Making a difference

Posted by jennifer gibson on Thursday, February 22, 2018 Under: Feb 2018

As I finalize the details of my upcoming trip, I’m going over every aspect of it to ensure that I receive the necessary assistance for a (mostly) smooth trip. Invariably, there will always be a hiccup along the way, such as delays or that someone forgot I had a disability. Yes, I do have a disability, I don’t sugarcoat it by saying things like “I’m more able than disabled”.  Even though my profound hearing loss is invisible, it’s very real and a huge obstacle for me to overcome on a daily basis. It’s a part of my life, and it’s my responsibility to find solutions that work for me. 

That’s why I’m no stranger when it comes to making sure that my trips are as accessible as possible. It’s a lot of work that requires written as well as spoken confirmations, ahead of time and on the day I’m traveling. Since this trip is split into two parts, and on different trains and planes in Canada and the US, it’s a fussy process of lining up everything. 

I typically contact the various departments, informing them that I have severe hearing loss, and inquire about being pre-boarded and asking politely that I need assistance with arrivals and departures. They are more than happy to provide the help that I need and often ask if I would like an escort, and I’ll say yes, please. I don’t do it to gain attention, that’s the last thing I want to do but it’s a necessity since I’ve nearly missed my stop a couple of times on previous trips. To me, that’s a horrifying situation to be in, especially when I’m alone. I have been in a train accident before, where I learned very quickly the importance of keeping the staff informed of my disability. There was nothing worse than been completely left out of the loop as a result of not being able to hear the emergency announcements. 

Over the last few years, I’ve learned that I’m directly responsible for my own safety as well as my peace of mind. Experience has been my greatest teacher and I’m still learning everyday. Every time I fail, it’s a reminder that I need to work harder and pay more attention.  And I fail often, on a daily basis. It’s a bitter pill to swallow but I have to accept it, especially with a hearing loss as severe as mine.

One of the biggest obstacles to overcome on this trip, is to familiarize myself with the staff on VIA and Amtrak on both sides of the border, including the customs guards. I always tell them upfront that I cannot hear what they are saying and it usually turns into a lively discussion about one of their family members who has a hearing loss. I’ve been very fortunate to have met many wonderful and kind-hearted souls who work on these trains and planes. They were more than delighted to help me and always asking what else they could do to accommodate me. By opening up this kind of dialogue with them, it created a positive step in the right direction for many other passengers with disabilities. 

Today, as I typed in my usual message to the accessibility department for VIA and Amtrak, it made me stop and wonder why I have not seen a significant improvement for people like me in the tourism/transportation industry. I’ve been traveling for a long time on my own, and I’m always inquiring about the lack of awareness and resources for Deaf and Hard of Hearing passengers. Everywhere I go, I’m always, always, informing the staff at hotels, on planes and trains, to taxis drivers and bus stations about my disability. I’m still doing the same thing, year after year, without seeing any obvious improvements yet. 

While I get that my hearing loss is an invisible disability, having to repeat myself as if I’m stuck in a live version of Groundhog Day, I’ve grown tired of it. Right now, at this point in my life, after years of being a vocal advocate, I feel depleted, and that I’ve done all I can. I know that I’m not alone in this regard, I know that there are many other amazing people out there doing the same thing I am. Like me, they are shouting from the rooftops, tweeting and blogging about their experiences, working on committees, and doing public appearances to educate others about hearing loss. 

But for some reason, as I look around me, I still feel alone. Especially when it comes to making accommodations for my disability. As I look back at all of the things that I’ve done about living with a profound hearing loss, from writing a series of young adult novels featuring a hearing impaired teen, to being on accessible committees, and traveling coast to coast as a public speaker, it makes me wonder if it was worth it. Is what I’m doing making an impact? That’s what I want to know. 


In : Feb 2018 

Tags: trains  planes  trips  "invisible disability" "hearing loss" 
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