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The Power of a Conversation in the Disability Community 

July 25, 2022

When I was young, speech therapy was a crucial part of my life. I have a cleft palate. My voice is soft because of my disability. My letters of difficulty are C, K, L and R. Today, I might have difficulty pronouncing some words so everybody else can hear me. In loud places like crowds at conferences, or with groups of friends, sometimes it is tricky for me to be heard. Everyone enjoys the ability to have a clear and powerful conversation where they feel connected and important. As a person who also has a hearing disability, it is difficult to speak and be heard in loud environments. Sometimes, it seems like my voice does not want to project. As such, my question is: how can we have better conversations within and outside of the disability community? 

Here are the tips I give others on approaching a meaningful, reciprocal conversation with me. 

  1. Do not talk for me.
  2.  Do not look at someone else when I am talking.
  3. Sometimes I will use basic sign language – for example, drink or bathroom, if the space is really busy or if I am listening to music. Respect this as a valid form of communication. 
  4. A rule for myself is, “If I need to, I can write it down”. This means if I don’t understand something or need more information, I write it down in my notebook and follow up with people later. 
  5. Microphones are my best friend. They help me be heard and respected.
  6. Have patience. 
  7. If I need help with a word then you can help me, but don’t talk over me. 
  8. Respect me and my disability

The golden rule is, you should respect any person, or conversation, even if the person has a disability.

People say that I make friends everywhere I go. I believe that I do. I make friends at conferences, airports and locally at my social group. An important part of making friends is the ability for others to hear me and listen to me. A friend is someone you trust. Hearing in a conversation means many things to me such as care, respect, trust, value and reciprocity. Sometimes, people pretend to hear me or they think they’re entitled to talk for me. However, this isn’t the case; I deserve to be heard. Don’t rush my conversation if you don’t have time for me. 

My disability is not my whole identity. When I leave my apartment, I am a citizen in the community. When I am not working as a disability advocate, I enjoy listening to music, shopping and festivals. I also learned to vote and now help people in the community to do the same. I visit my local library where I try new things, read wonderful stories and sit with my neighbours. While speaking audibly and clearly have always been two persistent battles in my life, I know that as an advocate, friend and leader in the community, my voice matters. I need to continue to fight for my voice to be heard, to be listened to, and for other members of the disability community to be respected, heard and valued. 

For further reading I recommend: Kathie Snow, Disability is Natural: Revolutionary Common Sense for Raising Successful Children With Disabilities (2001).