Written By: Ben Hays
“Disability” is a very broad term that could be discussed for an indefinite amount of time. However, I’m going to focus on four main sub-groups of disabilities: vision and hearing impairment, learning disabilities, developmental disorders, and visible and invisible disabilities. I, personally, am affected by all four of these categories directly, as well as indirectly, having a mother with an invisible illness and a grandmother with a visible disability. However, the purpose of these articles is not to talk about me, but instead, to raise awareness for a topic very close to my heart.
For this first article of the series, I will focus on vision and hearing impairments. These terms are often associated with being completely blind or deaf. Although the severity of the disability can reach that degree, these impairments affect more people to lesser degrees than one could fathom. In fact, 20% of Americans, totaling approximately 45 million people, are described as having some amount of difficulty hearing. Hearing impairments do not necessarily mean that sounds are too quiet, but instead, they are garbled like radio static.
One interviewee illustrates this perfectly. “I have lived with hearing aids since I was a very young child. Although they allow me to hear, they do not allow me to hear perfectly. If I am in a group with many people speaking at one time, I cannot distinguish one speaker from the other. It sounds like a bunch of random, jumbled sounds. Similarly, my hearing aid can create static, pick up stray noises, and screech.” He reports that those with hearing impairments really appreciate when the hearing-abled take the time to have a one-on-one conversation and to remember that group interaction can be difficult.
Vision impairments often include being short- or far-sighted but can very easily be more serious problems like amblyopia or blindness. Common treatments and aids for these disabilities we encounter every day include glasses or bifocals, hearing aids, braille, and sign language.
However, some impairments are not obvious to the regular onlooker. In my interviews, I encountered one person who has vision impairments, despite having 20/20 vision. His issues, for which there are no cures or corrective devices, stem from developmental and motor problems of the muscles around the eyes. He reports that his eyes do not interact with each other correctly, and he has trouble tracking when reading–causing him symptoms like dyslexia. He struggled in school for years and had debilitating migraines all because his eyes don’t move in unison. The below image is a perfect representation of how my interviewee sees.
Can you imagine doing all your homework if the pages looked like this?
Another interviewee described her condition, microphthalmia, which translates to literally mean “small eye.” As the name suggests, one eye is smaller than the other, resulting in asymmetry in the face. The eye itself is blind and suffers from cataracts and results in poor peripheral vision and presents difficulty deciphering between light and dark. Also, because one eye is obviously smaller than the other, it draws unwanted attention and sometimes cruel comments from others. Despite these difficulties, my interviewee claims that she “can drive, graduated from college, and run races.” She encourages everyone that, “It’s not ‘freaky’ or scary to interact with me. I think that’s what saddens me the most when I encounter people, especially children who may not understand. Consequently, I’ve made a point to teach my children to see beyond the disability and see that there is a beautiful person created by God who just wants to be treated like anyone else.”
Here is another example of what written content can look like to the visually disabled. Frustrating, no?
In Their Shoes
With each article in this series, I will provide suggested activities for you and your family to do so that you can experience life with a disability briefly. We encourage you to give this a try and help spread awareness and love for neighbor.
Hearing Impairment Simulation
You need: a pair of foam earplugs for each student, a radio, TV, fan or anything else that can make “white noise”
What To Do
• Show students how to put in the earplugs.
• Put on the “white noise.” If using a TV, put it on a station with no reception and turn up the
volume — loud enough to be distracting. If using a radio, set it between stations so you only
hear static. If using a fan, turn it up on high.
• Read a long newspaper article or book passage. Read rapidly, using a soft voice, mumbling
monotone, running words together and pausing in odd places.
• Ask students 5 questions about the content of what you read. Continue talking quickly in a soft,
• Remove ear plugs, turn off white noise and discuss (in a normal voice) how not being able to
hear clearly felt.
Vision Impairment Simulation
• Print off a short story or worksheet.
• Try reading it backwards.
• If you have binoculars, try to read it from a distance unfocused.
• See how difficult it is to complete schoolwork when your eyes don’t properly focus.