Opening Doors: How I Overcame My Disability in Work & Life
Jeff Waldman | Life, Work| By
It’s a personal struggle every single day.
I was born with a sloping moderate to severe sensory neural bilateral hearing loss, large vestibular aqueduct syndrome (LVAS) and a sometimes energy-sapping speech impediment. Growing up I was teased, harassed and misunderstood. There was a period of time during middle and high school where I was simply unable to speak a word during class—the high degree of fear, shame and embarrassment that I felt dealing with my disabilities was debilitating.
Due to ignorance, lack of knowledge or plain stupidity people labelled me as disabled, an outcast, “one of them” or at best, a special case. The worst was being teased by someone for no reason other than I was different. So naturally, I gave up… right? What motivation could I possibly have to do anything more than the low standards expected of me? I could have easily played the “poor me” card and coasted through. Did I do this? Absofreakinglutely NOT!
To me life is simple. There are basically 2 choices. The first choice is coast through life, get by and live by basic standards you set for yourself and by others. The second choice is tell everyone to f&%k off and grab live by the horns and kick some butt. I chose the latter.
Life, It’s Not Easy
Life is never easy. It’s not supposed to be easy. If it were easy then life would be like watching paint dry—boring. Life is also a huge challenge, a constant maze of decisions, courses of actions and uphill battles. Whether you have a disability like me or any of the millions of other barriers humans face on a daily basis such as unemployment, relationship issues, family tragedies and so forth, we’re all in the same boat.
Overcoming Adversity & Work Goals
How I succeeded in life has been, without a doubt, an evolution. Don’t get me wrong, I struggle each and every day with my disabilities just like your employees do to at work everyday, and will up to the day I die. An estimated 33% of the US workforce has a disability either visible or not. What keeps me going in achieving my personal and work goals is this:
- Education. I realized that the majority of people are well-intentioned, but, to no fault of their own simply uninformed. My school peers were clueless about hearing loss; they had absolutely no clue! The solution? I educated them through talks I created and delivered in the classroom. In fact, many of the presentations I gave during the early 90’s were adopted in some fashion by the school board where I went to school.
- Society. I realized that society was full of crap! The unfortunately powerful influence that media, sport and fame has on society were brainwashing people into believing in things that were simply unattainable and fantasy-like. I also learned that many people have low self-worth and self-confidence and used teasing and bullying as a way to make themselves feel better. I simply would not allow my personal beliefs to be negatively impacted by ridiculous societal expectations and sheer ignorance.
- Me. I had interests growing up. As a child I knew I could do more than what people expected of me. I held onto this belief while I searched for my interests and passions. Sports naturally emerged as something I deeply loved. It didn’t matter if I couldn’t hear anything in a gym of 1,000 screaming people at one of my high school basketball games or trying to hear what the coach was telling me from across the field in a baseball game. All that mattered was that I knew sports inside-out and better than anyone else I was playing with and against, and I loved to compete. Sports became my outlet; it taught me how to think strategically, how to work in teams, how to persevere and never give up through strain and struggle, learn the art of competition and allowed me to develop my social skills.
- Courage & Perseverance. I learned that you need courage and perseverance to achieve your goals, and more importantly to win those struggles against the obstacles that you face. It was never easy, and I fell down many times growing up, but I got back up and kept going. I would not accept defeat because of my disabilities; I just would not!
A Little Inspiration Lending to Amazing Moments
What does all of this mean? Maybe it will inspire you, give you an “ah ha” moment, or lend to an amazing moment of inspiration. Whatever the case may be I will leave you with one final thought:
“It’s up to you and only up to you to make a difference in life. Whenever you get those amazing moments of strength and energy, leverage them and make something happen. If you don’t take advantage of opportunities and follow your dreams someone else waiting in the winds will”.
Karla Porter says
Jeff – I will be using your post in tomorrows class to motivate my students in the TRACE program. Thanks for sharing your experience! ~Karla http://trace.mixxt.org/networks/content/index
Jeff Waldman says
Thank-you for your comment, and I’m glad it struck a chord with you. If you ever want to involve me in one of your classes, please let me know… I would be more than happy to contribute. We could do a Hangout or something related. I do quiet a few talks to students and to a lesser degree organizations that work with people with disabilities.
Karla Porter says
We would love to have you as a guest speaker via a hangout Jeff, thanks for the offer – I will be in touch. And thanks B4J for hosting this post! ~Karla
This was an inspiring and in a way comforting read. My tween age daughter has bilateral EVAS. She is currently moderate/severe in her right ear and normal in her left. I love your attitude about life. It is one that we all should have.
As the father of a three year old girl with LVAS I find inspiration in your post as well. Thanks for writing this.
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