MANSFIELD — A recent high school graduate and intern at the local police department is a finalist for a national award that recognizes outstanding individuals with hearing loss.

Catherine Fitzgerald, 18, a 2018 graduate of Southeastern Regional Vocational Technical High School in Easton, is one of three student finalists for the 2019 Oticon Focus on People Award.

Oticon is a hearing aid manufacturer based in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Fitzgerald, who was born with profound hearing loss, combined her experience with the disability and passion for criminal justice to develop a guide for local police to make it easier for officers to help people with hearing loss.

During her nine-week internship earlier this year, she developed and led American Sign Language training sessions for Mansfield police and produced an ASL pocket guide for officers to use on the job. Other police departments have since requested the guides.

She was nominated for the award by police Lt. Roy Bain and was selected by the organization in the student category.

Finalists for the award are recognized for what they have done to change the perception of what it means to have hearing loss.

If she wins, Fitzgerald will receive a $1,000 cash award and an additional $1,000 to donate to the charity of her choice.

She will also receive a pair of high-tech Oticon hearing aids with BrainHearing technology. The technology gives the user a better awareness of the environment to help separate sound sources, recognize what each is and make sense of it, according to the company.

Fitzgerald never let her hearing loss get in the way of making accomplishment.

“Every disability comes with its challenges,” she said in an email. “However, I was lucky to be born into the family that I have. My three older brothers and my mom and dad have always pushed me to do the best I can in everything I do.”

Fitzgerald said she was also grateful to have friends who have been supportive and accommodating.”

Being the only hard-of-hearing person in my family, I grew up without having another deaf person to learn from. But I truly think that benefited me in the long run because I could figure out what worked for me in terms of adapting to my surroundings,” Fitzgerald said.

She credited her parents for enrolling her in mainstream education and not a school for the hard-of-hearing.”

I think that shaped my morals and my personality,” Fitzgerald said.

During her junior year in high school, Fitzgerald contacted the police department and volunteered doing clerical work. While in her senior year, she worked every other week instead of going to school.

”She’s an incredible young lady,” Mansfield Police Chief Ron Sellon said. “She’s just a sweet, sweet kid.”

Fitzgerald said her interest in criminal justice was fueled by watching crime dramas on television and that the experience of working at the police department gave her an “inside look at the job.”

“The opportunity to work with the Mansfield officers only fueled my passion to work in the field more. They are all such great people and I couldn’t have done it without them,” Fitzgerald said.

This fall, Fitzgerald will start on her degree in criminal justice at Curry College and hopes to become a forensic computer technician.

“I’ve always worked well with computers and I have a passion for criminal justice, so with this career I can combine the two,” Fitzgerald said.

To vote for Fitzgerald for a 2019 Oticon Focus on People Award, go to oticon.com. The voting deadline is Sept. 26. Winners will be announced in November.

David Linton may be reached at 508-236-0338.

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