I sometimes write about my experiences with hearing loss for other reputable blogs or magazines to help build awareness of hearing loss issues and advocate for people with hearing loss. You can find several of those pieces here.
A few weeks ago, one of my favorite sites sent out a series of writing prompts including “I’m Disabled and I’m a Parent.” It seemed like a perfect opportunity to write about the importance of educating children about hearing loss protection, yet I balked at the chance. The word disabled felt odd to the touch. It didn’t seem like something I wanted associated with my hearing loss. But why not? Was this stigma rearing its ugly head again?
I had to figure out, does my hearing loss make me disabled?
On the one hand, the answer must be an emphatic YES! This is the only way people with hearing loss can receive the protections they need under the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990. It is the only way we can realistically fight for the accommodations that we need at work and at play — things like hearing loops and captioning.
On the other hand, the word may be part of why people resist acknowledging and accepting a hearing loss. This may be especially true for people who developed hearing loss as adults. Being “disabled” requires a shift in how one views oneself — a pivot from feelings of confidence and self-reliance to fears of weakness and helplessness.
Rightly or wrongly it is a difficult label and one that still gives me pause. I was raised to value independence, strength and self-reliance. Not to rely on others and certainly not to let obstacles prevent me from achieving my goals — all things that can be unfairly associated with the word disability. Maybe this was part of my father’s resistance to accepting his own hearing issues. If anything his generation valued self-sufficiency even more than my own, especially for men.
In the end, it is just a word. Just one part of the description of myself — like brunette, or persistent or funny or terrible with directions. It is part of what makes me uniquely me. I need to embrace it, and own it, and do all I can to not let it stand in my way. That is my goal.
Readers, how do you feel about the word disabled when it comes to your hearing loss?