I serve on my school district’s Inclusion and Diversity Committee. The focus is making our schools friendly and welcoming to all students, staff, and families. Conversations in the room range from better supporting the diversity of our students to promoting more inclusive hiring practices. Each committee member brings a different story. Here is how my story goes…
I am a third-year special education teacher with a disability teaching young children with delays and diagnosed disabilities. My disability is hearing loss. As a child growing up in the 1970s and ’80s, I did not receive special education because my hearing loss was not detected during an audiological screening the first year of school. My parents were told that I needed to “pay attention”.
In 2001, I was a new mom working full-time in the publishing industry as a writer and editor. After giving birth, my ears heard a ringing sound 24/7. This made hearing especially difficult as I returned to work. Part of my job was to conduct phone interviews. With an undiagnosed hearing loss and ringing in the ears, making phone calls was stressful because I usually heard every third word clearly. The rest of the conversation consisted of my straining to hear and guessing at what I couldn’t hear. One day, I was so stressed that I went to my family doctor and shared that phone conversations were difficult. She referred me to an audiologist. At the age of 27, I was diagnosed with progressive sensorineural hearing loss and tinnitus, also known as “ringing in the ears”. The audiologist said I had likely lived with the hearing loss for a very long time.
Fast forward to 2019.
“Disability should be a part of every conversation about diversity.” – Ruth Madeley
My daily life consists of parenting three children, two with diagnosed disabilities. At work, I teach two early childhood special education classes for children ages 3, 4, and 5. One of the disabilities represented in my classroom is deafness. As a teacher with hearing loss, I also know first-hand what it is like to be a student who cannot hear. Years of not receiving intervention or accommodations while I was in school made me determined to advocate for all my students to receive the services they need to learn and thrive.
As a teacher with a disability, I must also advocate for myself. This includes requesting that an FM (frequency modulated) amplification system by used at all staff meetings. Yesterday, I explained to a principal how a web phone captioning service allows me to make phone calls and read real-time captions on my computer screens during those calls. Every day at work, I am aware of self-advocacy. When I do not hear a co-worker’s comments clearly, I ask questions for clarification. When I need assistance with understanding what a child is saying to me, I may ask the child to repeat what was said.
I serve on my school district’s Inclusion and Diversity Committee to let people know that disability and hearing loss should be part of the diversity conversation and to strive for inclusion. I am a teacher with a disability, and some of my students live with a disability. My desire is that the needs of both the teacher and students be part of the inclusion conversation.
Today I read a quote by Ruth Madeley, an actress on the television show Years and Years. Ruth also lives with spina bifida and uses a wheelchair. “Disability should be a part of every conversation about diversity.” Ruth hopes to someday be in the Marvel Avengers movies as a character living and thriving with a disability.
Let’s all continue the conversation about diversity and inclusion because it is extremely important. And let us all be mindful of including disabilities in that conversation.
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