You’ve come a long way with me.
You know that I’m profoundly deaf, often silly, and unfailingly clumsy.
You might also know that I lipread and I speak clearly.
This puts me in a rare category that many do not know how to handle.
Do I just talk directly at her?
Do I get a pen a notepad?
Do I raise my voice?
Do I whisper and mime?
I stood behind an elderly man in a checkout line. The teenaged employee repeated himself with much impatience. Eye-rolling. Exaggerated sighs.
He completed his purchase and I stepped forward.
“UGH. Those deaf people! ‘What? What? What?’”
The polite smile froze on my face. I felt my cheeks turn hot and forced myself to pay for my groceries without punching him in the throat.
I brushed my bangs out of my face and tucked them behind my hearing aid. I nudged my ear slightly and watched his eyes jerk suddenly toward the squeal. I refused to look away as it registered across his face.
I took my receipt and said “thank you”, in a voice that carried a trace of a deaf accent.
And I’ve wondered for 15 years if that ever made a difference to him.
He couldn’t have known that I was the current winner of a state Deaf pageant on my way to the National Deaf pageant. That I was so profoundly deaf that my audiology tests showed hearing loss worse than the deaf person who didn’t speak or read lips.
He couldn’t have known that the flush-cheeked 20-year old in front of him was hardly different than the elderly man shuffling out the door.
I spent two years on a speaking tour circuit. The pageant system raised money for scholarships and I worked for a highly regarded law enforcement agency while finishing my college degree.
The public speaking terrified me, I quickly learned that I preferred interacting with school assembly children. They believed they could do anything. It was their parents and deaf adults that scared me.
Here’s the part of the post that will earn me some instant enemies and cement why I refuse requests to write for deaf websites. What shocked me most about these encounters was the prevailing belief:
The #1 question I was asked repeatedly?
“How much money do you get monthly from SSI?”
They found no shame assuming I received state assistance because my ears didn’t work. No shame assuming that I didn’t have a job. No shame assuming that my deafness excused me from even having to try.
There are certainly people who need this. Without a doubt. But what happens if you never try?
I was raised by two of the hardest working people I know. My hearing loss did nothing to dampen their expectations that I would work hard to be the best RACHEL I could.
Not the best Rachel-Cut-Her-Some-Slack-She’s-Deaf.
It is with this gift of parents who didn’t automatically discount my potential based on my disability, that I take a (probably) unpopular stance on this:
I hope this comes across as compassionate. I hope you can understand that this is just my perspective: as a person with a disability, as a daughter, and as a mother.
The story continues with the mother saying that her daughter worked hard to try to be elected homecoming queen. You can read in her reasoning that her daughter deserved it in part because of her disability.
You are not worth more by being a homecoming queen.
As heartwarming at it might sound, you’re not entitled to be something simply by virtue of a disability.
I would be cheering along with everyone else had she been selected. I sat in front of a hotel room tv and screamed happily when Heather Whitestone won Miss America. I love a “she overcame her disability” story better than anyone.
But lets look at the facts:
#1. You don’t “earn” being homecoming queen.
It’s a popularity contest, pure and simple.
No number of billboard advertisements would have persuaded the majority of a high school campus to vote for someone.
#2. Her worth isn’t based on a vote by high school students. Her lifetime success won’t be measured by this.
#3. The homecoming queens I see on Facebook a decade later aren’t necessarily happier. Real success is having one true friend for high school still on your Friends list.
#4. While I don’t begrudge this mother for wanting a special moment for her daughter – what are you teaching your child when you express disappointment that people did not give her something on the basis of her disability?
We ALL have a disability. Something that forces us to work harder to do the same thing that someone else might do easier. Success that is bought with a billboard isn’t her success.
#5. Let’s face it… I’m annoyed that Mom’s way of dealing with her own disappointment is to bring more media attention to it.
When I was in high school, the last thing I wanted is to be identified as THAT DEAF GIRL. (Guess what? Classmates on Facebook often only recognize me once I say, “I was that deaf girl in Mr. Booth’s Chem/Phys class”).
I’m sure this girl doesn’t want to be known as THAT GIRL WITH MILD CEREBRAL PALSY WHOSE MOM TRIED TO BUY HER A CROWN.
Again, please don’t mistake this for being uncompassionate. I’d be her biggest cheerleader. This article just left a bad taste in my mouth from the years of answering:
“I don’t receive state assistance. I work hard at my job. People are mostly kind about disabilities if you give them a chance”.
Let’s encourage our kids to be compassionate, respectful, kind. Help them to be successful at being a good friend. Celebrate the good stuff. Say, “I know you can!” for the hard stuff.
We all need to work hard to be the best someone we can.
And if you have a disability? Use it to do something good.
Don’t waste the hard stuff. God has a reason for it.
You know why blogging is so amazing? Because y’all help me forget that I actually AM deaf. I’m a person to you. And I’m grateful.
This is Rachel. Stepping off my soapbox.