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.