Jan. 25, 2021
Although there are not many nice things to say about 2020 – including my journey through the economic crisis of being pandemic laid-off, being denied unemployment by the State of Arizona, then moving 2,000 miles across the country – there was one aspect of my life that has changed for the better. This is the year I finally accepted that I am hearing disabled.
I didn’t have a sudden epiphany or a life-changing moment that I can point to as the singular moment that will mark the milestone. Instead, I was introduced to a myriad of people who have inspired me to be who I am and who work tirelessly to shine a light on the lives of the disabled.
In high school, I needed hearing aids. As a fairly toxic male, wrapped up in bro-culture as the captain of the football and wrestling teams, I refused to accept that I was somehow weaker than others. So, I refused to wear them. After graduating I got a job in a warehouse, which gave me the excuse to skip them because I could never have them in and function in a sweaty, loud warehouse.
Occasionally I would get a new hearing test and it would show my hearing continually degrading. By the time I was 30 I could barely hold a conversation at a normal level without cupping my ears. I was the first in meetings so I could get a front-row seat. I always emailed people to ask if they had notes I could read.
The overwhelming machismo persisted in the office climate. I wasn’t hard-of-hearing. It was other people who speak at a whisper. I didn’t need my hearing aids, if it was really important people would make sure they knew I heard them. This behavior persisted, even though there was obvious evidence that I was being excluded from events, meetings, and lunch get-togethers because I was seen as someone selfish and egotistical. Later I would find out from co-workers that thought I was an asshole because they were under the impression I was ignoring them.
At 34 I finally got a new set of hearing aids and started wearing them every day.
Even when I started consistently wearing hearing aids, I would never say I was hard-of-hearing or even worse, that I was hearing disabled. The word “disabled” was off-limits. Yet, by 2019 my hearing had degraded to the point that meetings and conferences were impossible without them.
In 2020, I realized I couldn’t watch movies anymore not just without hearing aids, but without subtitles. Even with the hearing aids, I’m far from having functional hearing. My wife has become my translator and goes with me everywhere in case I have a scenario where the person I’m attempting to communicate with is unable to accommodate and she has to step in. She has also started performing regular tasks I used to be able to do, such as making phone calls. With the pandemic, I’m up a creek with anyone wearing a mask. I don’t want anyone to take off their mask to speak with me, so I often skip scenarios where if I have to go without my wife.
About April I realized I could no longer listen to music, even with my high-quality over-the-ear headphones and DAC blasting the volume so loud my kids could hear it upstairs through their door. Whole sections of my life are becoming too difficult. I had to admit it…
I am disabled.
The first time I said it out loud I said it to my wife. Her reaction was essentially, “You’re just realizing that now?”. Since that conversation, I’ve had the opportunity to see things from a new perspective. I can see now how it has shaped my life, relationships, and career path. It has also given me superpowers. I can read a room better than anyone. I can read people’s reactions, emotions, and nuance from across the room.
I also realized the importance of accessibility, not just for hearing, but for all people. The pandemic has shown how society values disabled people, with a huge segment of the population willing to sacrifice the disabled so they can eat inside a McDonald’s. The absurdity of what is classified as “accessible” is laughable. Unfortunately, it took me 20 years longer than it should and experiencing it first-hand for me to finally come to this conclusion.
I’ve had a lot of time to think about this and time to read the stories of so many people. I have taken a hard look at how I operate and the content I produce as well. For a decade I’ve been making podcasts and videos that were inaccessible by people with the same disability as me. My websites are not accessible. I am not accessible.
Going into 2021 I’ve taken a hard line on accessibility and I’m doing everything I can to integrate it into everything I do. I’m far from perfect and I have a long way to go. I have so much to learn, but I’m doing it as fast as I can. This also means I’m changing my content. I have decided to end a podcast I’ve been hosting for over 5 years because I can’t in good faith make it without making it accessible. I’ve refactored my websites and added additional features to make them better. I have also attended several conferences, webinars, and training courses about accessibility looking for ways to better integrate best practices into my life.
From now on I’m not making or publishing anything without there being a full accessibility strategy attached. If I cannot make it accessible, then I need to find a different idea. Accessibility is not an add-on or an afterthought. It needs to be part of the original design and the content created so it can be accessible. Not just hard-of-hearing, deaf, or blind, which are typically the only accessibility features taken seriously. But color blindness, ADHD, anxiety, and physical limitations need to be considered. I also want to include those that need accessible content for low bandwidth or internet speed.
I have so much to learn and along the way I hope to encourage as many other marketers as possible to take this approach. And I will make my presence known.
Would love to hear from you on this topic!
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