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My perceived “disability”

I was asked in an email to discuss my disability which was defined as “being deaf”. I never considered my inability to hear natural speech as a “disability” but merely as something I cannot do. I never joined “deaf culture” not because I couldn’t but because I didn’t want to. I never saw myself as needing to be outside normal society and in a smaller group of people “just like me”.

I’ve been thankful for people who came before me and showed the world we deaf people can be equals, we can do whatever we desire. Sure there are limitations to my abilities but there are limitations to yours as well. So I can’t hear (well I can to an extent with my CI) but I have some incredible gifts. I have abilities some don’t and some have abilities I don’t.

The things we can’t do are referred to by those who don’t understand them as “disabilities”. Sure being deaf places limits on some abilities but that doesn’t make me disabled. To me a disability is something which you allow to excuse a lack of ability in an area of life and limits you being the best you that you can be.

To me, my inability is merely an obstacle to be conquered. It never stopped me from being the best me that I could be.

Conquering it meant I attended schools for the hearing, my parents pushed me to be better all the time, to work at being the best in the society as I could. They taught me a work ethic that I enjoy today. They made me the most capable and best adjusted to my own ability that I could be. They pushed me in speech therapy, drove me to learn to read lips naturally and encouraged me all the way through.

Love and support coupled with strong expectations. They were told early on how incredibly bright I was. If a class bored me they got the school to push me harder. Every subject they pushed for the best I was capable of.

In this I learned the trials of or weaknesses can shed light on our own strengths. I discovered I have many more abilities than inabilities.

I have the ability to read lips in not one but three languages. Those languages are Lakota (the language spoken in our home), English (The language spoken in public), and Russian (The language spoken in the home of my best friend and wife Sarah). Few people master a single language and I was able to master three.

So I’d ask is my deafness a disability or an inability? And further did it limit me or did my other abilities become more valuable? It’s perspective really to allow a disability to block out other abilities.

I believe it’s an ability as it’s given more than one might feel I’ve lost. Sure I can’t “hear” the way you do but if I can see your lips I can “hear” you. Weather through glass, across a crowded room, or in a noisy room like a dance club or concert.

Because of my deafness I’ve learned to sign as have those close to me. This is advantageous when speaking privately as few understand ASL. So Sarah can speak to me in Russian and I sign back. It leaves people scratching their heads.

Still feel being deaf is my “disability”?

Sure if you aren’t looking at me or so I can view your lips I can’t hear you. But there is a large percentage of the population with auditory issues when the speaker is not looking at them. What’s the only difference then between me and people with minor to major auditory issues? I don’t have a degree of deafness when I can’t see your lips I am deaf.

That’s it, that’s all that is different.

Sure accents can give me fits while I adjust. New words or mispronounced words like “worsh” in Pittsburgh can trouble me for a time. But I imagine everyone has similar issues to a degree.

Of course I had resigned myself to certain things like that I’d never have like hearing my son’s voice, play music, sing, and speak normally. Even those dreams came true in time.  But they only agreed because they saw how I’d overcome the obstetrical else they’d have deemed me too old and refused to do the surgery.

We can choose to view our disabilities as road blocks and stay stuck forever,  or focus on how to utilize our other abilities to overcome them. I used the gift of my brain to minimize the impact of an inability in my life.

We all learn to play to our strengths. It’s ashamed few learn to leverage them to overcome perceived disabilities or to at least limit an inabilities impact in our lives. I refuse to be limited by things I can’t change and will always look to find ways to live the best and fullest that I can.

So we know my weaknesses now. I don’t have the ability without my cochlear implants to hear sound. In other words I am deaf. But my strengths are many and my weaknesses few. I am strong physically, a natural athlete, have incredible balance, great reflexes, a strong will (Ok this one can be both good and bad), I am witty, charming and smart (very smart), and these are just a very few.

I imagine if you look closely your abilities also far outnumber your inabilities. There must be a way to leverage your abilities to minimize the impact of your inabilities and let you get out and enjoy this beautiful experiment called living.

After all it’s only a disability if you allow it to be.


I hope this answers you question about my inability to hear and what others perceived as a disability can in itself hold abilities not seen by those unwilling or unable to look.