I wear two hearing aids. They’re tiny but powerful digital electronic devices that tuck behind my ears and feed sound into my middle ear. This technology makes a huge difference in my life. My hearing loss is an important part of how I face the world: how I work, how I use a phone, how I listen and interact with others. It’s not all of me, but it is part of me.
In 2011, I jumped through a series of hoops to document my disability for my employer. I have a great job, and I’d like to keep it. This emotional obstacle course was tough on me, though. Phone call after phone call, email after email, fax after fax, one office visit after another – all this to keep working in my field. When I finally met with the last doctor on the list, he expressed surprise that I had handled my own accommodations for most of my working life and my education. He was impressed that I knew of a position that would suit my abilities, and even more impressed that I’d already gone ahead and gotten the job. He documented my hearing loss and made his recommendation: that I keep my position teaching virtual school.
I’ve never kept my hearing loss a secret from employers and coworkers. Unfortunately, honesty can be a dangerous policy at times. Discrimination against disabled people still happens, despite the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, there is hope for improvement.
Today’s young adults grew up side by side with their disabled peers. Disabled or not, they’re friends, classmates, and teammates. Coworkers is a natural next step.
The number of disabled veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars calls attention to the issue of employment. These (mostly) young men and women want to pursue rewarding careers and support their families, just like their peers. They are a large and visible group that can’t be easily ignored or put down. These newly disabled join those blind or deaf from birth, those handicapped by illness or accident, and those with unexplained challenges.
Now is the time to be inclusive. Now is the time to look forward and make reasonable accommodation an everyday occurrence.
I fear a Romney-Ryan presidency. Both Romney and Ryan have already voted for laws that minimize women’s rights. They support Voter ID laws that present obstacles for low-income voters and people of color, those who do not have ready access to paperwork or the money to procure the necessary documents. Romney and Ryan would move our country’s philosophies backward, not forward. Romney’s actions and speeches show him to be out of touch with the mainstream, and I consider myself, hearing aids and all, part of the mainstream.
Barack Obama will move us forward. He recognizes that all people are created equal, regardless of gender, race, disability or sexual orientation. He believes in hard work earning rewards, and he supports policies that will support the middle class. Under the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies cannot refuse to accept me just because my hearing loss is a pre-existing condition. Based on his record, President Obama is the leader who will best support disability rights in the workplace.