Advocacy Sometimes Means Being Alone

What a year.

When my three children ask what has kept me calm during this time of social unrest and pandemic, here is my answer: “2019”. The twelve months leading into the current year taught me about sacrifice and advocacy, not only for my own children and students, but for myself as a teacher with a disability.

Advocacy is a true fight that sometimes means fighting alone and unheard.

After almost three years on the job, I resigned from my special education teaching position. The work brought joy and pain. I had become the voice for students who often communicated more through their behaviors than words. I loved being their advocate in the classroom and at IEP meetings. Collaborating with their families on learning goals was the highlight of each week. But there was another advocacy battle going on behind the scenes. I had to work three times as hard for administrators to understand the needs of a teacher with hearing loss. It took extreme effort to lip read children and colleagues who did not always face me, enunciate, or speak up. It took enormous concentration to focus on simultaneous conversations in the classroom and in meetings, to make phone calls to parents without appropriate assistive technology, or to watch training videos that had not been captioned. For three years, I fiercely advocated for students to have necessary accommodations to learn and thrive at school. Behind the scenes, I advocated for myself with administrators who often placed more emphasis on asserting themselves as leaders than listening to their teachers. It was exhausting.

Here are the lessons I have learned from 2020.

To quote the Rolling Stones, you can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometime, you might find you get what you need. At the beginning of the year, I accepted a job outside of public education as a team leader in a private school. In this new role, I get to listen to, be a voice for, and advocate for fourteen teachers within my department.

During a pandemic, I learned to keep my mind focused and heart ready for anything. For two months this spring, our school building temporarily closed while fellow leaders and I met remotely to plan for an unprecedented school year. When our doors reopened, we had health and sanitation protocols in place that allowed us to teach children while minimizing risks to Covid exposures within our building. We have all learned more about hand washing, physical distancing, and face masks than ever before.

And then the video of George Floyd being murdered surfaced on social media. Like so many, I was shocked and outraged that something like that could happen in 2020. Here I had been advocating for those with disabilities while doing little to understand racial injustice and work for lasting change. This injustice has compelled me to listen more, reflect, and work harder to ensure equality for all people. There is a lot of essential work that needs to be done.

Which brings me to face masks. They make it hard for people with hearing loss to read lips and fully understand spoken language. This year, I became an advocate for transparent face masks that could make verbal communication more visibly accessible to those of us who cannot hear. I joined the private school’s diversity and inclusion council where I spoke up about our staff wearing clear face masks. I even purchased quite a few of these masks and gave them to colleagues. I attended Zoom meetings with my state’s Deaf and Hard of Hearing Commission leaders to advocate for more access to transparent face masks. Recently, I joined the Commission as a board member and will continue to advocate for the rights of our state’s Deaf and hard of hearing community.

How are you doing?

I hope you are staying healthy and strong during this unprecedented year. Know that I am here for you, if you need to share your story, vent, or propose ideas.

Please… reach out to me.

10 thoughts on “Advocacy Sometimes Means Being Alone

  1. Wonderful column, which I will share on my own WP site. My year has also included an additional challenge, dealing with the health-care system in the age of Covid while my husband fought a losing battle with cancer, diagnosed just before the pandemic broke loose. I’m only now thinking about how to process all this, and what the role of hearing loss was in my navigation of the medical system and how I might have made it work better for me. Thanks for writing this.

  2. Shanna, a very heartfelt message about coping with hearing loss during this
    very difficult time. I am grateful you have found a position where you are heard
    and accommodated as you go about helping others.
    Vicki

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