Finding Her Voice Ryan Braun September 21, 2021

Finding Her Voice


By Lisa Danford

In junior high, Camilla Gilbert began wearing cloth headbands in every color and style. They became a staple of her outfits all the way through college. “At the time, I wasn’t thinking about why she wanted to wear the headbands,” said her mom, Connie.

Camilla was born with bilateral microtia and atresia, small ears and an absent ear canal. At the time, doctors didn’t know much about these rare conditions and provided little guidance to her parents. Camilla was very selective about who knew about her ears. The headbands covered her hearing aid.

“I just knew that I was born differently, and I looked different. I accepted that, but others didn’t,” Camilla said, adding she was occasionally bullied at school. “It taught me to be strong, resilient, and it began my advocacy– being able to explain, in my own words, what I am and what my condition is.”

Over time, she embraced her uniqueness and stopped focusing on her weaknesses. “I began living in my own truth,” Camilla says as she reflects on her long journey from hiding her disability in middle school to accepting it.

In August 2020, Camilla, now 38, was a keynote speaker at a statewide conference. That experience inspired her to start her own business, Microtia Life, LLC, which empowers people with disabilities through education, advocacy, and mentorship.

“I’m not going to sit here and say I was confident all day, every day, because that was not the case,” she said of starting Microtia Life. “I was terrified. But I am learning more about myself and how to be a better businesswoman.”

Becoming an entrepreneur is not easy, and it was even more difficult during the pandemic. But Camilla already created a business plan while pursuing her master’s degree. She also drew on her experience with the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA), where she connected with advocates and started to find her voice.

“I still associated having hearing loss as a stigma, so at first, I just observed. Once I got comfortable and started to have conversations, it helped me with processing who I am,” Camilla said. “The HLAA community opened my eyes. Now I focus on the intersectionality of being a Black woman, a person with hearing loss, and a person with microtia and atresia, explaining my different identities and how I fit into society.”

Becoming a mother in 2008 also encouraged Camilla to concentrate on her strengths. She wanted to be a role model for her daughter but had been hiding her hearing aids, microtia and atresia for 14 years. “I didn’t want her to think you could just cover up whatever you didn’t like about yourself,” she said.

The responsibility of motherhood, along with community advocacy translated into her business. She reminds parents of children with disabilities that hearing loss is not a tragic condition, provides resources, and connects them to others who have a shared experience.

“Camilla has always had her hand in a lot of things, but she’s very focused and organized,” said her mom, Connie. “When she puts her mind to something—it’s been like this since she was young—Camilla is going to do whatever she needs to do to accomplish it.”

As she celebrates the first anniversary of Microtia Life, Camilla is looking to the future. She is currently a doctoral candidate and her research looks at the experiences of Black people who have microtia and atresia. She also plans to publish a book and hopes her business will help make advocacy less intimidating.

“The community is seeking people to just be there. Do what makes sense for you, your purpose and your passion,” she said. “Give yourself grace, trust the process and focus on your strengths.”

Learn more about Microtia Life, LLC, and Camilla by visiting