Why don't people see the potential in different or in disabled?
It is absolutely down to awareness, understanding and attitude in my opinion.
As a little girl my parents made sure I mixed with hearing and deaf children. As a result seeing people with hearing aids or cochlear implants was no big deal to me. It was not unusual to know people who communicated differently or needed to see my face to communicate. The children I went to school with all benefitted from me being in a mainstream school, they knew how to communicate with me, how to get my attention and how to include me. I was the girl with the hearing aids, not the girl sitting on her own because nobody understood me!
At primary school I remember having friends with dyslexia, with autism, with ADHD, I didn't know it then but do now, we all got on, nobody was isolated. Lots could be learnt from my primary school.
Its almost ironic that children 5-11 are more understanding and accepting than the public at large, why is that?
What happens to people as they grow up, what happens to empathy and understanding or will my generation change things, I certainly hope so.
My parents taught me to speak up for myself, today I speak up for many because I know what people with Usher Syndrome can be capable of, most just need a chance.
Rarely is there an advert on TV showing the positives of people living with a disability. Many concentrate on what cannot be achieved rather than what can even though things like technology and gadgetry have changed the lives of many with disabilities - I absolutely benefit here.
I often speak about Helen Keller and how incredible she was considering how she coped, how she communicated and the many things she achieved with no technology at all - we really have moved on so much, however, have attitudes?
My own story could be very different had it not been for my home support system.
I was a happy deaf child, my real challenges did not arise until I was diagnosed with Usher Syndrome at 12 years old and then registered blind at 14 years old. Everything changed including my school. Leaving the local comprehensive school was the worse decision I made.
Moving to a school for the deaf, thinking I would be with pupils like myself and teachers with empathy for those with Usher Syndrome was a mistake I will always regret.
I arrived at that school full of hope, happy and confident in my abilities and left having been bullied by both pupils and teachers alike and with a nervous breakdown that saw me a year out of education and counselling.
My parents never gave up on me, even when I had given up on myself - dragging me to counselling and insisting I would reach my potential Usher Syndrome or not.
They were right, counselling did me the world of good and a college with a refreshing outlook and a positive attitude to see me through my A levels and on to university. Sadly once again I experienced a complete ignorance as to my condition, my support and my future.
To be told by my ‘English Lecturer’ that having dreams of teaching was ridiculous and how did I think I would deal with 30 primary school children ‘people like me don’t do things like that’ and yet here I am. That thoughtless woman and the ‘Disability Co-ordinator’ who insisted I had to have an inappropriate school placement led to me turning my back on education and teaching and led to me finding my own way.
It was a frightening time to be ‘out there’ wanting a career rather than a job and being deafblind with a guide dog.
I had been allocated a ‘Job Coach’ by my local authority, I think she contacted me three or four times after her initial visit, very sympathetic to the extent I felt disabled - she would contact companies with a view to me getting an interview - I did not get one interview through her!
I was fortunate to have been speaking publicly since my Usher syndrome diagnosis, using this skill to advocate for others. Whilst I didn't feel I could make a living from that it was something I enjoyed and a way of raising awareness of condition along with abilities and capabilities.
The one interview I did, no thanks to the Job Coach I might add, was with one of the largest in technology. This company actually liked the fact I was different, my answers to their many questions different, my outlook different in fact it was clear they liked different which became more obvious when I was employed and my differences and the differences of their diverse workforce worked and worked very well.
For the first time I felt valued as a person because I am different and for that I will always be grateful.
I loved my first paid part time job however what became very clear to me was that I could use my unique skills more if I was not limited by contract and so I left to concentrate on finding my niche, using my skill set in accessibility, web design and development, in usability, in digital tech, in wearables, in empathy and humility, in communication, in diversity and in things I believe in like potential and inclusion.
So I didn't get to educate children and I believe I would have been a great teacher had I not been denied that opportunity by a broken system of negative attitudes and opinions, however I get to educate in different fields and ultimately I am hopeful the children I didn't get to educate will benefit from my work in the future.