Reverse Discrimination

Kyersten and Chloe at the "Candle Barn" in Bird-in-Hand, PA
Kyersten and Chloe at the “Candle Barn” in Bird-in-Hand, PA

Discrimination. Pronounced, the word even “sounds” ugly. According to the United States E.E.O.C, discrimination can fall into the following cateogries: age, disability, equal pay/compensation, genetic information, national origin, pregnancy, race/color, religion, retaliation, sex, and sexual harassment (U.S. EEOC, 2013).

For those of us with any kind of disability, the Office of Civil Rights enforces Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 408 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. As I mitigate my own disabilities with a service dog, I was thrilled to see the ADA clarify specifics for folks like myself (See ADA 2010 Revised Requirements).

One of the more troubling truths about discrimination, however, is how quickly the “tables can turn”. Those who are often discriminated against can very easily become those who discriminate. It sneaks up on you.

Teaching the Teacher

The photo above is of my daughter, age twenty-three, and taken at one of our favorite “day trip” areas. Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania, is a quaint little village in Lancaster county that makes you feel as if you’ve stepped back in time. Kyersten is a young adult now and I’m pleased we are friends. She has taught me many things through the years as she usually presents tough topics with the poise and thoughtfulness someone twice her age would do.

I always welcome one-on-one talks with her, but in early 2010 I initially was NOT pleased when she informed me that I was discriminatory towards people who had normal hearing.

I sputtered, “Wha…?”

Like she tends to do she began to systematically present the proof. “For one thing, when you are exasperated with a communication problem, you call us ‘hearing people’. Makes me feel like a different species!”

She continued her argument by explaining that I often forget that people without disabilities can be just as big a champion for folks with disabilities as the individual themselves. This may be especially true of those who care for someone with disabilities.

Later, a discussion with my husband had me really feeling sheepish about my own apparent hypocrisy. “It’s perfectly natural to seek out people who struggle with the same things you do, but when is the last time you befriended someone without disabilities? You have OTHER things in common with people. For example, your faith, your background, and your profession… all put you in specific environments where you can get to know people and enjoy the reciprocal benefits of friendship.”


“License to Kill”

To “self-identify” is a topic discussed in many forums. Many believe that to do so goes hand-in-hand with acceptance and self-respect. One of my favorite “women of courage” buddies is a young woman by the name of Hunter. She and I both received our assistance dogs from Fidos For Freedom, Inc. Hunter was the first person I heard use the term “differently abled” instead of disabled.

I totally “get” choosing a more positive spin on a word many of us hate at times. However, I’ve also learned that because this is STILL the way the law identifies us (and protects us), I’m OK with being a person with disabilities. (Though like Hunter, I will quickly point out exactly how I simply do things differently…)

Labels – even those we pin on ourselves – can go SO WRONG, however. Once we start behaving as if our status “sets us apart” and in some way elevates us over another, we’ve really lost our purpose. Our goal is equality after all, correct? Many blogs I follow written by people with disabilities or who live with invisible illness, simply want to be accepted and treated normally.

I’m disabled and YOU are not… therefore I’m entitled to this, and This, and THIS. Obviously, a person who does this has missed the point. Yet, just as we may inadvertently reverse discriminate against those who live WITHOUT disability or invisible illness, we may choose to wear our “badge” as if it gives us free reign to disrespect others.

Guard your Tongue

Are you a person with a disability? Do you live with invisible illness? Does a chronic medical condition shape who you are? Do you have a service animal?

YOU are a person of influence.

Recently, I went to get a new contact prescription. I’m having to do so every 4-6 months unfortunately. As a result, I’m getting to know my eye care professional very well. At my last appointment with her encouragement for me to “see a specialist” ringing in my ears, she rolled her chair closer to me and said, “Can I share something with you?”

Immediately wary of the WAY she said it, I hesitated but said, “Sure! What’s up?”

She shared, “Until I started seeing you, I hated knowing a hard-of-hearing patient was waiting for me in the examination room. In the past, hard-of-hearing patients seem to be defensive, argumentative, and easily frustrated. I understand it can be hard to look through corrective lens with the Phoroptor as it means you cannot see my face to hear, but you are the first to not act as if it is my fault”.

I was stunned. I’ve always used humor to try and alleviate any discomfort others may feel as I enter an establishment with service dog and blinged-out cochlear implant. Yet later, I found myself wondering if I had ever treated someone poorly simply because I was frustrated.

Hopefully, my ability to laugh at my own fax pas and miscommunications will compensate for some of the bad experiences my optometrist had with people who have hearing loss. With regret, however, I could remember many times where I “blew it” and had a negative influence.

One rainy day, I entered a new building on another campus for a class and stopped at the security desk for directions. Before I could state the problem, the campus officer asked, “Why is that dog in here?”

Yeah. She could have stated it a little more diplomatically, but I became immediately defensive. I blurted out all the ADA information I knew about service dogs and then said with exasperation, “Where are the elevators for the classrooms above?” Several weeks later after classes were finally routine for me, I had to stop and apologize to her. I was out of line.

Every encounter you have with people at work, stores, places of business, and even church are an opportunity for you to be a GOOD influence. You set the stage for future encounters for these folks. We can be a good influence or a bad one. We shape future encounters for people just like us. Remembering that has helped me be a little more patient.

Bottom line, my point? Let’s practice what we preach…

Denise Portis

© 2013 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (2013). Discrimination by type. Retrieved March 25, 2013, from

Active Listening

Having learned early on in my hearing loss journey to "actively listen", by 2005 I was a near expert - but only because of necessity!
Having learned early on in my hearing loss journey to “actively listen”, by 2005 I was a near expert – but only because of necessity!

In a recent PSY-215 (Psychology of Relationships) class, I went over some details in regards to communication. We were studying “active listening” and how it can benefit people when communicating.

Communication is more than being able to articulate your ideas and feelings. We have a responsibility to be the best communicators that we can. We owe it to ourselves to learn to write well, speak well, and convey our thoughts AND emotions in a positive way that will be well received. However, part of communication is on the receiving end. After all, if you are talking or writing and no one is there to listen, that isn’t really communication. According to Miller (2011), there are two important tasks as “receiver” in a conversation. “The first is to accurately understand what our partners are trying to say, and the second is to communicate that attention and comprehension to our partners so that they know we care about what they’ve said” (Miller, 2011, p. 170).

We can do this by paraphrasing – repeating in our own words what we heard to give the other the opportunity to correct anything we were mistaken about in listening. As a person with hearing loss, I learned early on how valuable paraphrasing was to communication. It was more than a matter of understanding the true intent of what was being said… at times I wasn’t HEARING all that was being said. Paraphrasing allowed me to – in my own words – repeat what I thought was said. If I misunderstood both words or meaning, the other person was able to correct anything.

Paraphrasing is a great tool if you know someone with a communication disorder or hearing loss too! I would often frustrate family members by saying, “HUH?” after they said something. I later learned to repeat all that I heard and to be more specific about what I didn’t. This allowed them to fill-in-the-blank for me, or to paraphrase what they said so that I might hear more if it was put a different way. Example:

Terry: “I think we should go to The Point tonight because it won’t be crowded. We need to fill your car up with gas first so let’s take your car.

Denise: “I heard we should go to The Point but then I only heard something about my car…”

Terry: “Oh… I said your car needs gas. I noticed the last time I was in it, so let’s swing by the gas station first and fill it up!”

When communicating with a person with hearing loss, words – or even just PIECES of words (prefixes or suffixes) may be lost. Paraphrasing may put what you had intended to say in a different pattern, or using a different choice of words that the person with hearing loss DOES pick up.

Another valuable listening skill is perception checking. Perception checking is when “people assess the accuracy of their inferences about a partner’s feelings by asking the partner for clarification” (Miller, 2011, p. 170). Example:

Daughter: “I can’t believe you said that  — —–  , (wails) I’ll never be able to go there again!”

Me: “I missed what you explained that *I said*, but I can tell you are very upset – perhaps embarrassed. Is that right?”

Using active listening tools allows us to be RESPONSIVE. That can only be a good thing! You don’t have to be tucked away in a quiet nook of the kitchen like the picture above either. Once you become a skilled active listener, you will use these tools automatically when communicating. It can be done with environmental noises competing. Active listening can be done when in a hurry, with only a moment or two to communicate before you rush out the door.

Something Miller fails to mention in his review of active listening is eye contact. Yes, I believe we can practice active listening without eye contact (though maybe not if you have hearing loss). However, I believe to truly engage the other person, to acknowledge that we are listening and working to listen, requires eye contact. This can be done even when we are in a hurry. Trying to get out the door while someone is explaining they’ll need picked up from work? Put the cell phone up as you reach for the door handle, take a deep breath and make eye contact. Listen. Actively. (smile)

Denise Portis

© 2013 Personal Hearing Loss Journal