Had visits to both Vocational Rehabilitation (Voc Rehab) and the Disability Resource Center (DRC) today. Brave new world! It's been a great experience so far, which is important; I have so much anxiety and emotional wobbliness around the topic of my hearing that I'm not sure I'd be able to handle it otherwise. I need to feel like I'm going through this gracefully, need to feel like I'm beyond reproach... I carry around this huge desire to prove myself an equal, regardless of how much I rationally know I do not need to.
Honestly, I'm not sure if I could have done it earlier. Because right now, I have the following sources of strength and privilege, of "proof" that I'm not broken:
- I'm on a doctoral fellowship.
- At Purdue, which is a fantastic research institution.
- In Engineering Education, for which Purdue has one of the best programs in the world.
- With a 4.0 GPA.
- And existing conference presentations and publications - as a first-year grad student.
- And an undergraduate degree from Olin, which is an excellent engineering school.
- And an incredible work history for someone my age, with some high-profile projects and companies, and international speaking experience, and...
I hate this. I should not need that - nothing out there requires that I prove myself. But I need that security of competence-perception for myself, for whatever reason. I'm doing well in my classes, and I don't need help right now - which is what enables me to go in and say "okay, maybe I should try this out in case I want it later." No matter what, I save face - I'm coming from a place of strength.
Before I had enough things on my resume to "prove" to any other observers that I wasn't broken, I... couldn't bring myself to do this. The word "disabled" carries such a giant wave of assumptions with it that I needed other huge landmark criteria to make people do a double-take and actually look at me as a person instead of automatically washing my Mel-hood out with stereotypes. Or at least that's what I thought, and how I still feel.
It is strange to feel (relatively) free to wander around and explore these things, now that so many outside forces and pressures I've dealt with for so long have been... dampened. My parents aren't pressuring me to do this. I don't need to do it to keep up with academics. My classmates, friends, colleagues, and teachers already see me as a bright and capable person. I've accomplished enough that other markers have become salient and my deafness has become a dim background note - nobody points me out as "the kid with the hearing aids" any more. Instead, I'm Mel, who researches open source and education. Or Mel, who cooks a fantastic quinoa salad. Or Mel, who proofread my conference paper, or set up my website, or finished her German final project on week 5 of the semester (that was fun - I'm systematically going through my classes and finishing all the work for the semester, one by one, so that by the end of term I only need to relax, proofread, and do some minor formatting).
And there's some interesting stuff out there. Look, look, a hearing aid that can stand up to dust and water! One of the (many) reasons I didn't wear hearing aids was because I'm a very spontaneous person, and I do things like running out into the rain in glee, jumping in the ocean in New Zealand on a whim, drilling 2x4s for a play set and getting sawdust everywhere... and assistive devices and services add these subtle bits of inertia to your life that sometimes make you feel a bit less free. Ironic, when the real end goal of assistive services is to give you more independence and freedom.