It doesn’t matter if you’ve gone through 25 years of your life with 75% hearing loss. I’ll never forget the day I woke up five years ago and found that glorious and final quarter of my hearing gone.
One may assume my history with hearing loss (caused by scarlet fever) would make this transition easy. I had already used hearing aids to navigate my life as a community health worker and single mom. But it was still a complete shock to wake up one day and hear nothing.
Those who don’t know me may see me merely as an intersection of many identities — a deaf, black woman.
Each one of those identities on their own would commonly put me into the marginalized category. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that people with disabilities are more than twice as likely to be unemployed. And, according to the Equal Pay Today campaign, black women earn about only 61 cents on the dollar that white men earn.
But as a mom to 10-year-old Aaron and 5-year-old Manny, I can’t rest on these statistics.
That’s why I choose to see my hearing loss and all the other aspects of my identity as my superpower.
Being me means I can connect to so many people who may otherwise be accustomed to feeling alone.
Being me means I am connected to a world of cutting-edge technology, like my cochlear implants, FM systems that allow me to hear speakers, telecoils that connect to phones and other assistive technology. I have been able to use what I’ve learned to help others navigate in the community or internet and find the resources they need to also improve their quality of life.
For example, my cochlear implant now allows me to stream music directly from my phone. Songs that I once could only enjoy the rhyme to, I can now hear the fuller essence. I can't wait for the day when we can all dance to the same song despite our ability or lack thereof to hear every note or word.
This desire is also why being me means I advocate for all by challenging those I come across to think and reflect on a different perspective.
As a community health worker, I advocate for those in the community to be their best selves. I know what it’s like to be on the other side of "normal," so no matter if we’re talking about diabetes or hearing loss, I am able to develop smart goals to help people find depth to their health and wellness. I was working with someone who had hearing loss and they would not answer the phone. I realized that this person was more comfortable communicating via technology or written formats, and I could help connect that person to methods that have helped me.
It’s important to remember that we are all a moment away from a major life change.
Reasonable accommodations are merely small adjustments we make for the people we share space with in this world. We have come too far in our education to be reactionary as people. If we allow the time to interact with those who look and function differently than your normal, it would be easier to remember your hard-of-hearing or deaf friend who prefers coffee dates over noisy dinner dates or an acquaintance who would love to see a play but can't hear it unless they pay for pricey front-row seats.
Being me means I can confidently share this message: Please stop assuming that living with my multiple identities is a bad or difficult way to live and accept that it is just another wonderful way to experience life.
It’s amazing how many questions I’ve received like this one: “How are you going to make it?” I simply tilt my head to the side, chuckle and think — the same way I and other deaf and hard-of-hearing folks have for all time. And for me personally, with a savory topping of faith.
I find it sad that we are still holding on to the “normal” narrative. Most of us are beautifully seasoned by life whether its by health, economic status or the plethora of other circumstances that makes us rich as a people.
Some formulate a narrative that living with hearing loss must be a small tragedy and major inconvenience. I’m not sure about your glass, but mine still has water in it.
Brandi Lee is a community health worker and mom to two children. She will be one of several women sharing their personal stories at the Brown Mama Monologues on Saturday, May 4, at the Elsie H. Hillman Auditorium.
The Opportunity Fund has provided funding to PublicSource to pay authors of first-person essays related to social justice issues.