Author of “Ready to be Heard: How I Lost My Hearing and Found My Voice” Available Now on Amazon
I learned the meaning of the word “loss” when doctors diagnosed me with progressive bilateral hearing loss at the age of four. With that diagnosis came feelings of fear and shame. As I grew older, my hearing continued to decline, and I chose to hide it from those around me including my extended family and friends. By seven, I relied on two hearing aids hidden beneath my long brown hair. By age 15, I could no longer remember what rain sounded like. I worked hard in school and harder to fake my way through everyday conversations.
I grew up strong but also afraid. I feared silence. I feared the words “deaf” and “disabled” and what society told me they meant. I was afraid of how people would react to me if they discovered I had “lost” my hearing. I feared they would view me differently. I feared they would treat me differently. I feared being pitied. I feared being barred from opportunities.
Then, during the summer between my junior year of college and my senior year of college, all my fears became my reality. I awoke to find that I lost the very last of my functional hearing. I awoke to complete silence. There was no denying it; I was officially deaf. Due to unforeseen circumstances, I also became mute at that same time. I never learned to lip-read well, and I never picked up sign language. Therefore, the only way I could effectively communicate was through writing.
At first, I was upset, and I fell into the trap of self-pity. Then I realized that,, even in the silence I was still me. I still had the same thoughts, the same dreams, the same knowledge; and no one could take that away from me. One of my dreams was to finish college. I had one year left. So, I grabbed my bag, got in my car, swallowed my pride, and drove down to The Disability Resource Center on my college campus to ask for help.
This was the first time, but not the last, that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) made a huge difference in my life. The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability. When most people think of the ADA, they think of wheelchair ramps leading into buildings or service dogs for the blind; yet, it is so much more than that.
ADA grants reasonable accommodations and access to people with a wide spectrum of disabilities. For me, as a newly deaf young person, this meant that I would get to have real-time captioners in my college classes. They would type what was said as it was said, so that I could read the dialogue of my professor and peers on a computer on my desk while class was in session.
I started my senior classes, with my peers, in the fall. With the help of my captioners, I didn’t miss a thing my teachers said for the first time in my life! This one accommodation opened up a world of possibilities for me and helped me finish my Bachelors of Science Degree in International Business and in Marketing Management with an emphasis in Entertainment Marketing, on time, in just four years!
Since then, I embrace my Deaf Identity, taught myself how to speak English again, learned sign language, and strengthened my lip-reading skills. I am now the published author of the autobiography, “Ready to be Heard: How I Lost My Hearing and Found My Voice.” I use my voice around the world as a motivational and inspirational speaker, sharing my story of resilience.
I broke down barriers in Hollywood and helped pave the way for the next generation of diversity on screen by authentically representing deaf characters, like me, on shows like “Switched at Birth” on Freeform, “Speechless” on ABC, and many more. I took what I originally defined as my “loss” and used it to create positive change in my life and the lives of others!
The Americans with Disabilities Act became the most important Act in my life. This one law shaped my future by helping me achieve a higher education, creating access to entertainment, improving communication techniques for the deaf, opening job opportunities to me, and so much more.
The Americans with Disabilities Act is key to my contributions and success in modern society as a deaf woman; so, I am happy to celebrate its 30-year anniversary and help spread awareness about how this revolutionary civil rights law still improves lives like mine!
Since about 26% of adults in America currently live with disabilities, it affects the lives of millions. The ADA was a revolutionary step in the right direction for the civil rights of our disabled American population in 1990.