Frustration out west spurred self-assurance

Frustration out west spurred self-assurance

By LIZ THOMPSON

February 19, 2018

This Week News

Twenty-two years ago this month, I did something I regret.

I have reconciled, but can’t forget, so I hope this will serve as a fair warning to others.

If you have ever visited or lived in the Southwest — in particular, Arizona — you’ll understand in a moment.

Winter is the most beautiful time of year there. The mountains burst with riotous flowers. Even the spiky cacti bloom.

When my husband and I moved to Phoenix in July, we were greeted by record heat of 121 degrees. We learned quickly not to go barefoot on the concrete, to drink water all day and to leave the car windows open a bit.

Once winter hit, 70 degrees felt cold. Don’t laugh — that’s 50 degrees cooler than the hottest time of summer.

In job interviews, I was upfront about my hearing loss, not yet the self-advocate I would become. A job offer came, and my only request was that I would not be asked to answer phones. “No problem,” I was told by the CEO’s secretary in the interview.

I shared an office with that same woman, and within a week, she found repeated reasons to leave our office for long periods of time. I reminded her of my request and she said to take messages.

That was like asking a 5-year old to type the financial reports for me.

Failure and many embarrassing situations ensued. I hated feeling incompetent.

A phone ringing put my stomach in knots. Names and numbers were almost impossible for me to comprehend without caller ID. My boss did all he could to help me, but he, too, was baffled. Other staffers were very kind, as well.

The Americans with Disabilities Act was still young.

Finally, I contacted an Arizona state agency for the deaf and those with partial hearing loss, asking for assistance on how to handle the situation. My first clue to the problem should have been when the agency contact suggested meeting at a noisy restaurant. I had to read her lips and have her repeat and repeat.

Her advice, which I should have questioned and, unfortunately, was one of the comments I understood, was: “Without a college degree, you’ll never get a job paying above minimum wage.”

I shook internally, like I do when something serious is impending or happening.

We were about to leave and I said the conversation would have been easier using sign language.

“You know sign?” she said casually. “I didn’t think so since you aren’t deaf.”

But I did know it, and I soon was to be called “functionally deaf.”

Since she was supposed to be the expert, I thought I had no other options. I didn’t know who else to ask.

My husband and I talked it through many times, but we had no other ideas for my employment. Finally, I begged my husband to move back to Ohio — to what was familiar.

He picked up my final paycheck for me. The employee asked him why I was leaving. When he told her my hearing loss was making it difficult to do my job, she said, “I wish she’d said something. My sister is deaf. I could have helped her.”

My husband left a job he loved in a place we’d both learned to love to come back to Ohio, all because he loves me.

We returned to Ohio in February, the grayest month. I swore I’d never get myself in a spot like that again and that I would find answers, even when they seemed elusive.

That experience made me an advocate for people with hearing loss or any special need. I never wanted anyone to have that much doubt in their abilities or think options were so few.

Seven years later, with me now sporting a cochlear implant and true ability to hear and understand, we moved back to the Valley of the Sun. I worked in schools with special-needs children, hoping to spark their confidence. Three years later, we chose to move back to Ohio.

God didn’t put that old doubt in my mind, so be careful when taking advice — expert or not. Don’t live on regrets — learn from them.

 

Advertisements

Twenty years of words

Twenty years of words

Twenty years ago this month (January 2018) I sent what I thought was a letter to the Editor to Suburban News Publications (SNP) about living with hearing loss.

A few days later, I got a call through my TTY (Text Telephone). Someone was calling me through the Ohio Relay Service for the Deaf.

When I read, “Hi Liz, this is Cliff Wiltshire, Commentary Editor for Suburban News Publications,” I was stunned.

Very few people contacted me in this way. He asked if I sent him the letter that began, “I can’t hear you when I yawn…” I told him it was me.

“I hardly have to change a word,” he went on to say. “It will be in the newspaper next week.” I typed back (and the operator voiced my words) a thank you.

The next week I opened my Booster newspaper and saw my words staring at me with Guest Columnist next to my name. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect that.

After that, ideas flowed into words and I sent my thoughts to Cliff monthly. Cliff became the ultimate editor for this novice writer. He gently guided me to improve my writing to get my point across in the 800-plus words allowed, in those days.

Eventually he asked for a photo. That photo has changed, as well as my byline, over the years: Guest Columnist with no photo, to the same with a photo, and eventually changed to Staff Reporter.

Cliff told me, once I was on staff at the newspaper as a copydesk typist, to think of a name for my column. I brainstormed with my coworkers – Lisa Proctor, Dorothy Stoyer, Mary Mattison and others whose names elude me.

Nothing sparked interest.

One evening, my husband said, “How about day by day?” I loved it and asked him why he thought of that.

“Because that’s how you live.”

With my late onset deafness and MS, I really have no real choice but to live this way. But my faith in God really directs my steps and Bob knew all this about me.

Plus, my maiden name is Day.

Once I became a reporter, in 2000, I met so many people with unique stories that I had new material for columns. I was glad to redirect my topics away from just me.

We moved to Arizona in 2003 and I was fortunate to have The Arizona Republic newspaper run my column for more than two years. My topics changed to my perceptions of a transplanted life from green, seasonal Ohio to the desert.  I wrote about the water issues, my experiences working in the schools and daily life.

Once back in Ohio, in late 2005, Suburban News Publications welcomed me back. Eventually, the newspaper was bought and now I write for This Week News.

I have kept paper copies of all my columns. In 2007, I started to put them in a file in word processing, thinking that someday my grandchildren might want to read them.

As I started typing, I thought I would add my inspiration for each column. Then I remembered the wonderful letters I’d received ‘snail mail’ and added those.

One day I said, “This is a book.” Many of my early columns were about my hearing loss, eventual deafness and my cochlear implants, so I proposed my book to Gallaudet University Press – the only university for the Deaf in the U.S. In those days, authors sent a hard copy and double spaced at that.

They took it, edited it, and published it as “Day by Day, the Chronicles of a Hard of Hearing Reporter.” Even though I was deaf, I wasn’t born Deaf, as Deaf culture dictates, so the title read this way.

All the editors at SNP, Cliff, the late Marty Rozenman – who wrote the foreword in this book – and Joe Meyer and others stood by me, and I know it wasn’t always easy.

Thanks to the people at SNP, my dream of publishing happened in January 1998 and I can’t seem to stop writing.

Thanks for listening all these years.

 

ADA’s passage brought rights, responsibilities

Day by Day

ADA’s passage brought rights, responsibilities

By LIZ THOMPSON

 July 20, 2015
This Week News

The signing of the historic Americans with Disabilities Act on July 26, 1990, was in some ways just a start. But in many ways, it was a long time coming.

Something this momentous doesn’t fall from the sky, as I’ve heard said. It happens because thousands of people with disabilities have said, in one form or another, “See me. Hear me. I’m a person with rights, just like everyone on this earth.”

The ADA is the nation’s first comprehensive civil rights law addressing the needs of people with disabilities, prohibiting discrimination in employment, public services, public accommodations and telecommunications.

President George H.W. Bush stated, after signing the ADA, “Three weeks ago we celebrated our nation’s Independence Day. Today we’re here to rejoice in and celebrate another ‘independence day,’ one that is long overdue. With today’s signing of the landmark ADA, every man, woman and child with a disability can now pass through once-closed doors into a bright new era of equality, independence and freedom.”

Those doors Bush speaks of are literal and symbolic. Yes, entry into a physical door, for someone using a wheelchair, was nearly impossible, but entry into employment and many educational situations held the same barriers.

Legally, the historic shift in the direction of the 25-year-old ADA began notably 42 years ago, in 1973, with the passage of Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act.

“Section 504, which banned discrimination on the basis of disability by recipients of federal funds, was modeled after previous laws which banned race, ethnic origin and sex-based discrimination by federal fund recipients,” said Arlene Mayerson of the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund.

Mayerson also wrote that it was the first time that excluding people with disabilities was viewed as discrimination. Generally, it was assumed that problems faced by this group, such as unemployment and lack of education, were “inevitable consequences of the physical or mental limitations imposed by the disability itself.”

Before public education showed what could be done to include those with disabilities in society, it was an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. Ramps and curb cuts were rare, if in existence at all.

Here we are talking about the physical limitations, but many disabilities are invisible, such as hearing loss and emotional or psychological struggles.

The word disability seems to hold a negative impact. Whereas, in the past, the word handicapped was widely used, then disability, now special needs is being used more easily. The dictionary defines disability as “a disadvantage or deficiency, especially a physical or mental impairment that prevents or restricts normal achievement.” Separate the word as dis-ability and put special in front and you have special ability.

Defining normal achievement might be impossible. What is normal for one person might be an exceptional achievement for another.

Learning to adapt to restrictions, even as we age, is status quo for many, even without a defined disability. Conditions such as arthritis, osteoporosis, insomnia, diabetes, depression, and knee and other joint problems all create some sort of need to change how things get done.

Besides medication, it might mean physical therapy or special diets. But I am convinced, since our bodies will never be perfect, that we all struggle with some kind of deficiency, or lack of ability to operate at full speed. Call it disability, if you will, because we are not performing at optimal ability.

At the 10-year ADA anniversary celebration, U.S. Sen. Bob Dole said, “Disabilities do not discriminate. At any moment, anyone can become disabled.”

He knew this personally as he became disabled with a serious war injury. His recovery was slow, leaving him without the use of his right arm. He said a doctor who treated him “inspired me to focus on what I had left and what I could do with it, rather than complaining what had been lost.”

Those of us with disabilities with a medical diagnosis do just that: focus on what we can do, not what we cannot.

Many of the outcomes of the ADA are good for society as a whole. Ramps and curb cuts allow everyone to cross a street without stepping off a curb; automatic doors, and ramps into these same doors, make entry into any building a breeze. And if we find our physical or psychological needs changing, we know we can safely talk with our employer to accommodate us, even for the short term.

Thank you to the unsung heroes who stepped forward for those who could not.