Soon after finding out she was pregnant, my mom found out she was carrying twins. When it came time for her babies to come into the world, my twin sister came first—a normal birth. However, things got a little rocky with my delivery. My mom passed out from exhaustion and my dad was immediately sent out of the delivery room, while the doctor called for an emergency C-section.
The next several months of my life were spent in the hospital, consisting of tests and evaluations. Finally, the doctors told my parents that a lack of oxygen my brain received during delivery caused mild Cerebral Palsy (CP).
CP is comprised of a group of disorders that directly affects muscle tone and movement. My diagnosis wasn’t clear-cut and there was a lot of uncertainty. It can’t be cured, and doctors didn’t give my parents much hope with my prognosis.
Our long journey began . . .
A Different Childhood Than My Twin’s
Growing up, my childhood always looked a little different from my sister’s. While she was outside playing with friends, I was attending back-to-back occupational, physical, and speech therapy appointments. Although all of my therapists made remarkable impacts on my overall development, speech therapy made the biggest difference. I didn’t realize it at such a young age, but my speech services truly gave me the confidence and tools I’d need later in life.
When living with a disability, you’re always your own advocate. As a kid, I learned early on that it’d be up to me to voice how I’d like to be treated and when I needed help. Throughout elementary and middle school, I was surrounded by a team ensuring I received appropriate accommodations and fair treatment. This changed immensely once I got to high school. Many teachers didn’t understand why I needed extra help and accommodations like additional time for tests, a laptop for notes, and in-class copies of textbooks. No matter how hard I tried, it always felt like they didn’t fully believe in my capabilities. I was constantly fighting for my rights while trying to keep up with everyone else.
There are so many instilled assumptions about people with disabilities. This time in my life really made me realize how much our society needs to work on awareness and inclusion. Rather than excluding these children, it’s important to provide them with a supportive environment where they feel celebrated and valued. It’s also showed me the importance of advocating—not just for myself, but for others in my role as a future SLP too.
Individuals with Disabilities: We Can Still Contribute to Society
I’ll always hope for greater acceptance of individuals with any kind of disability. The most important step toward acceptance is recognizing our differences. While some may think choosing not to see someone’s disability is the most respectful thing to do, I disagree. Instead of ignoring people’s disabilities, it’s crucial to acknowledge and celebrate their positive contributions to society.
Whether someone has a physical, mental, cognitive, visible, or invisible disability, we all have value to contribute to this world. There’s always more to a person than their disability and helping them recognize how their differences contribute to society is important.
CP has allowed me to see the world in a very different yet unique way. I am extremely familiar with feeling isolated, misunderstood, and helpless. Lives of those with disabilities may look a bit different, but this does not make us any less valuable. My personal experiences with navigating this world while trying to break these barriers has opened my heart to wanting to uplift and positively connect to future clients as an SLP someday. My greatest aspiration is to serve as an example of resiliency and further provide support for others to work towards defying the odds.
Advocating for Our Clients
As future audiologists and SLPs, it’s not just important to instill value and confidence in our clients, we must advocate on their behalf as well.
The fight for reasonable accommodations and fair treatment will probably never end, but we can all strive to speak against the repercussions this community faces. Whether these efforts are great or small, any steps taken toward this goal has the potential to benefit all of society. When people are held accountable for their poor judgement, this helps create awareness across all abilities. To emphasize the importance of inclusion, we must exemplify and model fair treatment in our own environments. These efforts will allow clients to feel safe, supported, and free to express themselves however they choose.
As I continue to pursue this field, I fully intend to share my experiences and heart for advocacy. From personal encounters of being overlooked or disregarded due to my limitations, I know that there is still so much our society needs to work on. Whether or not you may think it affects you personally, we all need to practice advocacy in order to promote inclusion. Change can truly begin with just one person, and I will always try my absolute best to make that as evident as I can throughout my journey.