Sometimes, the differences between us aren’t always visible. I know from personal experience.
As we celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month, I wanted to share my personal journey of healing and discovery while dealing with a hidden disability.
Unless you work closely with me, you wouldn’t know that I have a hearing impairment since my hearing aids are practically invisible. Truthfully, this has been a difficult road for me.
Before the COVID period, I knew my hearing was getting worse. Still, I could manage it. I could orient myself closer to colleagues on my left side if I couldn’t hear them well, read lips if I needed to follow a conversation or ask people to repeat what they said if I missed it. During the quarantine period, I constantly wore earphones when using Zoom, talking on the phone or listening to music. I could turn the volume up as loud as I wanted.
When we returned to the office, I realized my hearing loss had worsened. I could no longer read lips since everyone was wearing masks, I couldn’t use my headphones in meetings and I couldn’t turn the volume on my speakers all the way up. At first, after realizing my hearing was changing, it caused me to retreat from my family and friends because it was too uncomfortable to face the fact that I couldn’t hear them as well as I used to. I needed help.
Discussing my hearing loss with my doctor was a humbling experience – to say I cried would be an understatement. After a hearing test, my doctor placed temporary hearing aids in my ears. She encouraged me to call family members to hear their voices through the new devices. The entire interaction changed my life, and I’m grateful for the family, friends and colleagues that walked this journey with me.
This experience taught me about my true purpose. The need for recognition of diversity and inclusion was staring me in the face. Outside of living my life proudly as a Black woman, this new element of personal diversity was teaching me an important lesson: not all diversity is seen. I gained a new perspective on how challenging having a disability that others can’t see is. Without the proper support, it can be debilitating.
My personal journey has reinforced my belief in inclusivity, leading with empathy and creating space to acknowledge the unseen. Let’s create spaces for our colleagues to talk about their differences and feel included, especially when our differences aren’t visible.