It's one thing to come out about my disability, which I recently did and it has been incredibly rewarding. But it's an entirely different thing to actually live with it and be reminded of the everyday struggles/ anxieties that come with managing a disability. Disabilities are not a bad thing, but the struggles are very real. We live in a non-disabled world where disabilities are often categorized as 'handicap,' 'special needs' or an 'abnormality.' Even a number of health insurance companies fail to offer adequate support for individuals with disabilities; oftentimes, we're faced with costly tests and treatments required to properly care for our disability but no room for relief simply because there are too many disabilities to keep track of.
I wish disabilities were viewed as more common everyday conditions that you may see in people - because that literally is all that it is. Disabilities are just conditions. Despite our differences, we are all everyday people who share a common ground. Additionally, I wish more people would understand that you can't assume a physical disability is just someone in a wheelchair - which, of course, that's part of it but it's not the only picture of what a physical disability is. There are many types of disabilities out there that we need to learn and familiarize ourselves with.
I also wish the term disability were more gentle, accepting, and accommodating. Imagine if all disabilities fell under the same assumption as someone wearing glasses (which I wear also by the way) or someone with a broken arm wearing a cast. At work, we have the option to add on vision benefits to our insurance, so why not hearing benefits? To most people, wearing glasses or a cast are solutions to help get better and to perform better. But so are hearing aids, and many other incredible life changing devises out there.
So, I wonder, will disabilities (as well as devices that support disabilities) ever be seen under the same lens? When will disabilities be universally accepted? When will we be comfortable talking about it? When will we be passionate about fighting for disability acceptance like we are for equal pay, women's rights, gender and race equality? Just some things to think about.
On another note, as I live with my disability, I require a lot of adjusting. And believe me, I'm used to it - but it's exhausting. Despite all the injustices out there, I'm realizing more and more now that I don't have to put myself through all that if I don't want to. It's sort of like being that one friend who wants to be there for everyone, but at the end of the day she isn't there for herself - and she needs to be more than anything. That's kind of how I'm starting to think with my disability. I'm that friend who wants to make everyone feel comfortable around me, and to like me, but I'm forgetting to like myself - to put my wellbeing first before others and my insecurities.
One of the primary reasons I justify concealing my disability all these years is the fact that there are so many misconceptions coming from the non-disabled world about hearing loss. And to be honest, I didn't want to face the questions, the curiosity, the attention as if I were some science experiment. But the truth is, there are a lot of misconceptions with just about every disability out there. So, there are a few points I want to share with you.
Here are some facts I wish more people knew specifically about hearing loss:
1). Hearing loss doesn't mean you previously worked in arenas with music blasting in your ears. It also doesn't mean you may be ex-military who possibly lost her hearing from the war. Both could be true but you can't just assume that. Honestly, do I even look like I know how to operate a riffle? Hey, I'm sure I could but I would just need to be taught professionally like any other individual prepping for combat.
2). Hearing loss doesn't apply to just old people. Sorry, but it's true. A lady who acknowledged my disability once said to me "oh, but you're so young!" I remember explaining to her that I was born with my disability, as many people are. I knew she didn't mean anything bad by it, but the ignorance really upset me.
3). Having a hearing loss doesn't automatically make you understand American Sign Language. ASL is just like any other language. You have to learn it to communicate and understand it. So just because I am hard of hearing doesn't make me have this innate understanding of ASL; I personally have not learned it, so for me it's just a bunch of gibberish. Please, don't try to communicate to me with hand signals because 1). come on, that's rude and 2). you'd be making yourself look like a fool because I'm not going to respond until you actually speak. Sorry.
4). Having a hearing loss can be genetically passed down but it doesn't mean there's an entire family of hearing impaired and/ or deaf individuals in a single household. Yes it's possible, and there are indeed deaf families out there but that is not always the case. Like for me, there is nobody else in my family with a hearing loss and there are no medical records indicating hearing loss in my family over four generations; therefore, I am the only one with hearing loss as we know it. Will I have a child someday with a hearing loss? That I don't know. Every case is different. I don't even know how I ended up with my disability or what caused my hearing loss.
5). There are many different types of hearing loss. Just like eyeglass prescriptions cater to the individual's eyesight, hearing aids work the same way for hearing loss. Hearing aids are very personal and are set to the levels appropriate for that individual's hearing needs so that he/she can hear the very best possible. Which brings me to my last point.
6). Hearing aids will help me hear, but I still won't hear as well as a normal hearing person. So it would truly be a breath of fresh air if you could refrain from commenting things like, "are you sure you can hear." Because, yes I can hear - but it's the best that I can (and, gee, thank God I can hear something). Most cases, hard of hearing individuals will never hear as well as hearing individuals - even with the help of hearing aids or a cochlear implant. Like someone with prescription glasses versus someone with 20/20 vision, it's never exactly the same. So, just be patient with us. For me, the more I get to know someone, the easier it is to pick up on their speech patterns. It's kind of like testing out a new car. When you first drive it, you're not completely confident making all those turns like you would in a car you've been driving for years. But once you're driving it for a while, you build that confidence and the car becomes an extension of you out on the road; you don't have to think twice about anything. That's what it's like for me getting to know someone. The more I know them, the more natural it becomes for me to hear them.
So, these are just a few things to keep in mind. I hope what I shared has opened your eyes and inspired you to see things from a new perspective. Everyone has something going on. Everyone has their own way of dealing with challenges. Remember, never judge a person for the circumstance they're in; instead, measure a person by how they choose to handle their personal struggles. I'd say, someone who reflects on the good when others would often view them as negative is someone who deserves an incredible amount of respect. Because, it's called RISING ABOVE IT. Choose to see the good, always remember the good, and at the end of the day - exemplify the good in your everyday life.
In summary, no matter what it is that sets us apart from others, whether that's disability, gender, race or religion - we are all human beings and shouldn't be treated any less than. It's never too late to change the stigma behind disabilities. It certainly can't hurt to try to understand one another.