Embracing Freedom

Hearing Elmo welcomes Ruth Ilean Fox as guest writer for this week’s post. I was trying to remember the first time I met Ruth – most likely at a HLAA convention, but we’ve also touched base from time to time via email and now FaceBook. Ruth has always been an encouragement to me, so I was thrilled when she agreed to write for Hearing Elmo. Her reminders about embracing the freedoms we have is something we should all remember – and share.

Accommodations for disabilities equal freedom of functionality.  Yet how often, instead of embracing freedom, have we turned down accessibility options because of personal discomfort.

Everyone has challenges, some slight and some difficult, which hinder the achievement of a particular goal.  There are all sorts of tools and techniques that help to bridge these barriers to functionality.  Glasses help some vision impairments; hearing aids and cochlear implants assist some hearing losses; sign language and cued speech provide alternative communication; canes, Seeing Eye dogs provide guidance for those with limited or no sight; wheel chairs, walkers, and service dogs assist with mobility challenges.  Then there are ramps that provide building access, assistive listening devices that shorten the distance between the sound source and the listener; and captioned TV, phones, and movies enhance understanding.  This is just a tiny fraction of hundreds of forms of assistance that is available to people with challenges.  The list grows daily as new ideas are invented and accessibility laws are enforced.  Most of these things were not even in the dreams of inventors as recently as 30 years ago.  The ADA became law just over 20 years ago.  It is exciting time for people with disability; challenges are being turned from absolute barriers to varying degrees of freedom.

Usage – Not Access Provides Freedom

Access to accommodation alone doesn’t provide freedom; it has to be used.  Various situations cause people to reject available accommodations.  Many people are apprehensive of publicizing the presence of their impairments. It is possible that they don’t like the way the accommodations changes their “average person” appearance causing stares and comments from other people.  They may feel awkward with the use of an accommodation because it is new to them.  Their patience may be stressed because accommodations don’t always work the way they expect.

As a person with multi-disabilities, who doesn’t want to miss the fullness that life has to offer, I have had a lot of experience with “seeking freedom through accommodations”.    I have had the joy of watching the world develop from a time where you provide your own accommodations; develop your own accommodations; or patiently accept a significantly poorer participation in an activity where accommodations did not exist, to a world where accommodations are appearing in many places.   Accommodations are appearing as public services, insurance companies are slowly accepting accommodations as reasonable coverage options, the market place is overlapping accommodation needs with features for the average person, and manufacturers are making accommodations more attractive as well as improving their capabilities.

Still even with this greater access to accommodation, it sometimes takes nerves of steel to venture out in public the first time with a new accommodation.  My first accommodation experience was glasses at a time that “four eyes” was a favorite taunt of my eight year old peers.  I would leave them at home, losing the freedom of sight. A hearing aid was the next accommodation, with which I experienced much anxiety trying to hide it and my hearing loss, instead of embracing the new found freedom of hearing. I did a bit better with the cochlear implant, as the novelty of it was interesting to most people. Then crutches, a walker, a mobility scooter, and a wheelchair became necessary accommodations for me.  Each one of them caused extreme anxiety as I first used them in public.   Their use provided freedom of mobility, but my focus was on how different they made me and I was sure that everyone was staring at me and my disability.

Hiding and Denying a Disability Does Not Make it Go Away

The one thing I did learn from my youthful response to glasses was to be persistent.  Hiding and denying a disability never made it go away.   I have find that even if my heart double beats; my face turns red; and my hands shake and sweat, I was where I wanted to be in the community. The discomfort was fleeting and I relax in the knowledge that most people around me respond more to my smiles and communication, than all my paraphernalia.

My wish for everyone struggling with the effects of disability, regardless of its degree or kind, is to explore accommodations; patiently work through the initial anxiety; and embrace the freedom.

– Ruth Ilean Fox

7 thoughts on “Embracing Freedom

  1. I really like and identify to this blog. It has been brought with perfect timing I have been going across the street to put eye drops into a precious person. He suddenly lost his sight. He is sitting on that fence and I haven’t know how to approach him again I can tell they are very sensitive on this issue. I have provided them with Dars information and the lighthouse telling them they have some resources available to him. Getting someone to step out and reach for help is difficult just for the reasons you describe here. This blog will help many see the light Ruth you have been a blessing to so many. I know Margo Klug sees you as her Cochlear sister. You are an awesome lady. Thanking you for giving me the courage to mention this to my neighbor again with some new words from that you I can use.

    1. Thank you for your kind words Sharon 🙂 With every challenge that I faced, I needed time to grieve before accommodating to it. Every situation of loss seems to require a different amount of time with the grief process, depending on how much that loss affects the person’s life. Until then it is difficult to embrace the freedom that accommodations provide for us. Prayers for your friend and his struggle, Ruth

  2. Ruth and Denise…thanks for sharing this. I was reminded of how I feel on the days I need to use my cane. I hate to be seen with it because of how I might be seen in the eyes of those who know me…mainly the “old” word. I forget the fact that when I use it my energy is saved so I can do more, and it reduces pain. You expressed my emotions so well. I met Ruth at my first SHHH/HLAA convention in 1990 at Little Rock. It was an awesome experience. In fact, I encouraged Marisa Sarto who is featured in the current issue of Hearing Loss Journal because I felt just what she describes as her first convention experience! Ruth is such a huge part of my own CI Journey. It is nice to be reminded of how much we have to be thankful for!

  3. Dear Ruth, thank you so much for sharing this post. What you wrote is all true. I wear glasses and hearing aids. Every day is a challenge for me to hear and see. I must see to read lip and I must wear hearing aids to hear. I’m thankful that the ADA, a law exists to protect us in school and work environment. I understand that wearing a new device to help us and accommodate our needs is uncomfortable in the beginning. I agree, but for me it has nothing to do with accommodation. It’s mostly commitment. Some days I do not commit to wear my hearing aid devices simply because I’m selfish and do not embrace the true beauty of wearing my hearing aids. Now a days, I’m more committed to wear hearing aids every day because I feel confident and comfortable for who I am as a person. I look forward to reading your new posts.

    Dear Denise, thank you for your time and consideration to share your stories. Your stories are inspiring and I know what it feels like to be diagnosed with bilateral reverse hearing loss. I too am bilateral reverse hearing loss since age 9. I was told that if I were to get surgery and wear cochlear implant, my hearing level would dissapear or improve. My mother chose to purchase hearing aid devices for me. It took many years for my hearing level to improve. Till this day, I continue to struggle in work, school, and life communication. Overcoming hearing challenges has been difficult for me but I learned to embrace myself and be thankful that new devices that are created to accomodate others.I look forward to reading your new posts.

    I’m very thankful that God has blessed me with wonderful friends and family who are part of my life. I’m also thankful that both of you share your experiences and inspiration to make a difference. I wish Ruth, Denise and your followers a delicious feast today. Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Be safe and thankful 🙂

  4. I’ve never understood completely why people feel the need to hide their disabilities, or rather the help for their disability. I’ve always been so thrilled that there was something out there to help me, I feel I am much less normal without the accommodations I have.

    I got glasses when i was in the 5th grade, yes I was taunted, but I was seeing a whole new world. I never hid my glasses and was happy I could finally excel in school because I could see the blackboard. Teasing hurts, but without my glasses i was in danger and I knew it.

    Since I’ve gotten hearing aids and now a cochlear implant, I want people to see them! I was disappointed that my hearing aids were so hidden, even though they are chilli pepper red. I was thrilled when people could see my cochlear implant, then I got my hair cut and it’s made it hard to see. Darn. I feel that when people see I have a hearing problem they automatically look at me when they talk, they understand if I don’t answer, or have to ask them to repeat…and repeat what they have said. Some people don’t get it, but I have to explain it to fewer people when they can see my accommodations than when they can’t. (a lot of people don’t understand that I’m deaf because I can talk, I lost my hearing last year, I was 48, I know how to talk)

    Because of the Meniere’s I sometimes have to use a walker to help me balance. the only time I hate using it is in stores where they do not have wide enough aisles. If I have a problem, what do wheelchairs do? It also bothers me that my bathroom door at home is not wide enough for my walker. Why do they not make all houses with doors wide enough to accommodate things like that. We are going to have to move because our house is to hard for me to maneuver in.

    I love showing off how I am helped by technology and assistive devices. I’m not normal, and if I don’t use these devices it is very obvious! I’d prefer for people to know, I’ve even thought of getting a shirt made to go shopping in…because I can’t hear behind me very well…that says “Please understand – I’m not Rude, I’m Deaf”

    Thank you for the wonderful guest spot.

    1. Hi Wendy, Thank you for your response. Your positive attitude towards your own disability challenges is refreshing. What amazes me is how many people without disability challenges also benefit from the accomodations made for people with disability. Because of this, I truely believe we will see more accomodations built into the “normal world” environment as we move forward into the future. The shirt idea sounds neat! Ruth

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