Looking BEYOND My Disability
Merriam-Webster defines DISABILITY as a physical, mental, cognitive, or developmental condition that impairs, interferes with, or limits a person’s ability to engage in certain tasks or actions or participate in typical daily activities and interactions (1). I am one of those individuals who was diagnosed with a disability. I am often asked how I deal with my disability and how I have been able to achieve so many things! It’s simple- I do not see myself as a disabled person! I believe I can do anything I set my mind to do!
When I was born, all five of my senses were functioning! At the age of 18 months, I lost one of my senses due to a fall down a flight of stairs. I lost my hearing. Of course, being the ornery two year old that I was, I did not let it affect my way of life. I immediately started compensating in many other ways. I think my loss of hearing was much more difficult for my parents than it was for me! After the initial shock wore off for my parents, they took action right away by finding the funds to purchase hearing aids, finding speech therapists who were willing to come to our home, and taking me to other therapists throughout the state. My mother also opened a preschool in our home. The interactions I had with other children, who could hear, helped me learn how to lip-read and I also went to sign language class at the same time. I tell people I received my PhD in preschool education because I attended preschool for five years!
Not only did my parents help me tremendously, my older brother and sister also played an important role in my life. They would help me communicate with friends at school anytime I had difficulty understanding. The teachers at the local public school adjusted their environment so that I would succeed in the classroom. I was placed on an IEP (Individual Educational Plan) from the time that I was diagnosed up until my senior year of high school. That was very helpful. Speech therapists spent many hours with me every week. I remember them teaching me things like the meaning of certain sayings such as “it’s raining cats and dogs.” Then when I started kindergarten, if I was struggling with a certain topic in the classroom, the teacher would inform the therapist, and she would spend that time helping me understand how to tackle the subject.
In Western Oklahoma, I was known as the deaf girl who played sports. Basketball was my main sport. My coaches were amazing and used hand signals for plays. My teammates always made sure I knew what was going on too! I was Valedictorian of my class, Female Athlete Of The Year for Oklahoma my senior year, and I even won the gold medal in the Deaflympics. I graduated from high school and went on to a Junior college to play basketball, which was when I decided to receive a cochlear implant. The cochlear implant would help me hear a little more since my hearing aid never really helped much. Everything sounded monotone with my hearing aid; however, with my cochlear implant, I am able to hear different pitches and sound waves, although I am still very dependent on lip reading. I graduated from college with a Bachelor’s Degree, and I became a Registered Dental Hygienist. I also married the love of my life and we have three boys! I breastfed them all and have donated around 2,750 ounces of breast milk to the Oklahoma Milk Bank!
During my years of playing basketball, my coaches would often tell us a story or give us an example that would motivate us to play better. I’ll never forget the one example that our coach gave us during halftime of a basketball game. He said, “If your father was undergoing a major heart surgery, what would happen if his surgeon just quit performing his duty during the surgery because he didn’t want to perform anymore? If he would quit, the patient, your father, would not survive.” Thankfully, the doctor chose to continue the surgery. He looked BEYOND what was happening right then, thought about the big picture, and realized what the outcome would be if he decided to QUIT.
So how did I look BEYOND my disability and become the successful person that I am today? I have never QUIT. Like I said earlier, my family started helping me as soon as I was diagnosed with deafness. They never treated me as a person with a disability. They gave me the tools I needed that would help me become successful. My parents encouraged me to become a dental hygienist just like they encouraged my siblings to become what they wanted to be.
There were individuals that said my deafness was going to limit me, BUT I LOVE CHALLENGES. I love to prove people wrong. Someone told me once that “the only true disability in life is a BAD attitude.” I believe that with all my heart. So, I want to encourage everyone who is reading this to look BEYOND what is happening now, see the big picture, and never QUIT.