by Gerry Gordon-Brown
As a senior citizen, I have experienced many situations throughout my life that required me to be an advocate for myself and many others. I was born with a bilateral sensorineural hearing loss, the oldest of four children and the only one with a disability. Early on, my late mother did a great deal of advocacy with our local school system because the majority of my teachers throughout elementary, middle school (it was Jr. High in my day) and high school were all females with voices in the high frequency range, which is the point of my major concern. I had to learn early to speak up for myself and be a well-informed “self-advocate” because there was no hearing aid available on the market for me due to the fact that I had an extremely uneven loss in both ears. My only option was to learn as much as possible with my participation in regular high quality lip reading or speech reading classes through our school system. My mom was not always going to be there to speak up for me, especially when I went away to attend Kentucky State University in Frankfort. I had to understand my needs, know my rights and my personal responsibilities at a time when there was no law on the books to protect the rights of a person with disabilities. At that time as a college student in the early 60s’ there was no American with Disability Act (ADA), therefore my legal rights as a person with a disability (PWD) was extremely limited or not at all. The ADA, a federal law to stop discrimination against persons with disabilities, was not passed until 1990.
I successfully went all the way through school attending regular classes and 4 years of college all without hearing aids. I became a proficient lip reader, always sitting on the front row or for sure in the front sections of all my classes. As a self-advocate, I had to learn to effectively communicate, make informed decisions and take responsibility for my decisions. If at first I did not succeed, I would try again; giving up was not an option and it was not always easy to try again. Learning the skills of advocacy has served me well both personally and professionally in my jobs in three different states (Ohio, Indiana, & KY) working with persons with disabilities and assisting them to obtain services on their behalf. I have assisted persons with disabilities to gain employment, find housing, locate peer support, obtain attendant care, training and attend college both in state and out of state.
So being able to speak up for yourself is a skill to help us aim high, and succeed in our community in all areas of activities of daily living such as at home, work, church, school and to be a full participating member of our community. Self-advocacy skills are very needed for anyone and especially if we have a disability such as being hard of hearing, wearing a cochlear implant, deaf or deaf/blind, because in some cases we have an “unseen disability”.
So always remember to speak up and aim high with our life styles because we are very deserving of all the benefits, the same as persons who are non-disabled.
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