December 12, 2009

Advocating for Myself

A few nights ago, I had to attend a class for new and first year teachers. It was one of those classes where they ask you to participate in a "fun" activity with the other people in the class. I heard some groans as we were asked to gather together on one side of the room. I rolled my eyes. I really hate these things.

We had to line up side by side facing another group of people lined up side by side. Then one of the teachers said that she will ask a question and that the group I am in will 'listen' to the person's answer (the person in front of me). We were told to 'listen good'. I immediately became irritated and knew this was not going to work. You see, my hearing aid had stopped working moments ago.
 When the teacher asked the question and people reluctantly started answering, a cacophony of voices from at least 15 different people surrounded me. My partner, the one talking to me, did not make any sense. "Wa, Wa, Blah, Da, Da." She said something about religion and being a Christian. I tried to 'listen good' nodding my head and smiling. 
Fed up, I turned around and walked to one of the teachers and I explained my situation. She asked if it would help if I stood closer to my partner. After she understood that the problem was not so much the volume but the diarrhea of noise, she suggested that I walk away from the group, and one by one, people (as we continue the exercise, taking turns) will come to me to tell me their answers. Everyone started looking at me, wondering what was going on, and the teacher announced that I have a hearing loss and that my hearing aid was not working, so therefore I needed to be in a quiet part of the room. I got more looks. I started to regret my decision to advocate for myself. However, I was away from the noise and I could 'listen good' now.

It got me thinking about my students and how I am always encouraging them to advocate for themselves.

"You need to let others know when you are having trouble hearing." "You need to use the FM system." "You need to let the teacher know when your hearing aid doesn't work."

It has been a long time since I had to advocate for myself. After this experience, I remember what it is like. It can be a pain, really. I do not like attention and announcing to everyone the problems I am having. It can be awkward, and it must be worse when you are a kid or a teenager. They are self conscious enough already. So, this experience got me to remember what it was like, as a kid, to be asked to do something that will bring attention to yourself, especially when it is about something that makes you different from everyone else.

But, I am really glad I advocated for myself in that silly class. First, it helped me get away from a situation that made me uncomfortable. Second, the teachers of this class will be more thoughtful next time when asking others to do this exercise. Perhaps they will do away with it. Third, it made me be more aware of what my students may be going through.

At the end of the class, another teacher, who is a teacher of one of my students, came up to me and told me how happy she was that I advocated for myself. She said that she will tell our student about it. Typical teacher, she smiled and said, "Good for you!" I felt like a little kid again, but I smiled at this and it made me feel somewhat proud of myself. I can say that I practice what I preach.

I owe it to my students.



  1. Thanks for your story. As the grandmother (and legal guardian) of a profoundly deaf 17 year old with a cochlear implant I am always reminding her to advocate for herself, but you helped to remind me how difficult it is for teenagers to stand out from a crowd about anything, let alone something as important as deafness. Not, that I had forgotten--but that I had more or less put its importance on a back burner minimizing how difficult a task it is for her to advocate for herself.

  2. Thank you for your comment. I appreciate it.

    It is very hard to convince teenagers to advocate for themselves.
    I find that it is not so much telling them to advocate for themselves, but it helps to tell them how, and to take baby steps.
    Advocating could be as simple as wearing your hair up so that people can see your hearing aids or CI. Or telling someone to repeat what they said. Your granddaughter does not have to announce to everyone that she has a hearing loss (unless she wants to). :)

    Just you being there is enough. It sounds as if she is lucky to have you.

    You can even have her read this post if you think it would help.

    Thank you for sharing,


  3. I find it hard to advocate for myself. My parents, teachers, communication support workers have always done the advocating for me etc. I need to work on it :) Your post made me think that I definately need to do it. I do occassionally say, can you repeat, or I'm deaf, I cannot hear you . But sometimes that is just not enough for some people

  4. I like your story, (e. You pulled the positive out of an embarrassing, uncomfortable situation. It's tough to draw attention to ourselves in these types of situations. You are a good model for your students.


Keep it civil.