October 29, 2008

Guest Blogger: Kristen

DisAbilities Convocation
by Kristen

Although I have been living with a disability my entire life, very rarely do I speak about it with other people, especially with people I don’t know. What would I say? What would people think of me? Would people even come? Should I let some of my guard down and tell the full story or should I be careful not to offend anyone? Would people be able to pick up on my speech impediment -- would I be able to articulate clearly?

As an administrator who comes across as being pretty comfortable in my own skin it may surprise some people to hear of these insecurities. However having a disability and feeling different is something I fought against my entire childhood/adolescence. Even though I am proud of who I am today, those feelings do come back every now and then. It takes a lot of work to ignore them but I do what I can!

Walking into the room I was shocked by the number of people who attended the convocation. I had sent some emails out to the RA staff and felt so supported by the ones that showed up. It immediately made me feel more comfortable and gave me the strength I needed to share my story.

So I got up and proceeded to tell my story. The short version is that on June 13th, 1985, I was diagnosed with a bilateral sensory-neural hearing loss of a mild sloping to moderate/profound degree above 1000 hertz in the right ear and of a moderate sloping to profound degree above 1000 HZ in the left ear. In English-I had a high frequency hearing loss. I would never be able to hear high pitched sounds of alarms, birds, crickets and certain speech frequencies. I couldn’t hear S, T, R, L, X, TH etc. That explained why I would walk around saying “Look at the “SARS” or “Happdede Birtay” Cute-but not appropriate speech for a 5 year old. Elementary & Junior High school had their challenges but for the most part I was able to ignore the fact that having a disability made me different. However, I had a hard time fitting in during my high school years and it resulted in me making some poor choices.

Coming to Stonehill as an undergraduate is probably one of the best decisions I ever made because it really helped me turn my self esteem around. I finally felt as though I belonged to a community and that I was accepted for who I was. I sincerely appreciate all that Dean Grant, Residence Life, Student Activities and Campus Ministry did to help me make this transformation.

One common theme that emerged is that, when you have a disability, people assume it means you are stupid. Other times people assume that they should not challenge you as much or give you a little bit of a break. Both of these approaches are wrong! Personally, it really bugs me when I have been having a conversation with someone at a normal volume but then when they see the hearing aids or hear my speech they start talking really slow or really loud. Seriously, if I couldn’t hear you, I would let you know. Now I just feel stupid!

Another frustration I have is cost/health insurance. Most health insurance plans do not cover hearing aids. The ones I wear, for example, are $6000.00. That’s money I could put towards school loans, car loans, savings for a house etc! Obviously it is pretty important to me that I hear so it’s just something I have to do but it makes me so mad that it isn’t covered by insurance -- it’s not like I did anything to make myself this way, it’s just how I was born.

Despite these frustrations of living with a disAbility, I felt really good about the program and feel absolutely honored to have been a part of it. I hope that those who were there gained some insight to the thoughts and feelings that I and others with disabilities have and look forward to future opportunities to share my story!

Editor's Note: This DisAbilities Convocation was the first one we had done at Stonehill, and we thank for the very courageous participants who shared their stories. It's never an easy task putting ourselves out there - especially in a professional environment that often encourages us to separate the two. But, as Kristen describes, sometimes sharing a personal piece of our history helps to connect in the future.