her, Jones was especially thankful to her family.
“They always fought for me. They always made sure I had everything I needed,” she said. “I am just super thankful for everyone in my family, for sure.”